'Insidious' and 'Pathetic Sexism' on Morning Joe, Parker Spitzer?

Over at The New Republic, they hate MSNBC's Morning Joe -- because it's insulting to feminists. Eliza Gray's Monday lament was promoted as "The Pathetic Sexism of Morning Joe."  Gray began simply by lamenting the word count. Shouldn't Mika Brzezinski talk just as much as Joe Scarborough?

One Monday morning in November, according to the admittedly rough transcript provided by the Federal News Service, “Morning Joe,” anchor Joe Scarborough spoke 3,213 words; his co-anchor Mika Brzezinski spoke just 644. Most of her words seemed merely to remind the audience that she was still awake: Yeah. Okay. Yes. No. Maybe. Right. Terrific. Scarborough dominated the meaty segments; Brzezinski piped up mainly during the transitions. She asked guest Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, only one thing: “Terrific, eh?” she chimed, referring to our poor diplomatic relationship with Afghanistan.

On one level, the disparity is not surprising. Scarborough is the show’s headliner; it makes sense that he would speak more than his co-host. The show is not called “Morning Mika.” The third host, Willie Geist, spoke even less that Monday morning, only 145 words. Geist’s silence, however, is less problematic than Brzezinski’s, who, while not the titular star of the show, is billed as something close to a partner. The shot that starts each segment frames Brzezinski and Scarborough (and, of course, their Starbucks beverages), with Willie off to the side. Black-and-white glamour shots of Brzezinski and Scarborough punctuate every commercial break, but I’ve never seen a close-up of Geist....

But if Brzezinski is the true second pillar of the show, why is she so quiet? Maybe the better question is, why is Scarborough so loud? And why does MSNBC, supposedly leading the liberal charge against conservative cable news, stand for such a dispiriting and old-fashioned gender dynamic? Anyone for a little sexism with their morning joe?

But Gray grew more desperate, raging against Joe and Pat Buchanan expressing concern (or having a "rant") when Mika was mugged. They apparently shouldn't have been furious, because it's patronizing:

In addition to such retrograde verbal jousting, and the hosts’ vastly unequal oratorical contributions, the show permits a type of patronization that shouldnot betoleratedby journalists of Brzezinski’s caliber. One particularly nauseating segment aired in December of 2008 when Brzezinski was mugged outside her hotel on her way to a taping. Scarborough opened the show that morning with a three-minute rant about the mugging.

“I am furious,” bellowed Scarborough, ignoring Brzezinski’s pleas to leave it alone. “We always give her five dollars in case something like that happens,” he said. Then, Pat Buchanan, the morning’s guest, voiced his grandfatherly pity for poor Mika: “It’s outrageous, they ought to have a doorman or something, or have people walk you to the car.” For three minutes, Brzezinski squirmed in her chair, periodically protesting that she was just fine.

There’s nothing wrong with expressing sympathy for someone who endured a mugging. But Scarborough’s tirade, while seemingly sincere, was also condescending and inconsiderate in its dismissal of Brzezinski’s requests that the matter not be discussed on-air. It’s hard to imagine the same scenario playing out between Scarborough and female journalists who have established independent careers, like Christiane Amanpour, Diane Sawyer, or magazine editor Tina Brown. If any of these women had been mugged, and had decided to discuss the attack on air, it seems probable that they would have told the story and expressed their own outrage.

Unsurprisingly, Gray found the same phenomenon at CNN's Parker Spitzer, which by Gray's lights should be more outrageous since both names are in the show title:

Such sexism is particularly grating because of MSNBC’s purportedly liberal leanings, but the dynamic occurs elsewhere on cable news, like on CNN’s “Parker Spitzer.” I won’t give the show full treatment here, but the similar dynamic deserves consideration, especially since Parker, it seems, no longer has the stomach for it. (Full disclosure: Kathleen Parker is a family friend.)

“Parker Spitzer,” like “Morning Joe,” has the word-count problem, with Spitzer speaking, on average, twice as much as Parker. (Spitzer generally doesn’t speak many more times than Parker, but his monologues often run twice as long.)

Gray concluded: "Though I find Spitzer and Scarborough insufferable, they are not entirely to blame for bulldozing their co-hosts. In allowing and seemingly condoning such behavior, the networks commit the greater sin. Whether liberal-leaning (MSNBC) or politically neutral (CNN), news networks owe their viewers something better. This daily dose of sexism is insidious — a setback for feminism and awfully annoying to watch."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis