TCA: MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski Admit CBS News Attempted to Poach Them

Joe Scarborough Mika Brzezinski TCA - H 2012

CBS News did try to poach Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. Scarborough admitted as much at the show's panel at the Television Critics Association winter press tour on Saturday. Asked about the overtures, Scarborough joked, “That’s just not true. Okay, maybe a little true.”

“There were a lot of people coming at us,” added Brzezinski.

The MSNBC morning program notched a 24 percent audience uptick in 2011 and has become shorthand for imitators attempting to recreate the chemistry between the politically paradoxical hosts. Last June, CBS News hired former MSNBC executive producer and Morning Joe mastermind Chris Licht to launch a new morning show at the broadcaster. And Scarborough pointed out that CBS News chairman Jeff Fager is a “good friend.”

“We’re in a small community,” said Scarborough. “We had a lot of conversations with a lot of different people, especially at CBS. We knew from the beginning that we had a great home [at MSNBC]. We have the opportunity to talk about ideas that you just couldn’t do on another network.”

When mulling overtures from CBS News, Scarborough consulted Brzezinski’s father, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor under President Jimmy Carter and a frequent presence on Morning Joe.

“He said, ‘If you go over there, can you interview me for 15 minutes?’ And I said, ‘Probably not,’” recalled Scarborough.

“I never ever thought they were going to leave,” said MSNBC president Phil Griffin, adding that Scarborough and Brzezinski are both locked in to long-term contracts.

The hallmark of Morning Joe, say its hosts, is the free exchange of ideas in a respectful atmosphere. There may be disagreements (Scarborough and Brzezinski agree on very little), but “there is not going to be the stupid back and forth,” said Scarborough. “It’s not going to be a Crossfire environment.”

MSNBC is working to stake out the high ground at a time when the country’s political discourse has devolved into a particularly ugly mud fight. (They are not the only ones, Fox News chief Roger Ailes has admitted that the network has embarked on a post-Glenn Beck “course correction.”) And Morning Joe, and The Rachel Maddow Show, are the network’s lynchpins in that effort. Both shows make a point of including Republican guests and former John McCain/Sarah Palin campaign advisor and GOP strategist Steve Schmidt has joined MSNBC’s Republican primary coverage.

“I think part of the problem with the [Republican] presidential field that we have is you had a lot of candidates who realized the only way they could make a connection with voters - or raise money -was go on cable shows and instead of just disagreeing with their political opponents call them socialists or fascists or Marxists,” observed Scarborough, a former Republican congressmen from Florida. “Certainly you had that with Glenn Beck on Fox and some other shows. And it causes such a corrosive atmosphere and it makes good people not to run for political office.”

That said, Scarborough has not been shy about sharing his (low) opinion of the current Republican field.

“Without passing any judgment on their ideological positions,” he said, “this is the weakest presidential field in history. They don’t do the basics: they haven’t organized; all of them except for Mitt Romney are broke. It’s been a remarkably weak field.”


Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie