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Jeff Simon: Joe and Mika and the 'Trump bonus' for journalism and satire

Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski are a couple- engaged to be married, in fact. So they say. The word finally came down that the co-hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" were romantically involved earlier in the summer.

At the time, many who strenuously proclaim themselves "in the know" told us that not only had that been true for a while, but was clearly visible on the daily morning Wonkfest.

Since I have never watched more than five minutes of "Morning Joe" at a time, it was all news to me. So I decided to watch the show Monday just to see if I could catch the turtle doves being romantic while they were winging their way through the latest Washington political vagaries of the Trump Era.

No such luck. Everyone seemed to be on vacation except Scarborough who was holding down the fort --Brzezinski, co-host Willie Geist (of the ever-relatable Geist family of TV news) and their regular contributor Mike Barnicle.

While I mourned the absence of Brzezinski and lamented Geist's time off, it was the loss of Barnicle, a kind of self-styled Bostonian cousin of Mike Royko and Jimmy Breslin, that I felt deeply. Barnicle is a 73-year-old roughneck from print journalism, a well-traveled and formerly much-admired fellow. He has a bumpy professional past, resigning from the Boston Globe amid controversies about plagiarism and column sourcing.

So there was "Morning Joe"- namely ex-congressman Joe Scarborough of Florida - holding forth with MSBNC's bench. We heard a lot about Mike Pence positioning himself for 2020 and, later, about Democrats in crummy shape just about everywhere - the presidency, the House of Representatives, the Senate and governor's mansions around America. It was almost all electoral politics. Not bad, but "focused," you might say.

An old friend - a successful TV tout for me for decades now - had been telling me I should be watching "Morning Joe" for many years. My trouble, undoubtedly, is that I hate watching TV in the morning. It seems profoundly uncivilized. Morning news to me, should come from the written word, paper or electronic. I hate watching show business of any sort in the morning. The contrivances are just too raw and pure.

I refuse to use the fake term fake news because the glorious paradox of our president's clumsy attacks on mainstream journalistic standards and practices is that he's been very good for satire and journalism. His preposterously askew spotlight has forced the profession to look inward, clean up a lot of grubby acts and regain the pride it had when Watergate changed America's power vectors. (When cityside reporters can depose a sitting president with tenacity and hierarchical support, power is operating differently indeed than the 1950s.)

MSNBC is one of many places getting a "Trump Bonus." Rachel Maddow gets nice numbers. Lawrence O'Donnell still has his job. And "Morning Joe" is thought to be the Trump family's daily looky-loo. The Scarborough/Brzezinski love-hate relationship with Trump has upped Trump's presence on their show. Americans' immense hunger for Trump bashing has had an effect.

"Morning Joe" doesn't have the presence in Trumpland that its cable competition, Fox News' "Fox and Friends,"  does but hey, what do you expect? Presidential tweets have often quoted "Fox and Friends" approvingly. His tweets about Joe and Mika have, among other things, discussed her looks and her sanity.

On Monday, "Morning Joe" followed, at some length, the Trumpian overnight tweets about "fake news" while he was on vacation.

"Fox and Friends" presented us with a pseudo-"Today" and "GMA" segment about a Green Beret obstacle course so that the show's Ainsley Earhart could change into shorts, crawl in the mud and climb ropes. It was journalistic "I can do that stuff" whose naked attempt at ratings appeal is of the sort that often invites charges of "journalistic" fakery.

The Fox Network's apparently inexhaustible supply of attractive, articulate, youngish, often-blonde women remains constant even after a weekend where there was yet another report of Fox sexual harassment.

Remember that the Twin Towers of Fox News--the late Roger Ailes and his No.1 Man Bill O'Reilly--were already sent packing by the Murdochs for sexual misconduct. The latest harassment tale involves the suspension of Eric Bolling for allegedly sexting genital self-portraits years ago to female Fox staffers.

His lawyer denies it. And far be it from me to pretend to be in the know. I'm not. That would indeed be fake news.

What isn't fake news is that the plainly visible cosmetic makeup of Fox News remains virtually unchanged,  i.e. male journalists are allowed to be old and even more than a little ugly while women are usually young and often blonde as well as articulate and occasionally athletic.

Fox's "Fox and Friends" in the morning still has viewers --apparently a very important one who can usually be found watching in the White House when it isn't being remodeled.

But the TV action in cable and network news and talk these days is usually found in the places where Trump-bashing is free - Stephen Colbert's metrically ascending nightly talk show, along with MSNBC AM and PM. Spirits are so high at the latter that morning co-hosts get all lovey-dovey off camera and announce their engagement.

Who says that journalists everywhere are suffering in the era of digital apocalypse?


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