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The metamorphosis of Morning Joe

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I’ll start this with a quick confession, though most regular readers are already aware of it. I’ve been a fan of Morning Joe for years… pretty much since the beginning. (Also, by way of full disclosure, I’ve actually met and spoken with Joe Scarborough on a number of occasions, though not so much with Mika, and even did the show once.) This has been the subject of many bizarre interactions with readers leaving comments and people I engage with on social media. The feedback ranges from the humorous to the incendiary, mostly from people who don’t watch the show and fail to understand why I always did. But that’s been changing over the past year or so.

I’ve found myself increasingly unable to simply sit back and enjoy the MSNBC morning gab festival while I work. Some days I sit through it anyway (often with the sound down so I can focus on writing but still keep an eye out for breaking news on the chyron). Other days I haven’t been able to make it through five minutes before changing the channel. I’ve actually gotten to know a lot more about Fox & Friends this year, though sometimes I flip over to CNN Headline News.

If you’d pressed me as to why my viewing habits shifted I would have been hard-pressed to effectively put it into words. But now, someone else has come along and done the job in a way which left me stunned when I came across it last night. Alex Castellanos, writing at the Daily Caller, has summed up the entire experience in a way which left me saying, “Oh… Wow. That’s really it.”

His essay has a title which is far more harsh than the actual contents of the piece. “IT’S OFFICIAL: The Ranting Anti-Trump Monotony Of ‘Morning Joe’ Is Now A Disastrous Failure.”

As I said… a bit harsh, but it does grab your attention. And we should be clear here that the “failure” part has nothing to do with ratings or commercial success. The show is actually doing better in the ratings, likely because they now attract a lot more fans of Maddow and Chris Hayes who no longer have to worry about hearing anything that might offend them. If there is a “failure” here it is of purity, not rankings in the key demos.

Alex starts with nine paragraphs of praise for Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and the rest of the crew which made the show tick. He talks about how he too was a regular viewer for years on end and he describes all the elements of the program which made it so worth watching, whether you were a liberal, a conservative, or anything in between. The chemistry of the main characters in this play was fully as important as the policy discussions and reporting which unfolded around the table. And then he gets down to the meat of the matter and explains where the wheels came off the wagon during the age of Trump.

Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski used to represent the political battle of the sexes, daddy-bear Republicans versus the mommy-party Democrats. The couple simmered: Mika and Joe were a flesh-and-blood version of the age-old evolutionary conflict that drives human progress. They fought, embraced, and respected each other in smoldering discussions that left viewers envious of make-up sex. Matlin and Carville could not touch them.

Their clashing views gave show dramatic power. As their relationship grew stronger, viewers found Morning Joe was also their home: a safe space for political conflict. Now, that Morning Joe is no more. As our President might tweet, #Sad. #FailingMorningJoe.

The conflict between mom and dad is gone. The relationship that once ignited sparks has been dimmed and homogenized. Every cast member reads the same script, disowning differences and drama. Morning Joe has become a sea of sameness. The performers play indistinguishable parts, predictable bobble-head dolls that hate Donald John Trump.

Every morning, Joe trods the same path: “Can you believe what Trump has done? He does not respect the institutions that we, the establishment, have been running. He does not understand the principles that we, the establishment, have been upholding. He is disrupting the status quo that validates our superiority. When will Republicans in the Senate say “enough” and stand up to Donald Trump? And when will someone pass the Grey Poupon?”

You really need to read the entire article to fully appreciate this exploration of the metamorphosis we’ve witnessed. It’s the story of how Morning Joe spent years as the happy caterpillar of political commentary, chewing its way through the leaves of the Washington swamp. But last year it spun a cocoon, emerging as a sad, angry moth that now endlessly flits around the flame of the Trump presidency.

Castellanos isn’t a fan of Trump. For that matter, I couldn’t call myself a “fan” either. I criticize the President on this site on a nearly weekly basis when I disagree with him on this or that policy point, often on things like the Renewable Fuel Standard or privatization of ATC. I also praise him when he’s doing solid conservative work on issues such as immigration, law enforcement and eliminating wasteful regulations. But while Castellanos may not be wearing a MAGA hat, he actually is a fan of good political television coverage. I’ll just chime in and say that I feel the same way.

The Trump presidency offers the chance for both supporters and opponents to debate how the President is changing Washington. What needed to be changed and what might we miss when it’s gone? Those are the things that Joe and Mika used to do regularly and they would bring on guests from all across the spectrum of political opinion to fuel that discussion. But too many in the news business this year missed out on one fact which Castellanos drives home: “Donald Trump was a hand grenade thrown under Washington’s door. Millions of Americans saw Trump, with his gargantuan failings and excesses, and chose him anyway over the world Morning Joe continues to defend.”

It would have made for a great debate. (And out there on the web, that debate is actually taking place, though cable news cameras shy away from it.) Sadly, as Alex points out in closing, Morning Joe is now entirely predictable. If you miss one show this week, don’t worry. The same show will run again tomorrow. I seriously hope that changes because I remain a fan of Joe and Mika and I’d love to see the game afoot once again around that table.

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Lesley Stahl: Trump told me he attacks the media so that people won’t believe us when we report bad news about him

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I mean, obviously. A scandalized shiver runs through the room in the clip after Stahl says this but nothing about Trump is as transparent as his strategic goal in gaslighting people about “fake news.” Here’s something I’ve linked before, written two days after his inauguration and attempting to explain why Sean Spicer held that embarrassing “these were the biggest inauguration crowds ever!” press conference. Among the suggested reasons:

The point of carping about “fake news” isn’t to discredit the stories that are false, it’s to discredit the stories that are true. It’s the same as the “witch hunt” rhetoric about Russiagate, which has already produced five guilty pleas and 17 indictments. Any politician pinned to the wall by damaging news would kill to have a reservoir of suspicion about the media among their base that they can call on in a pinch to defuse that news. The goal isn’t necessarily to get people to disbelieve a story but to stoke enough doubt about the reliability of its narrators that the public will conclude there’s no way to know what’s truth and what isn’t. That’s the art of the gaslight. And the author I quoted above also anticipated that:

If ever there was a “tell” about Trump’s strategy, it was this tweet posted 17 days after he was sworn in. It’s one thing to claim that reporters are slanting their coverage to disfavor him, as that obviously does happen. It’s another to suggest that pollsters are engaged in willful fraud, en masse, to make him look bad by manipulating their data and willing to risk their professional reputations in doing so:

Everything that’s bad for him is “fake” and you shouldn’t believe it, and if you do you’re siding with Them over him. He’s not coy or in any way subtle about this. This is a guy, remember, who back in the day used to dial up reporters posing as his own PR flack to tout his wealth or his womanizing or whatever. Subtlety’s not his thing, certainly when dealing with the media. The reason there are murmurs in the room after Stahl tells her story, I think, is just because he’s willing to cop to the gaslighting openly, even to a member of the media itself. It’s all just a game, played to a strategic end. Why pretend otherwise?

In lieu of an exit question, something unrelated but fun. Apparently Trump’s inimitable Twitter style is, in fact, imitable:

“West Wing employees who draft proposed tweets intentionally employ suspect grammar and staccato syntax in order to mimic the president’s style, according to two people familiar with the process,” the Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey reports.

The details: “They overuse the exclamation point! They Capitalize random words for emphasis. Fragments. Loosely connected ideas. All part of a process that is not as spontaneous as Trump’s Twitter feed often appears.”

That’s GOP-style populism in microcosm. You’ve got one guy, the populist-in-chief, whose grammar and spelling are not the best but whose style is “authentic” and “relatable.” And then you’ve got a coterie of well-educated phonies and cronies mimicking him, pretending to be stupid in the same way because that’s what he wants and they’re convinced that that’s what the people want. No one has any incentive, political or financial, to be better. Sad!

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Trump Goes Scorched Earth on FBI Spy Campaign: ‘Follow the Money, the Spy Was Only There to Help Crooked Hillary Win’

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President Trump unleashed on the FBI’s infiltration of his campaign Tuesday evening in a pair of tweets.

The President said, “Follow the money!” the spy wasn’t there to find ‘Russian collusion,’ he was there to help Crooked Hillary win the election!

President Trump, please never stop tweeting!

President Trump lit up Twitter Tuesday evening after he tweeted what we are all thinking–the spies infiltrated his campaign for political purposes to help Hillary Clinton win the election.

Trump tweeted: If the person placed very early into my campaign wasn’t a SPY put there by the previous Administration for political purposes, how come such a seemingly massive amount of money was paid for services rendered – many times higher than normal…

Trump then slams Crooked Hillary: …Follow the money! The spy was there early in the campaign and yet never reported Collusion with Russia, because there was no Collusion. He was only there to spy for political reasons and to help Crooked Hillary win – just like they did to Bernie Sanders, who got duped!

The informant, Stefan Halper, was paid a total of $411,575 in 2016 and 2017 for work with the US government that included spying on the Trump campaign.

It was a lucrative business for Stefan Halper.

Now the Democrats are in spin mode.

They went from ‘there was no spy inside of Trump’s camp’ to ‘the informant was there to help protect Trump against the Russians.’

Former DNI Chief James Clapper is claiming embedding spies is “a standard investigative practice.”

Hillary Clinton wanted to spy on her political opponent and she accomplished her goal with help from Obama’s weaponized intel agencies.

President Trump is right; Spygate is worse than Watergate.

Earlier Tuesday, President Trump told reporters, “If they had spies in my campaign, that would be a disgrace to this country.”

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Shouldn’t Publix be forced to bake the Latin cake?

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Palette cleansers don’t usually come this sweet … if we’re still permitted to use that phraseology. A family celebrating the graduation of their son with high honors had ordered a cake made from the local Publix supermarket, using their online system to proudly display Jacob Kosinski’s status as a summa cum laude student. Just one problem, the online system responded — they don’t allow obscenities on their cake designs.

Shouldn’t they be forced to bake the Latin cake?

Cara Koscinski organized a graduation party for her 18-year-old son. For the occasion, she ordered a cake online from her nearest grocery store, Publix, which lets customers build their own cakes complete with a customized inscription, which they enter into a message box marked “cake message option.”

Carefully, she typed in the words she wanted on the cake: “Congrats Jacob! Summa Cum Laude class of 2018.”

Publix’s online system was unhappy with the word “cum.”

Good Lord. This is less about mandatory cake-baking than it is about cultural ignorance and classical illiteracy. We stopped teaching Latin as a compulsory subject in most schools decades ago, but this Latin phrasing in particular remains very common — used in all college and university graduations, and many high school degrees, too. Magna cum laude is understood by most people not to be a reference to a particular prophylactic, for Pete’s sake.

Publix apologized and returned the family’s money, which is as much as they can do for this particular error. It should remind them to pay attention to the special instructions in their own flippin’ system, however, especially when the customer calls to explain it to them in plain English. If Publix doesn’t want to make cakes for a particular special occasion or to proclaim a particular message, they shouldn’t be forced to do, and neither should anyone else. But is it too much to ask that they check out requests to ensure that they really object to it?

At least Jacob has a pretty clear understanding about the nonsensical levels of political correctness and ignorance he’ll encounter in the wider world. It might keep him more grounded than most other high school graduates entering colleges and universities this fall. In the meantime, let’s offer a Latin lesson for bakeries around the country, just in case they need to conjugate. In the language sense, that is.

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