Joe Scarborough’s morning-show banter turned mysterious Wednesday when he appeared to link the media fallout after the Tucson shooting to Keith Olbermann’s exit from MSNBC. Wayne Barrett on the possible connection.Joe Scarborough made an odd comment on Wednesday morning about the Tucson shooting that got me thinking.
Gabriel Sherman was the guest. His recent New York magazine cover on Roger Ailes has provoked a lot of talk. Mika Brzezinski steered the conversation to Tucson. Sherman wrote that it was “a turning point” for Ailes and that Ailes “told all of our guys, ‘Shut up, tone it down, make your arguments intellectually'” after the rampage, which some said was tied to the red-hot level of public debate. Brzezinski and Sherman simultaneously used the word “civility” as the Ailes-approved outcome of the tragedy.
Scarborough had sat out the Tucson discussion so far, but with Sherman in mid-sentence, he suddenly felt the urge to tease.
“By the way,” he interrupted, only to turn up the volume to declare a second time: “BY THE WAY!”
“By the way and this is all I will say,” he declared, as if he was about to reveal a state secret, or at least an MSNBC secret.
“Not just Fox News. Everywhere.”
Sherman and Brzezinski thought Scarborough was making a cultural comment and went on about how the murders of six at a shopping centre meeting with a congresswoman “caused everyone to talk” and were a “moment of public discussion,” missing Scarborough’s very particular point.
So Morning Joe let his Starbucks do the talking and started spelling it out, in a loud, slow, and insistent voice. “NOT… JUST… AT… FOX NEWS.”
“I know, but…” chimed in Brzezinski.
“Let me just say it again,” Scarborough said. A bad-boy smile lit his face. “NOT… JUST… AT… FOX NEWS.” Mike Barnicle started laughing out loud, and Scarborough’s grin grew. “Let’s… let’s… go to Mike Barnicle right now.”
I went to my computer and punched in the date of the massacre—January 8—and the date of Keith Olbermann’s departure from MSNBC—January 21. Scarborough certainly appeared to be saying that another, unnamed, news network decided to use Tucson as a rationale for cleaning up its act. He appeared also to be saying he had inside information about it that he could only chortle about, unable to spell it out. Of course, MSNBC and Olbermann signed a non-aggression pact, and Scarborough appeared to be on the brink of breaking it.
Olbermann had actually done a provocative special comment after the killings, denouncing Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck and demanding apologies for “ever turning to the death fantasies and the dreams of bloodlust,” announcing that it was time “to put the guns down and put the gun metaphors away and permanently.” He also apologized for and repudiated anything in his own past that may have “encouraged violence.” The comments provoked a firestorm on the right.
Ironically, when Olbermann delivered that special comment, he had just escaped from MSNBC purgatory, having been suspended a couple of months earlier for giving three Democrats campaign contributions, including the congresswoman shot in Tucson, Gabrielle Giffords.
I emailed Olbermann about the Scarborough banter and he refused to comment. Scarborough and Phil Griffin, who runs MSNBC, did not respond to emails that detailed my questions about this mysterious reference on the show.
It is at least worth noting in this admittedly speculative blog that soon after MSNBC took out Olbermann, Fox bounced Beck. The decisive meeting between Ailes and Beck is reported to have occurred on March 28, but was preceded by much back and forth that, as it turns out, foreshadowed the eventual demise. Olbermann’s attacks on Fox had previously been the subject of NBC/Fox powwows, and even an apparent one-time peace accord. So a possible linkage between the Olbermann and Beck departures, prompted by this post-Tucson thaw, is hardly a crazy thesis.
One that apparently tickles Scarborough.
Wayne Barrett is a Newsweek contributor and a fellow at the Nation Institute.