Politically hip? "Morning Joe" not living up to the hype
Published: Monday, July 16, 2012
Updated: Thursday, August 30, 2012 19:08
In the latest issue of The New York Times Magazine there is a full page spread for the MSNBC talk show "Morning Joe." The ad features co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski walking down a Manhattan street in the fall. They are dressed in black, in contrast with the pink glow on the concrete from Radio City Music Hall. In the image below, Willie Geist, the show’s pop culture authority is on set checking his smart phone.
The images are coupled with laudatory pronouncements: "...unlike anything else on morning television," writes The New York Times; "An important wake-up call for political and media leaders," says the Associated Press; "Appallingly Entertaining" reads the capstone endorsement from The New Yorker.
This glossy advertisement is an appropriate representation of the show: a well-honed, appealing image, but ultimately facile. Viewers get only as much analysis as can fit between commercial breaks, but hardly enough to awaken any sort of political consciousness.
Brzezinski has celebrity fever (as evident by her puckered lips in the magazine spread), Scarborough plays his classic rock, Geist has his irony - winking at all 20-somethings out there watching - and all the guests on the show know it’s going to be a good time in the morning, void of anything substantial like corporate malfeasance, executive pay, financial deregulation, and inequalities in education and healthcare for children of color.
"AMERICA'S CONVERSATION STARTS HERE" the text states definitively at the bottom of the advertisement. This is the problem with our public discourse: the conversation is paid for by corporations and sponsors that have interests of their own, mainly to increase profits and continue to hold an obscene amount of political power.
The primary sponsor of "Morning Joe" appears to be Starbucks; its symbol is as prominent as the broadcasters themselves. The company has even produced a "Morning Joe" blend. But what will happen if say, the show has to report some type of ethical violation by Starbucks?
Imagine broadcasters on more traditional news sources like the BBC showing off their Lipton tea mugs while they read the headlines for the day. But that is the angle - "Morning Joe" is NOT traditional. The newscasters are a well-dressed, coffee drinking, technologically savvy bunch. Starbucks saw the opportunity.
More important than getting to the root of any issue - and then offering strategies or ideas for citizens to engage their civic duties - the show, along with selling a product each day, sells the illusion of political aptitude. The co-hosts rub shoulders with politicians, writers and celebrities, giving the show a facade of importance. But it’s nothing more than entertainment. We should take The New Yorker pronouncement as truth, but instead of “appallingly” I would have used the adjective “worthlessly.”
"Morning Joe" is an easy target. The show presents itself as a serious source of political information, and Brzezinski calls herself a "journalist." But what about programs like "The Daily Show" or "The Colbert Report" where there is no facade, or rather with Colbert, the facade itself is satirical.
These types of programs are white, middle-class candy before bed, but they are also a primary source of political information for a large swath of my “Colbert Generation” who has grown to honor irreverence above all else.
The comedians throw their ironic darts at Donald Rumsfeld or Bill O'Reilly, but no real political consciousness is created, and the viewers aren't asked to actually DO anything political. By using comedy, Colbert and Stewart raise awareness about the state of our demented political climate, but at the end of the day it’s really about laughs and ratings.
They have serious thinkers on their shows, but neither man can really analyze structural inequalities that exist in this country, their crowds would get restless. Where are the jokes? Where is the punch line? Besides, these men benefited from these very inequalities - they have a combined net worth of more than $120 million. And how can the “Morning Joe” newscasters criticize the financial institutions responsible for the 2008 recession when these very same institutions pay for commercials on MSNBC’s sister channel CNBC?
This “Colbert Generation” thinks they are politically hip by laughing at the irony in politics, but a person living at or below the poverty level – 15 percent of the country at the end of 2010, including over a quarter of all blacks and Hispanics - will just see one well-off group laughing at the jokes of well-off men. And this probably won’t change anytime soon as Americans are gluttons for entertainment. Just make us laugh and put us to bed… and then wake us up and give us our Starbucks!