Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

'Morning Joe' hosts respond on-air with authority, power to presidential ugliness

The on-air response today from Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough to President Donald Trump’s ugly Thursday-morning tweets about them was such compelling television I watched it twice.

It ran live for about 30 minutes at 7 a.m., and then was replayed at 8 a.m., and it was just as powerful the second time through.

Trump’s tweets on Thursday came in response to comments made on the duo’s “Morning Joe” show on MSNBC. They involved jokes about Trump having fake Time magazine covers featuring him. You can read my response to the nastiness of Trump’s tweets here.

Most troubling was the way Trump used Twitter to personally attack Brzezinski and the sick way his words fit the pattern of other Twitter attacks he’s launched on such women as Megyn Kelly and Rosie O’Donnell.

The power of today’s response by Brzezinski and Scarborough was in its measured control – in direct contrast with the president’s tweets, which had the feel of a mean, angry adolescent lashing out.

Brzezinski and Scarborough were the adults in the room, and it gave them a kind of moral authority so desperately lacking in so much of media and government these days – particularly on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Donnie Deutsch, one of the “Morning Joe” guests on-set during the response, wanted to go a little low road to express his outrage at Trump, talking about meeting him in the schoolyard. But Scarborough stopped him, and said he didn’t want the show to go there.

I understand Deutsch, a frequent guest on the show, wanting to talk back to someone he characterized as a bully in his own language. But I applaud Scarborough for keeping it high road.

Scarborough and Brzezinski did more damage to Trump by calmly, but forcefully, discussing what they characterized as Trump using the National Enquirer, which is run by the president’s friend, CEO David Pecker, to threaten them.

As they described it, the supermarket tabloid started calling friends and colleagues, including Brzezinski’s teenage daughters, for a story it was allegedly reporting on the two, who were then dating. They are engaged now.

Scarborough said a van with a reporter from the publication was staking out Brzezinski’s home.

Then, Scarborough says, he started getting calls from “top White House staff members” telling him he needed to call Trump and apologize for the on-air criticism of the president. If he did that, Scarborough says he was told, the president would “spike” the story (make sure it did not get published).

“And let me explain what they were threatening,” Brzezinski said on-air today. “They were calling my children. They were calling friends of mine. And they were pinning the story on my ex-husband, who would absolutely never do that. So, I knew immediately it was a lie and they had nothing.”

What the two show hosts described can only be called an attempt at blackmail. The couple says they decided to let the tabloid publish what it wanted, that they would not back down.

Trump responded, where else but on Twitter, at 7:55 this morning.

“Watched low rated@Morning_Joe for first time in long time,” he wrote. “FAKE NEWS. He called me to stop a National Enquirer article. said no! Bad show.”

Bad news for us that our president appears to be living in a media universe dominated by the lurid tabloid allegations of the National Enquirer and the unmitigated recklessness and nastiness of Twitter at its worst.

Good news that some members of the media are rising to the challenge of standing up to this president without stooping to his level.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/davidzurawik

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