Biden’s obsession with the sycophantic ‘Morning Joe’

MSNBC host Joe Scarborough was delivering one of his quintessential cable news soliloquies, and his panelists knew to stay out of the way.

“I’ve spent a good deal of time with Joe Biden, a couple hours, sitting and talking,” he said on last Wednesday’s episode of “Morning Joe.” “He’s cogent. But I undersold it when I said he was cogent. He’s far beyond cogent. In fact, I believe he’s better than he’s ever been.”

Then Scarborough really got rolling.

“Start your tape right now, because I’m about to tell you the truth,” he implored his viewers — and, conceivably, the media who cover the media. “And eff you if you can’t handle the truth. This version of Biden, intellectually, analytically, is the best Biden ever. Not a close second. And I’ve known him for years.”

This “best Biden ever” cheerleading from Scarborough, the former Republican congressman turned cable news veteran, came just days before we had learned new details about the repeated mental lapses on stark display during interviews conducted by Special Counsel Robert Hur.

It’s all enough to put White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre out of business — as she “joked” about last week, when she made an appearance on “Morning Joe.”

No matter — Scarborough is smitten with this particular version Biden. Or at least he says so, rather convincingly, on television. But is it Biden himself, or the job Biden holds that so enamors the MSNBC host?

Biden has an “obsession” with “Morning Joe,” according to an Axios report last month. “Biden’s years-long love of MSNBC’s staple morning show affects how the White House runs — and who Biden listens to,” Alex Thompson wrote. “The president often calls co-host Joe Scarborough … to get Scarborough’s take on issues and sometimes vent about media coverage, according to people familiar with the relationship.”

And it’s not just the president. Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband recently hosted Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, his cohost and wife, for a dinner at the vice president’s residence, Thompson reported.

This is more than simply being a fan of a television show. The Biden White House is intimately involved both professionally and personally with a cable news show and its hosts. It’s certainly creeping toward an ethical gray area, if not going entirely over the line of what is appropriate for a program that exists on a channel purporting to be a “news” network.

Of course, Scarborough’s affinity for those in power didn’t start with the Biden administration. Back in 2015 and 2016, Scarborough and “Morning Joe” were roundly critiqued for their platforming of then-candidate Donald Trump. The relationship was rocky, to be sure. But even after Trump was elected, Joe and Mika were seen at Mar-a-Lago on New Year’s Eve, meeting with the president-elect.

That led critics such as Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan to call out the “schmoozing” and lack of “distance between journalists and elected officials.” Scarborough responded at the time with hand-waving, saying “that has been the Washington way for a very long time.”

Perhaps that shared background as creatures of Washington made it even easier for Scarborough to transition from ardent defender of Trump, the ultimate outsider, to an ardent defender of Biden, the epitome of a Washington insider.

So what is the genesis of all the sycophantic ranting and effusive praise for the man in the White House? It’s the chicken-or-egg question of journalistic flattery. Does Biden obsess over Scarborough because the host heaps hyperbolic praise on him? Or does Scarborough fawn over Biden because the president is watching?

Probably it’s a combination of both.

“Morning Joe” has evolved beyond just the political polarity shifting from R to D. What was once a clear lead role for the titular host has become a definitive joint cohosting gig for Scarborough and his now-wife, Mika Brzezinski. The duo went public with their relationship in 2017 and got married in late 2018. Since then, the show has become as much Morning Mika as it is Morning Joe.

On Monday morning this week, each took shots at GOP Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) after she sparred with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on his Sunday show. Stephanopoulos had outrageously used her past rape as an avenue to question why she would support Trump now. Scarborough and Brzezinski of course defended Stephanopoulos and attacked Mace — and the fire was equal parts Mika as it was Joe.

Last Friday, Scarborough and Brzezinski were raving about Biden’s State of the Union address, with Joe calling it a “tour de force” and describing it as “brilliant.”

Does the “Morning Joe” audience actually believe it? Surely some do. But perhaps it is the audience of one that matters most the viewer at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He is no doubt tuning in to his favorite obsession — a program just as obsequious in return, despite whatever ethical breaches occur when it comes to the coziness between press and power.

Steve Krakauer, a NewsNation contributor, is the author of “Uncovered: How the Media Got Cozy with Power, Abandoned Its Principles, and Lost the People” and editor and host of the Fourth Watch newsletter and podcast.

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