As Wednesday’s Morning Joe was just starting the second hour of its broadcast, the news broke that Matt Lauer had been fired from NBC for his “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.” In a similar manner to their coverage of the sexual harassment accusations against Democratic Representative John Conyers, the MSNBC morning show’s panelists went out of their way to praise Lauer as a man of “class” and “dignity” who was a “loved” “mentor” and “friend” to those who have worked for the Today show, where Lauer was an anchor for two decades. Host Joe Scarborough also took the opportunity to promote the idea that perhaps the flurry of recent sexual misconduct allegations against people like Lauer are doing too much damage to liberal heroes in the media and politics.
Morning Joe began their coverage of the Lauer revelations by playing a clip of Today show co-anchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb breaking the news on their program (which can be found here). Scarborough then stepped in with his own initial reaction to the story:
Well obviously, very sad news for everybody here at NBC, obviously, for the person who was brave enough to come forward, also, as Savannah said there, for a lot of people at the Today show that have known and loved Matt for a very long time. You know, Mike Barnicle said after the passing of Tim Russert that television is an MRI for the soul that, you know, if you see somebody long enough on TV, you really can get a look at who’s inside. And, I'll tell you, that was true with Tim, and, my gosh, with Savannah right there, Savannah and Hoda. Um, uh, they're there because -- you know, Willie, they’re -- that was very moving. I didn't know Matt really well, but you worked with him an awful lot, and I would guess that despite these terrible circumstances, like Hoda and like Savannah, you've considered him a friend for a long time and worked with him. So, this has to be devastating news.
Co-host Willie Geist chose to focus his response on highlighting his close personal relationship with Lauer:
Yeah, I'm stunned. Like Savannah, I didn't know anything about this until a couple of minutes ago. I don't know what the allegations are specifically, but my heart is with the person who made those allegations for stepping forward. My heart is with my friends over there, Savannah, one of my dearest friends. I think you saw her class and her grace and her professionalism come through right there, along with Hoda. And it's with the staff of the Today show that's worked with Matt for almost 25 years and considered him a friend. And he is the leader over there. You know, he is the -- he is in charge. So I'm thinking about all my friends across the street and my thoughts, of course, are with Matt. He’s been a friend. He’s been a mentor. He’s been a guy you could watch, a guy who led by his example on the set, the way he treated the crew, the way he knew everybody's name, the class and dignity he carried himself with. Obviously, I didn't know about these other things that we'll now be examining and reporting on ourselves, but all I can say from a professional point of view is that he is one of the guys I have always looked up to in this business and he taught me an awful lot.
Geist’s reaction that his “thoughts” were with both Matt Lauer and his accuser was quite bizarre. How exactly can you sympathize with somebody who you believe has engaged in sexual misconduct? Is it really the right time to laud somebody for his high class and character in the context of discussing a news story about that same person’s potential criminal conduct?
Still, nothing that Geist said was immensely troubling compared to what came next from Scarborough. Instead of simply letting Geist’s comments stand and moving on to the implications of the Lauer allegations, Joe felt the need to continue harping on Lauer’s kindness and graciousness:
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah. Again, I, I, I don’t -- I haven't known Matt, haven’t dealt with him a whole lot. When people ask me about Matt, the only thing I could tell ‘em, Peggy, was when I first came here as a Republican and went over to the Today show for the first time, nobody talked to me, but Matt Lauer got up from his desk, walked across the studio, like, fumbling over a lot of things, shook my hands, he goes: We're glad you're here.
PEGGY NOONAN: Oh, that was nice.
SCARBOROUGH: And I relaxed, right? So-.
NOONAN: So he appreciated the predicament you were in?
SCARBOROUGH: I guess, I, I, I guess so. So that was just my one small glimpse with him. But I -- if you listen to Willie and you listen to Savannah and you listen to Hoda, he really was like family.
But that wasn’t the end of Scarborough’s odd defense of Lauer:
SCARBOROUGH: I think what everybody is grappling with now is: How do you sort through all of this? How do you -- if you’re, as Savannah said, somebody that you've known and loved and worked with for all these years, when they do bad things.
NOONAN: Yeah. Yeah.
SCARBOROUGH: That sounds kind of like what we all have to do with members of our own family and figure out how to sort through it, except, this is a much bigger moment with, I won’t say larger consequences than with family, but it's very complex.
NOONAN: It is.
SCARBOROUGH: So, how you-- how do we sort through this moment? Because I'm starting to read and Mika's starting to tweet columns where people said: Let's not jump the shark; let's be careful here so it doesn't blow up in our face down the road. There's a New York Times column last night talking about that. So how do we sort through all of this?
NOONAN: Um, it's complicated.
MSNBC’s pundits, including those who regularly appear on Morning Joe, have completely freaked out when some people on the political right have even hinted at saying that allegations of sexual misconduct against their political compatriots are more complicated than “believe the accuser, destroy the accused.” In fact, MSNBC hosts, reporters, and analysts have repeatedly used such statements from Republicans and conservatives to collectively frame them as supporters of sexual assault and pedophilia (for just a few examples, see here, here, and here).
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Scarborough’s citation of the New York Times op-ed only added to his show’s already staggering hypocrisy. In the piece, which Mika Brzezinski promoted on Twitter, NYT staff editor Bari Weiss made the case that feminists and the media shouldn’t employ the “listen and believe” strategy for all women coming forward with sexual misconduct allegations, even though their “hunt” for powerful men’s scalps has been so “exhilarating,” precisely because the accusations are hurting too many liberal idols:
The huntresses’ war cry — “believe all women” — has felt like a bracing corrective to a historic injustice. It has felt like a justifiable response to a system in which the crimes perpetrated against women — so intimate, so humiliating and so unlike any other — are so very difficult to prove.
But I also can’t shake the feeling that this mantra creates terrible new problems in addition to solving old ones.
In less than two months we’ve moved from uncovering accusations of criminal behavior (Harvey Weinstein) to criminalizing behavior that we previously regarded as presumptuous and boorish (Glenn Thrush). In a climate in which sexual mores are transforming so rapidly, many men are asking: If I were wrongly accused, who would believe me?
I think the worry is justified. And it’s not because I don’t get the impulse to burn it all down. It’s because I think that “believing all women” can rapidly be transmogrified into an ideological orthodoxy that will not serve women at all.
I believe that facts serve feminists far better than faith. That due process is better than mob rule.
Maybe it will happen tomorrow or maybe next week or maybe next month. But the Duke lacrosse moment, the Rolling Stone moment, will come. A woman’s accusation will turn out to be grossly exaggerated or flatly untrue. And if the governing principle of this movement is still an article of faith, many people will lose their religion.
There are limits to relying on “believe all women” as an organizing political principle. We are already starting to see them.
What we owe all people, including women, is to listen to them and to respect them and to take them seriously. But we don’t owe anyone our unthinking belief.
“Trust but verify” may not have the same ring as “believe all women.” But it’s a far better policy.
Putting Weiss’s transparently opportunistic commentary aside, it truly is amazing to witness how the Left’s own stated principles have come back to cannibalize their own brightest lights. However, from examples like Weiss’s NYT op-ed and Morning Joe’s coverage of Lauer, one can begin to see the cogs of the media turning in the direction of shoring up their defenses by uncharacteristically acquiring a sudden respect for due process (as Brzezinski did on Monday in the case of the John Conyers accusations).
Be sure to brace yourself for more of the same kind of backtracking as more allegations of sexual improprieties continue to come out.