Morning Joe devoted six minutes today to celebrating the 80th birthday of Mike Barnicle, a show regular. And judging by the outpouring of seemingly heartfelt emotion, there is great affection for Barnicle among Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and Willie Geist.
Given the occasion, we wouldn't blame them for laying it on a bit thick, but there are limits. And they were stretched beyond the breaking point when Scarborough hailed Barnicle as "one of the greatest columnists of the 20th century."
It's true that for many years, Barnicle's columns at the Boston Globe had an avid following. But Barnicle's days at the Globe came to an ignominious end in 1998, when the paper forced him to resign over plagiarism. One in which he had lifted, without attribution, 80 humorous lines from George Carlin. The second, based on reporting by the Boston Phoenix, in which Barnicle lifted portions of a 1986 column from a 1961 book by New Yorker writer A.J. Liebling. But fabrication really ended it, as CNN reported:
The column that led to Wednesday's resignation told the story of two children -- one black, one white -- who became friends in the hospital. After the black child died, Barnicle wrote that the parents of the white child gave the parents of the black child $10,000.
Globe reporters were told Wednesday that when Reader's Digest decided to reprint the story, fact-checkers at the magazine concluded it was a fabrication.
And Scarborough stretched credulity with his claim that when he visits Boston, he is swarmed by people clamoring to know more about Barnicle. Seriously? Twenty-five years after he wrote his last column?
My biggest beef with Barnicle isn't his past as a columnist. It's the fact that he—very—rarely contributes interesting comments to the Morning Joe conversation. By coincidence, just two days ago I reacted to Barnicle's comments on the Hamas terror attacks on Israel with a dismissive, "whatever."
I was actually hoping that the segment would end with a "hail and farewell," as the show announced Barnicle's retirement. But no such luck!
Morning Joe hailing panel regular Mike Barnicle as "one of the greatest columnists of the 20th century" was sponsored in part by E*Trade, State Farm, GlaxoSmithKline, maker of Trelegy, Abbvie, maker of Vraylar, and DirecTV.
Here's the transcript.
6:49 am EDT
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Guess what, guys? Did you know it's Mike Barnicle's birthday? It's your special day, and Mike got really mad at me when I tried to wish him a happy birthday this morning.
MIKE BARNICLE: I appreciate that, Mika, but let me tell you something. At this stage of my life, if I wake up every day, it's a special day. Every day's a special day if I wake up.
. . .
MIKA: [After a screen graphic is displayed with a photo of Barnicle and the legend, LEGENDARY.] Guys, so legendary.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: He really, he really is legendary.
MIKA: So handsome.
SCARBOROUGH: And you know, Willie, he is. I mean, for younger people who know Mike over the last 16 years on this show, that we've been so blessed to have him here, they, many don't even -- younger people don't understand. He's one of the greatest columnists of the 20th century.
You talk to people in Boston still, and they come up to you, and they ask about Barnicle wherever I go. Wherever I go. They're like, tell me about Barnicle. Tell me more about Barnicle.
And I will tell you about Mike Barnicle very briefly this morning. Willie, and I know you feel the same way. People always ask how we get up at 3:30, 4:00, how we do this every day. We do it every day because we doi t with people that we love.
WILLIE GEIST: Yeah.
SCARBOROUGH: The people that are members of our family. And you, just like you are a member of our family, Willie, and we're a member of your family, Mike, Mike is not iilike family to us. Mike iiis family.
I've never felt closer to a group of people, along with my family, than I feel to you all. And Mike, Willie, Mike is at thecenter of that.
GEIST: Yeah. No question about it. And the reason you love Mike Barnicle is because these five minutes are making him outrageously uncomfortable.
MIKA: So mad.
GEIST: He'd much rather not talk about himself.
MIKA: Very angry. He's going to leave.
JONATHAN LEMIRE: Yeah. The jacket on the chair.
GEIST: It is true, Joe, and I was thinking exactly what you said. Which is, you wake up at 4:00 in the
morning, you come through, see 30 Rock, that wakes you up because you're so lucky you get to work here and do this show every day.
But then when you see Mike Barnicle, you go, oh, right, that's why, that's why we're doing this. To spend time, and not just on the air. Off the air is the best time with Mike. We love him so much. He's a role model to me as a dad.
BARNICLE: Oh, my God, stop this.
GEIST: He is! To all of us. He is!
MIKA: All right. Happy birthday, Mike . . . Did you see that coming? Did we surprise you?
BARNICLE I did not see it coming, and I am enormously grateful for the time I've been allowed to spend here, 16 years with all of you.
MIKA: Can you believe it?
BARNICLE: And now, Mika, in the immortal words of Roberto Duran, no mas.
MIKA: All right, Mike. We love you.