MSNBC Cringes For Making Itself Cringe

Yesterday, I posted about Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski’s negative insta-reaction on Morning Joe to their colleague’s report about the Obama girls’ first day of school. This morning, those hosts rowed back what Brzezinski called their “organic,” disapproving reaction to Tom Costello’s school-side report. Said Brezezinski:

We kind of screwed up. We totally screwed up. And NBC’s Tom Costello who is, you know, a good reporter will have, he’ll have a conversation, of course, before you go out and cover these stories. And there’s a little push/pull about how much you cover and there was about how exactly we cover the Obama children. But we set him up by mistake.

Said Scarborough:

We feel really badly about it. We stand by our position about things but it’s not Tom’s fault, in fact, he was the most responsible of all…

Brzezinski and Scarborough presumed Costello was perched outside of the Obama girls’ new school, waiting to document their arrival when, as Costello explained this morning, he was merely filing a report from outside the school with the intention of departing before the girls arrived. And, Costello said, this was the decision made after much discussion within NBC news and with the Obama camp about how to cover this while respecting the girls’ privacy. Per Costello:

I think all of us are very concerned as to what extent we respect the privacy of those girls and that was the conversation we had [at NBC News] for several days. You were right to raise the issue about to what extent do we give them space? I think we should give them total space, we should not be in their lives at all, they’re not running for office. That was our intent yesterday, to get out of there before the kids arrive.

Monday morning Costello filed, he explained, a report for NBC’s Today Show and then a Morning Joe producer asked him to stick around and file another report for that program, the one for which he was then criticized by Morning Joe’s hosts. Costello called it “like being in a bad Monty Python movie. You’re invited to dinner and then they yell at you for eating the green beans.”

Mike Barnicle, another Morning Joe regular, wrapped things up by telling Costello: “You know this is not the first time we burst in with total ignorance, without information on a subject.”

It’s great that NBC News held a serious discussion (even if some MSNBC folks weren’t in the loop) about how to cover the Soon-To-Be First Children’s First Day of School. It’s great that they arrived, after this discussion, at what they saw as the appropriate approach. (Although, even if NBC News somehow managed to make itself scarce before the girls arrived, there remained a media circus that did not similarly fold up its tents). But, this approach/Costello’s explanation (we were reporting from the school, but not when the girls were there) doesn’t satisfy the objections that Scarborough and Brzezinski made yesterday, objections to covering this story at all, in any detail (Scarborough yesterday: “I want a newsman or woman to tell me what the legitimate reason is” that Americans need to know where the Obama girls are going to school; Brzezinski yesterday: “I wouldn’t love that assignment. It would feel a little ridiculous and totally inappropriate. I wouldn’t love it. Standing outside the school of where the kids are going to go.”)

So the question remains: Was Costello’s outside-the-school-but-not-when-the-girls-arrive footage really necessary and of value to viewers?

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.