On Monday's Morning Joe, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski went out of their way to defend President Obama's Friday statement defending the planned mosque near Ground Zero in New York City. Brzezinski cooed that the President "did the right thing by saying what he said." Scarborough labeled the remark "non-controversial," and later stated the controversy over the mosque was a "wedge issue" [audio clip available here].
As NewsBusters' Noel Shepard reported, the former Florida congressman turned MSNBC anchor blasted Newt Gingrich for his barrage against the President for his defense of the mosque. Earlier in the broadcast, just after the top of the 7 am Eastern hour, Brzezinski related her personal anecdote about discussing the issue over her recent vacation, and went right into her "right thing" defense of the President's stance.
Scarborough replied to this by berating Gingrich, in an early preview of his later attack:
SCARBOROUGH: David Ignatius, talking about the mosque on 'This Week'-
BRZEZINSKI: Actually, that's a fascinating issue. We talked about it over the weekend, and, certainly, on vacation, it was much the dinner table conversation. I thought the President actually did the right thing by saying what he said, but- (shakes head)
SCARBOROUGH: The President's getting pounded. I've got a quote I'm going to read in a little bit when David's here- from Newt Gingrich, a guy I know, a guy I worked with, a guy who I always considered to be one of the brighter guys-
BRZEZINSKI: Yeah- (shakes head)
SCARBOROUGH: But, my gosh, this quote is stunning, and I would say, stunning and irresponsible and-
BRZEZINSKI: It's over the top.
SCARBOROUGH: He's not alone.
Minutes later, the two MSNBC anchors brought on Ignatius to discuss the controversy. Scarborough read one of Gingrich's attacks on Obama, and included his "non-controversial" label of the President's statement on the mosque, as he asked the editor to respond to the former House Speaker. When Ignatius expressed his disagreement with this label, the former congressman erupted with a sharp retort. The editor replied with liberal platitude about how the Republicans needed to take care, as the world was watching:
SCARBOROUGH: Let me read you what Newt Gingrich said and you tell me what kind of impact this has across the globe: a former speaker, somebody whose name many people across the world know. Gingrich said this, according to The New York Times- quote, 'There's nothing surprising in the President's continued pandering to radical Islam. What he said last night is untrue and inaccurate.' Do you care to respond about the level of heat that this non-controversial statement that the President said on Friday night has generated?
DAVID IGNATIUS: Well, you couldn't really call it a non-controversial statement because- here we are still talking about it, but I do think that kind of-
SCARBOROUGH: Well, no, no, no- I'm just saying, though- I mean, David, he said this, though: Muslims have a right to worship as they choose.
IGNATIUS: Yup. I understand-
BRZEZINSKI: It shouldn't be controversial.
SCARBOROUGH: It should not be-
IGNATIUS: I understand.
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah. I'm sorry- go ahead. We have a delay.
IGNATIUS: You know, it seems to me that this rhetoric about pandering to radical Muslims really is inappropriate. I do think Republicans, including Newt Gingrich, have to be careful when they speak to the world about us, about- and by that, I mean our political debate.
The Washington Post editor went on to echo his earlier praise of the President's stance on Sunday's This Week on ABC. As he lauded Obama, Brzezinski took the time to express her agreement with him:
IGNATIUS: What I found striking about the President's comments on Friday night was he knew that this was going to be unpopular. The polls showing two-thirds of Americans disagreed with the essence of what he was about to say were already out.
If you look carefully at the Friday night statement, he said we have to be sensitive to the feelings of people in lower Manhattan. This is hallowed ground, but even so, this is America, and we have to live by America's rules, and he stated- I thought, the rules that we live under here, in terms of freedom- you buy a piece of property, you have a right to put up a mosque or whatever you want on it. And I thought it was, in that sense, a courageous statement by the President-
BRZEZINSKI: Mmhmm- me too-
IGNATIUS: It was a kind of leadership, frankly, I'd like to see more from him. I'd like to see more of that, not less. I was a little troubled by all of the nuance back-in filling that followed the next day, but I think it's okay for our president to say things that people disagree with. He just needs to continue the dialogue. He needs to explain to Americans, this is the kind of country we are. He's got a lot of support; he's got Mayor Bloomberg; he's got- you know, many of the prominent legislators up there who are going to stand behind him- not Peter King, maybe, but an awful lot of other people. So I didn't think it was- you know, Obama's mistake, and I think the attacks on him really paint us in a bad light around the world- I have to say that.
Later in the hour, Scarborough actually went on the offense against not only Gingrich and the opponents of the NYC mosque in general, but also President Obama himself for his recent "demagoguing" of the Social Security issue. His co-anchor, however, couldn't help herself to continue her praise of the executive:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (from August 14, 2010 weekly address): Some Republicans leaders in Congress don't seem to have learned any lessons from the past few years. They are pushing to make privatizing Social Security a key part of their legislative agenda if they win a majority in Congress this fall. That agenda is wrong for seniors, it's wrong for America, and I won't let it happen, not while I'm president. I'll fight with everything I've got to stop those who would gamble what you got with Social Security on Wall Street, because you shouldn't be worried that a sudden downturn in the stock market will put all you've worked so hard for- all you've earned- at risk.
SCARBOROUGH: Oh, boy (laughs).
BRZEZINSKI: I'm glad.
SCARBOROUGH: Not exactly a weekend for political courage on either side.
BRZEZINSKI: Oh, come on!
SCARBOROUGH: You have the Republicans demagoguing the mosque issue and you've got Barack Obama demagoguing Social Security. It's almost like-
BRZEZINSKI: What!? He's protecting us. It's nice.
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah- protect us, please, from those bad Republicans who want to destroy Social Security! You know, Mark Halperin and I have been having this conversation for some time. And I said, will Barack Obama really allow the Democrats to demagogue on Social Security, even though he says he wants to save it? And he said- well, he will until after the election, and then it will come to Republicans. Saturday, he sent me a press release and as I- whoops! Okay, I guess he is kind of jumping into the water himself-
SCARBOROUGH: This is the oldest, most cynical trick in the book-
BRZEZINSKI: You are cynical.
SCARBOROUGH: Especially when Social Security is dying. Social Security is running out of money, along with Medicare. Every economist that's not a political hack will tell you the entitlements pose the greatest long-term economic risk to us, and Barack Obama decided to use his radio address this weekend to demagogue Social Security. It is shameless. It is shameless, every bit as shameless domestically- because this is the big issue- as Republicans demagoguing the mosque is in foreign affairs.
BRZEZINSKI: So cynical!
Over an hour later, near the end of the 8 am Eastern hour, as the two anchors discussed the mosque, among other issues, with Matt Lewis of Politics Daily and Republican political advisor Mark McKinnon, Scarborough used his "wedge issue" label to describe the controversy and referenced his earlier attack on both Obama and Gingrich:
SCARBOROUGH [to Lewis]: Hey, Matt, this morning, we- I attacked Republicans for demagoguing the mosque issue- so I'll get hate e-mails all day from right-wing nuts. And then, I attacked Democrats for attacking Social Security shamelessly, like they do, so I'll get hate e-mails from left-wing nuts all day. When you posted a blog- as a conservative taking on both sides- what was the response?
MATT LEWIS: Well- you know, the funny thing, Joe, is that both sides think that I was dead-on when I talked about the opponent-
SCARBOROUGH: Of course-
LEWIS: But that I was really wrong and overreached. There are a few blogs out about me today. I'll just give you a couple headlines. One is called, 'Civil discourse is overrated.' One is called, Conservative blogger Matt Lewis ducks the fight.' And one is called, 'Matt Lewis proves he is a girl: g-u-r-l.' [Scarborough laughs] So that will give you an idea. I think I'm starting to feel the Joe Scarborough love there.
SCARBOROUGH Yeah. Well, here's what I found that is so disappointing is that- it's disappointing that all these symbolic issues- all these wedge issues take a backseat to the real issues- whether you're going to stand up to balance the budget; whether you're going to stand up to cut taxes; whether you're going to stand up to show restraint in foreign policy- actual ideas don't matter for a lot of these freaks. It is where you stand on these red-hot issues.