8:21 am Oct. 4, 2011
As far as TV news consumption goes, Joe Scarborough is on a lean diet.
"When I'm off the air, I have stopped trying to find news on TV networks other than ours," the host of MSNBC's morning news-talk show "Morning Joe" said during an Advertising Week event at the Times Center on Eighth Avenue yesterday. "I'll go to the BBC. Or if I'm really lucky"—this was when he started to crack himself up—"I'll find Al Jazeera America on a cable network. I'm dead serious."
(In this proclamation, he only follows former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld by a few days.)
It was a little after 6 p.m., and Scarborough was sitting on a panel with Arianna Huffington and a gaggle of editors and contributors from her own eponymously-named media juggernaut. (Scarborough's co-host, Mika Brzezinski, was also on deck.)
The topic? How to "move beyond the tired framing in which all issues are boiled down to simply 'left vs. right.'" It's a conundrum with which Scarborough (a center-right former Republican congressman employed by a left-leaning cable news channel) and Huffington (a '90s conservative commentator turned '00s liberal blogging queen) have grappled in recent years while building up their respective brands at "Morning Joe" and The Huffington Post. Starting out according to the conventional wisdom that taking a side is the way to build an audience, both have been successful enough to have to move beyond that foundational principle to catch more viewers, and both have become far less religious about their roots.
But that wasn't something anyone was acknowledging. Rather the topic just seemed to come out of the latest Post-Partisan style, which basically says that nobody's wrong and nobody's right because everybody who's anybody is just a boob. In this case, the boobs were the media (present company excepted).
The health care debate came up, for example.
"When I looked at issues like health care and wanted to make my own opinions, I found it extremely difficult to really find well-thought-out arguments on both sides that would really allow me to figure out where I stood on individual issues," said a woman who identified herself as a YouTube employee with prior experience in journalism. "Is the fourth estate to blame for the situation we're in right now? And what can we do to fix that, in a world where we have more information than ever, but a lot of it is just screaming and arguments that are not well thought out?"
Scarborough finished her thought.
"And a lot of information that is not fueled by screaming and rabid ideology that is just stupid," he said. "I mean, seriously. We were running a press conference of the president, and CNN, I'll just say it"—nevermind that CNN contributor David Frum was sitting two seats to Scarborough's right (although Huffington, who moderated the panel, had introduced Frum as an editor-at-large for her website's Canadian vertical)—"CNN, what's their slogan? 'The Greatest Name in News' or whatever the hell it is, they're talking to the Balloon Boy's father's lawyer. Like, a month later!"
The assembled conference-goers chuckled knowingly.
"All the days that I'm off and I look at the other channels," he continued, pausing to insert the requisite, "Is this being taped?" caveat, "and I look at the shit that America has to watch; these shows—"
"Don't name them!" Brzezinski warned.
"I won't name them," said Scarborough, "but they would have Tim Russert and Andrea Mitchell and brilliant people like that for the first 45 minutes, from 7 to 7:45, [and then] are onto Britney Spears!"
Brzezinski tapped her co-host on the arm to interrupt.
"No, no," she said, as if to one-up his anecdote. "I walked by a monitor when I was going to the lady's room, and it said, 'Woman run over by a truck while tanning speaks out.'"
"It's a bleak landscape out there," said Scarborough. "If you wanted to learn much about health care reform while the debate was being waged, I hate to say it, but you'd be better off to just read The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal—and The Huffington Post, of course—than to turn on the TV."