How Low Can Morning Joe Go? Hillary Obsession Takes an Ugly Turn

By Peter Daou and Tom Watson

You can set your clock by this: turn on MSNBC any morning of the week and you’ll immediately be served a big, rancid dose of Hillary hate. Women will instantly recognize the bullying taunts, the condescending eye rolls, the seething sarcasm. It is the sound and sight of misogyny in action, the verbal bashing of a woman because she’s a woman.

No male candidate is ever treated with the same disdain and disrespect. No self-respecting network would ever stand for it. Hillary Clinton is the sole exception; the rules of decency and dignity do not apply to her when it comes to Morning Joe.

Named for former Florida congressman Joe Scarborough, a reliably radical right-wing member of Newt Gingrich’s infamous Contract with America crew, Morning Joe is Opie and Anthony for the Beltway political set. In the 2016 cycle, MSNBC’s “morning zoo for politics” has devolved into a daily frat boy fest of grins, sneers, giggles and endless sexist dog whistles.

All that’s missing is Baba Booey.

As Hillary Clinton attempts to make history as America’s first woman president, Morning Joe has emerged as the global headquarters of the He-Man Hillary Haters Club, with Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski presiding over a daily boys club that relentlessly attacks Hillary's candidacy, her accomplishments, her very humanity. It is an ugly and self-righteous spectacle, rife with misleading allegations, insinuations and false indignation. Searching for words to describe Morning Joe’s particular brand of anti-Hillary invective, we’ve described it as “an unhealthy and unhinged combination of envy, awe, muted rage and dripping disdain.”

This is all the creation of someone whose name you might not know, a corporate player who has encouraged the anti-Hillary chorus in the name of ratings (a massive miscalculation, as we shall see). He is Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC, and it is on his watch that Morning Joe’s Hillary Clinton coverage has spun out of control.

MSNBC retains some formidable talent. We particularly admire the work of our friends Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, and Joy Reid. But we also cannot forget what happened on MSNBC’s sets in 2007 and 2008, when Hillary first ran for president. Remember when Chris Matthews referred to Hillary as a “she-devil?” Or when Mike Barnicle cracked that she looked “like everyone’s first wife standing outside a probate court?” Or when contributor Tucker Carlson said: “When she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs.” Or when David Shuster accused Hillary of “pimping out” her daughter Chelsea? We remember.

In 2008, Griffin cynically blamed the criticism that befell his network for this kind of coverage on - wait for it - Hillary Clinton. “The Clinton campaign saw an opportunity to use it for their advantage. They were trying to rally a certain demographic, and women were behind it,” he told the New York Times.

Now Griffin is in the midst of a massive remake of MSNBC. Concluding that union members do not matter to MSNBC’s viewing demographic, Griffin fired the energetically pro-labor host Ed Schultz. Concluding perhaps the same thing about African-American viewers, he shifted or canceled several shows, prompting this missive from Monica Roberts at TransGriot:

Over the last few months they have eliminated shows headed by non-white folks featuring Karen Finney, Joy Reid, Alex Wagner, Martin Bashir, and the Rev. Al Sharpton. If anything MSNBC, you should have dumped Morning Joe, the prison shows on the weekend and doubled down on liberal progressive programming and putting on air more pundits who look like America. 

I damned sure don't want to watch someone who thinks it isn't a journalist's job to educate the public with the truth when Republicans, (or any politician) lies. Neither do I want to continue watching a network that mistakenly thinks the road to better ratings is paved with mimicking FOX Noise and eliminating non-white show hosts.  

Despite attempts to reshuffle the anchor deck, the numbers are not kind to MSNBC. For the second quarter of this year, Morning Joe ratings had fallen to their lowest levels in seven years. They went up only after the show began emphasizing Donald Trump in its programming over the summer (a temptation all the cable news networks have fallen victim to). Young viewers are fleeing, and the program is regularly beaten by CNN spinoff HLN.

Yet as Tommy Christopher notes in the Daily Banter, Morning Joe remains the Beltway’s morning news show: “Every television set in Washington, DC is tuned to MSNBC in the mornings, because it’s the only one of the three shows that focuses almost exclusively on political news, and thus, is extremely influential in setting the narrative. It’s why I watch it, despite the frequently terrible Joe Scarborough, because if you’re in this game, it’s where you get to see the game films.”

And as Christopher points out, Morning Joe spiked the news of Hillary’s new surge in the polls. Why? Because it clearly conflicts with the show’s agenda of defeating her candidacy. “If they can go three hours without once bothering to mention an important story like Hillary’s polling bump, even if they want to spin it or downplay it, then Morning Joe ceases to have even the marginal value it has now,” writes Christopher.

If there is one question we hear time and again from the thousands of #HillaryMen out there, it is this: why is Morning Joe so openly and relentlessly antagonistic to Hillary Clinton? Why is their anger toward her so palpable, their attempts to disguise their agenda as journalistic responsibility and curiosity so feeble?

We can’t answer the why, but we can strongly object to the vitriol, the lies, spin and misrepresentations.

For example, after Hillary’s exhilarating speech rallying “Women for Hillary” in Wisconsin, Scarborough observed: “That was a horrific performance. That is horrific.”

Yet, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had a very different take: “…a rousing 20-minute speech Thursday evening inside a packed room at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Student Union, Clinton framed issues such as equal pay for women, student loan debt and the Black Lives Matter movement as crucial for not just women, students and African-Americans, but the entire country.”

Earlier this month (and despite an energetic campaign with a full set of progressive policies) Scarborough ranted: “What does she stand for? What does she believe? Isn’t that crazy she’s been in this business this long and still hasn’t found her voice?” Co-host Brzezinski eagerly chimed in: “You started out by saying the clarity of her message is still sort of lacking, she’s never had one. We’ve been asking this question for a year.”

After Hillary’s well-received appearance on Face the Nation, Scarborough and Brzezinski called it “controlled.”

Smirking about the email issue and repeating the false story of a criminal investigation, Scarborough lamented his own party’s performance: “When Hillary Clinton has FBI helicopters swirling around her headquarters and is basically saying ‘Please, please, I’m obstructing justice, please take me away.’”

The host and panel ripped another Hillary appearance in Iowa: “Hillary Clinton’s performance there was dismal. She is reading notes every three words while she’s attacking Donald Trump—she can’t draw these crowds right now.” Chimed in Brzezinski: “It feels like the approach to the campaign is 90s-esque.” Then Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said it was hard to tell apart Clinton from Saturday Night Live’s impersonation of her. “The performance level is beyond abysmal. It’s horrendous, and it’s completely out of step with the mood of the country right now.”

The panel then went on to praise GOP hopeful Carly Fiorina, who openly lied about Planned Parenthood in the Republican debate and whose record doesn’t hold a candle to Hillary’s.

It goes on. As we’ve highlighted previously, consider this exchange:

“You want me to indict and damn Hillary Clinton and I’m not going to do it.” This was an exasperated NYT reporter Jeremy Peters on the set of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” as Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski tried to chip away at him and push him to personally declare that Clinton did something horribly wrong. The topic was Clinton’s infamous email server, which, in recent weeks, has absolutely outraged Brzezinski.

Or this:

The panel of MSNBC’s Morning Joe mocked Hillary Clinton for her wardrobe choice during a press conference about her emails, saying it looked like a prison jumpsuit or Mao Zedong. 

Or this:

Joe Scarborough suggests Clinton planned questions about her server to coincide with Virginia shooting coverage.

Or this:

Falsely claiming that President Obama had signed regulations on email use while Clinton was still at the State Department, Scarborough asserted that her practices were not permitted and that it was inaccurate for Clinton to cite other former secretaries of state in her defense since the policies didn't exist while they were in office.

Or this:

Scarborough: "You have to be really stupid" to trust Hillary Clinton's "ridiculous" story.

Or this:

During an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius thoroughly debunked arguments that Hillary Clinton should be charged with a crime as a result of her use of a private email system while serving as secretary of state. When MSNBC re-aired the first hour of its program later in the morning, the bulk of Ignatius' debunking had been edited out.

Not content with months of anti-Hillary tirades, Morning Joe sank to a new low yesterday, with Scarborough falsely accusing Hillary of starting the “birther” movement and claiming that lies were “spread by the Clinton family” in 2008.

Today, the panel continued the smear, trotting out Hillary's rabid critic Ron Fournier and reporter Mark Halperin, whose book Game Change grossly misrepresented Hillary’s behavior and mindset in 2008. Peter knows, he was a senior staffer on Hillary’s 2008 campaign and publicly rejected the mischaracterizations in Halperin’s book.

Scarborough’s disgusting claim about Hillary and President Obama’s religion was thoroughly debunked by Media Matters seven years ago:

Less than one second. That's how long it took Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to answer, "Of course not," to Steve Kroft's question on 60 Minutes about whether she thought Sen. Barack Obama was a Muslim. You can time it yourself by watching the clip at YouTube.

And guess who defended Hillary against this allegation back then? None other than Joe Scarborough, who now presides over a cesspool of Hillary-bashing rivaling the fetid swamps of fringe rightwing Clinton haters. 

The hypocrisy, it hurts.

+++++

Peter Daou and Tom Watson founded #HillaryMen to provide actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics. Peter is a former senior digital adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a veteran of two presidential campaigns (Kerry '04 and Clinton '08). Tom is an author and Columbia University lecturer who advises companies and non-profits on social activism.