MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” is on the road again. The channel’s morning-show duo, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, will be in Charleston, South Carolina, Wednesday to host an hourlong, exclusive MSNBC town hall with Donald Trump. As MSNBC’s promotions advertise, the event comes only three days before the South Carolina primary.
That’s right: a full hour of pure Trump. It’s a clear sign that cable news is still addicted to the mogul-turned-presidential-contender for election-season ratings, but it’s also the continuation of MSNBC's interesting pattern of coziness with the right — especially for a network typically seen as the liberal counterweight to Fox News. In fact, the Trump town hall comes only a few weeks after Scarborough and Brzezinski were seen hanging out with the GOP front-runner in his hotel room watching the New Hampshire primary results roll in.
MSNBC told CNN that the visit was for background discussions that "lasted less than five minutes," but not everyone sees the close relationship between Trump and “Morning Joe” as all that harmless. The ties were derided by one media critic as “unashamed” and “inappropriate,” while the Washington Post wryly noted that the candidate has “enjoyed a tremendous degree of warmth from the show.” Even by Trump standards, he is on the show constantly.
According to a report by CNN, NBC higher-ups are concerned about Scarborough’s friendship with Trump.
When asked to comment on the relationship Wednesday, an MSNBC spokesperson told International Business Times that the network does not feel it needs to justify the decision to air the town hall. "Viewers should watch and decide for themselves whether Joe and Mika did a fair job as moderators," the spokesperson said.
It’s not the first time the hosts’ chumminess with their interview subjects preceded a high-profile sitdown: Last fall, the pair took a trip down to Palm Springs, Florida, to schmooze with the Koch brothers, later nabbing a “historic” softball interview with the billionaire barons in November.
Both MSNBC stars took the time to praise the Kochs on air after returning from the trip. Brzezinski — styled as the spunky liberal to Scarborough's lovable but cantankerous conservative persona — raved about their work promoting “free markets” and addressing inner-city poverty and “income disparity.”
"They're definitely not what you think," Brzezinski said of the brother barons. Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida, chimed in approvingly: "It was a great move having Mika out there as a liberal. It was, I think, very important.”
The California junket went unmentioned during MSNBC’s promotions of the program.
In recent weeks, the “Joe” crew appear to be aware of the image problem: In an interview the morning after their visit to Trump's hotel room, the candidate thanked Scarborough and Brzezinski for being longtime “supporters."
"When you say supporter,” Scarborough stammered, “there were a handful of people who for six months have been saying what happened last night could happen, and the rest of the media world has been mocking and ridiculing exactly what he's done.” He then began to list points on which he and his co-hosts had taken issue with Trump throughout the campaign.
MSNBC said in a press release that January 2016 has been the best ratings month for “Morning Joe” in two years, a fact likely explained by election-season eyeballs. The show is up 54 percent in total viewers and 41 percent in the 25 to 54 demo from the same time last year, taking in about a million viewers each morning on average, according to Nielsen. The channel as a whole is up 31 percent from last year, clocking more growth than Fox or CNN after a major decline in viewers in the waning months of 2015.
Scarborough and Brzezinski will ride that wave of success Wednesday night into the cozy Trump sitdown, airing at the same time as a CNN town hall with Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, to be hosted by Anderson Cooper.