The eye rolls start early and do not end until Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the protagonists of Olivia Nuzzi’s cover story for the current issue of New York magazine, get engaged in the South of France (the affianced’s struggle to tend to her pets with the enormous engagement ring dangling off her ring finger, is, as the kids say, so real). That our lovebirds host a cable news program consumed and obsessed over by the Beltway caste, is largely why several thousand words and a glossy cover photo are given over to them. Oh, and the fact that they are in a fake love/hate relationship with our media overlord Donald Trump does not hurt when it comes to moving magazines and generating buzz among the people who Joe and Mika rub elbows with summering in Nantucket.
For people who claim not to like each other, the trio seem to spend a lot of time together. Reading through Nuzzi’s piece you will shake your head at the number of private meetings, lunches and calls Trump has with his erstwhile foes. The idea that Scarborough and Brzezinski are somehow foils for Trump is belied by the fact that their access to him remained significant even past his inauguration and extended to visits at the White House and calls between Trump and “Morning” Joe. These tete-a-tetes, which supposedly ended when Trump complained of the coverage he was receiving, gloss over the good times, like when a hot mic caught Trump during a commercial break at a town hall Joe and Mika hosted confirming that the questions they would ask would be of the softball variety or the time the couple spent with the candidate watching the New Hampshire primary returns.
That is to say, there is more high school drama than a Judy Blume book, but it is all ruse, precisely the type of faux-feud that made a modern-day carnival barker named Vince McMahon a multi-millionaire in the pro wrestling industry and was documented without irony in Mark Leibovich’s seminal book on the fakery of D.C., This Town. Nuzzi mines the trio’s most recent spat, where Trump lashed out at Mika’s cosmetic surgery (it turns out the debate is over what she had done, not whether she had anything done, a sort of fourth-wall breaking point where a person on TV cops to what any casual viewer can tell - that many people appearing on our screen have had “work done”) with the chattering class rising as one in her defense. Nuzzi’s portrayal of Brzezinski is mostly sympathetic. Mika, of the “Know Your Value” campaign, can be both vulnerable and empowered by sloughing off Trump’s taunts, but it is hard to well up much sympathy for her victimhood when she spent much of the campaign expressing her dismay at Hillary Clinton’s nomination. Trump is a distant presence, not quoted for the article but having people in his camp offer rebuttals that essentially boil down to Joe’s jealousy that Trump became President when he had aspirations of higher office and Mika’s displeasure that the self-awareness that once softened Trump’s bombast has dried up.
Nuzzi also slips on her kid gloves when it comes to the origins of the couple’s romance. And perhaps this is understandable. After all, Scarborough made his bones as an impeachment manager in the 1990s and Brzezinski gives a version of having caused “pain in her marriage” that it does not take a genius to understand what she is implying. But instead of focusing on the murky backstory, the couple instead lean on the idea of mid-life crisis adjacent. Scarborough hits fifty and realizes he needs to spend the rest of his life with Mika and Mika has a lightning bolt moment (the inference being while still married to someone else) that leads her into Scarborough’s arms. The heart wants what the heart wants, or something.
And I am no judge of others’ fidelity, but laden throughout the article is the kind of hypocrisy that comes from people who had multiple marriages but made their bones judging others (Scarborough) and claim to lobby for women’s rights while genuflecting before Trump (Brzezinski) that makes people who don’t earn their living making millions on television disdain. Anonymous sources quoted in the article highlight the artifice of the “Acela Corridor” political and journalist class, but when you get a fawning cover story in one of the few magazines that matters anymore, do you really care if you are called on your bullshit?
If it is true that “where you sit is where you stand” things are unlikely to change. Trump is portrayed as rubbing the couple’s nose in shit over the trappings of his office and Joe and Mika are comfortably ensconced in a lifestyle fit for the 1% with multiple houses and an amen corner of politicians and famous-as-journalists (a great turn of phrase Nuzzi uses early in the piece) guests eager to kiss their asses for three hours each weekday. Left unsaid (not that it needed to be) is that this is all mutually beneficial. Trump uses Joe and Mika as avatars of “fake media” and the more he attacks the couple, the higher their ratings go.
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