Before the very public implosion of his relationship with the network, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was reportedly on the phone with MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski as he drove his way up to Fort Lee to apologize to its mayor for his subordinates’ bridge mischief.
The New York Times has profiled the messy “divorce” between the Governor and the network which culminated in a fiery statement from a spokesman accusing the network of partisan hackery. The Times notes that the troubled network has found in Christie a punching bag that has yielded a “ratings bonanza.”
The network has been relentless in attacking Christie, giving the story wall-to-wall coverage. Lawrence O’Donnell went from giving Christie standing ovations to producing their own legally questionable campaign attack ads. Steve Kornacki, who once worked for then-anonymous ‘BridgeGate’ mastermind David Wildstein, broke the story that Christie’s team may have tried to use Hurricane Sandy funds to extort the mayor of an ailing city. Rachel Maddow somehow tied the bridge incident to Christie’s removal of the state’s first black Supreme Court justice from his post.
Brzezinski, however, has said that she was “surprised” by Christie’s spokesman’s statement that the network was “gleeful” in its coverage of his demise. She has denied that the coordinated effort is “partisan.” And, perhaps as a way to corroborate her naivete’, the Times notes that Christie “spent 15 minutes on the phone with Ms. Brzezinski as he prepared to face Fort Lee, the small community crippled by gridlock from the lane closures,” according to her.
In highlighting the relationship between Christie and Brzezinski, the Times hit on a key nuance in MSNBC programming that explains why the network seemed to so radically shift in opinion: the turning point in their tenor came uncannily close to the release of the first poll that put Christie ahead of Hillary Clinton in 2016. Weekday morning MSNBC looks nothing like primetime or weekend MSNBC. Hosts like Maddow, Hayes, O’Donnell, and weekenders like Kornacki and Melissa Harris-Perry define their brands by their progressive politics, and they pride themselves on a far-left worldview. They do not deliver news with a nonpartisan objective, and they take their roles as public advocates–not journalists–seriously. They are very much products of a New York brand of political media that thrives on big personalities, not big stories.
Morning Joe is a show that eschews advocacy and rewards hackneyed nonpartisanship for its own sake. It thrives on a more Washingtonian brand of arrogance, cradled in the false belief that every story has two equally legitimate sides and the wisest voices in the game are media elites constantly crowing about the death of civility in American politics. It is style over substance, and milquetoast is the order of the day.
Firebrand liberals are only slightly more welcome in this world than firebrand conservatives. It is a show that both the far right and far left balk at for featuring echo chamber staples like Mark Halperin and Harold Ford, Jr., where calling yourself a “moderate” goes further than any actual policy proposal could.
In other words, it is a show where a much-buzzed-about Republican, who some argue has done little more for his state than raise taxes and hug President Obama, could be seen as the “savior” of the party. It is an atmosphere where the hosts would conceivably appreciate Christie’s style without bothering to look at the substance enough to field a sad 15-minute phone call about how the other MSNBC is blasting Christie with both cannons. There is nothing dissonant about Brzezinski’s maintaining her warmth and even expressing some disappointment that Christie would attack the network, while Maddow and Kornacki continue to broadcast elaborate corruption conspiracy theories designed to sink his career.
Ultimately, however, the Morning Joe worldview breeds loyalty to nothing but the brand, and Christie has decided to go to war with the brand. Brzezinski will play victim and point to happier times when Christie was useful to MSNBC and when weekday morning MSNBC gave Christie a broader platform. (Weeknight MSNBC never quite stopped speculating on issues like whether Christie is more or less “racist” than other Republicans.)
Having the Morning Joe crowd turn on Christie may ultimately sting more because they were so friendly for so long. No one has ever doubted where, say, Chris Hayes or Rachel Maddow stood on the matter of Christie’s New Jersey tenure. Christie would have been mad to ever expect support from them. But because where Team Mika and Joe stand on any given day depends on where the wind blows, the days when they may have crafted a veneer of support for the then-popular Republican may have shattered to pieces the moment Christie fell out of fashion with Washington elites.