I don’t know exactly how, when, or why it happened.
For years Debra and I watched the Today Show while we were preparing ourselves for the day; Matt, Katie, and Al were our morning friends. Somewhere along the way—I think it was about the time that Meredith replaced Katie but if that’s the case it’s coincidental because I like Meredith just fine (ok, not as much as I liked Katie but I still maintain that had nothing to do with it)—I started clicking over to MSNBC to see what Don Imus was up to; in retrospect I’m not particularly proud of that but, to be fair to me, he did have some interesting guests since for some reason everybody who was somebody in politics wanted to be on his show.
Then Imus put his foot in his mouth, not for the first time but that time at an angle that made it impossible for him to extract it and that brought about a change that meant that when I clicked over to MSNBC in order to avoid watching the same local news segment yet again I found Morning Joe, featuring Joe Scarborough, instead, and before long we had stopped visiting Today altogether and were spending our mornings with Joe and his cohorts.
Let me say a couple of things before I go any farther.
First, I have never met Joe Scarborough.
Second, even though it is true that I have never met him, I think I would like him. I believe that Joe is a person with whom I would love to have lunch sometime so that we could have a friendly discussion about religion, politics, and college football, not necessarily in that order.
Indeed, I would be tickled if, through some inexplicable set of circumstances, Joe became aware of this humble blog post about him and, as a result, invited me to join him for lunch in New York or—even better— to make a guest appearance on his show or—even better—to become a regular guest contributor on Morning Joe. After all, Joe presents himself as a regular Joe—no pun intended—who represented in Congress and still lives among the common folk of the Florida Panhandle and I am a regular Mike—no pun accomplished—who serves as a pastor to and lives among the regular folk of South Central Georgia, which, for my readers who are unfamiliar with our state, is miles and miles away in every conceivable way from Atlanta, which is not really part of Georgia anyway.
And so it pains me to say what I feel I must say, which is that Morning Joe is a better show when Joe is not on it.
Now, I readily admit that the things that I don’t like about Joe’s shtick are probably the very things that most of his viewers do like about it. So what are my complaints?
First, he interrupts and talks over people. Joe’s way of doing that is kinder and gentler than that of some other talk show hosts; he’s not really mean or obnoxious about it—he’s more smarmy and smart-alecky, and I mean that in a nice way.
Second, he fails to take other people seriously. He can be very dismissive of someone else’s point, even if that position might be very well thought out and very provocative, which we can’t decide for ourselves because he seems so eager not to let the other person speak.
OK, let me come clean—I’m mainly talking about the way Joe treats Mika. Mika Brzezinski is Joe’s sidekick on Morning Joe. A graduate of Williams College and an accomplished television journalist in her own right, Mika clearly has some very interesting and intelligent things to say but all too often Joe cuts her off. Then, she gets exasperated and Joe gets condescending and off we go.
I don’t think that it is an overstatement to say that while Joe can sometimes be a little sharp and combative with other people on the show he is particularly and irritatingly dismissive of Mika when she tries to make a contribution to the discussion.
I’m not sure why that is. I don’t think that Joe is misogynistic since he is usually pretty polite to the female guests on his show. Perhaps some of the fault lies with Mika; maybe she should do a better job of standing up for herself. This much I know: I love it when Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal is on the program because whenever Joe tries to get uppity with her she stops him in his tracks; it’s rather fun to watch and I wish that Mika would take some lessons from Ms. Noonan.
And, I suppose that what I’m complaining about may just be a part of the design of the show and that what I interpret as Joe’s impoliteness and Mika’s exasperation may just be part of the way that their roles are scripted.
This much I know: when Joe is away from the show and it is being hosted by Mika with help from Willie Geist and Mike Barnicle, it’s a better show. They cover the same kind of topics and they host the same kind of guests and they have the same kind of discussions but the topics are dealt with more fully and the guests talk more freely and the discussions are more helpful and it’s all for one reason: the conversations are more civil. And the conversations are more civil for one reason: they do not have the shadow of Joe’s interruptions and dismissals—usually targeted at Mika—hanging over them, which is a constant issue because Mika participates in almost all of the discussions that take place so if she is walked on it colors everything that is happening.
My advice to Joe, were he to ask me when we have lunch together or when he calls to offer to make me a regular contributor to Morning Joe, would be to stay on his show but to treat Mika as more of a full partner with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. If he would join such respect and maturity to his intelligence and insight, what is now a good show with him that is a better show without him would become a truly outstanding program with him.
My most insightful readers have realized already that this column is actually a veiled commentary on the state of the discourse that takes place in our society in these days.
I am the pastor of a church and I believe with all my heart that in the church we should treat each other with respect, as persons made in the image of God who have dignity and who should be listened to and talked to with great attention and with much openness.
I am a citizen of the United States of America and I believe with all my heart that our national well-being is not well-served by acrobatic spin doctors and by acerbic, dishonest, and biased commentators and especially by talking heads whose disrespect for people who disagree with them is demonstrated by their contempt for the convictions and opinions expressed by those people.
We are at our best in the church and in the nation when we respectfully and carefully listen to and talk with one another; we are at our worst when we disrespect and dismiss even one of God’s children—indeed, we can’t do that without disrespecting and dismissing all of God’s children who happen to be in the room or in the world at the time.
I’ll be glad to say more about that during my first spot on Morning Joe, during which, I am sure, I will be interviewed by Mika.