A 2009 photo of Joe Scarborough on the set of his "Morning Joe," show in New York. (AP Photo/MSNBC, Virginia Sherwood)
It started a while ago, but it may have reached an absurd peak this week: Joe Scarborough, Chuck Todd and the MSNBC morning crew’s whining about Obama’s ostensible tin ear and awful “optics.”
What so unnerved them this time was that Obama gave a speech on the economy in the aftermath of the Navy Yard shootings in Washington. That bad timing is proof, said Joe, that the president is facing a “lame-duck meltdown.”
In the Monday speech, long planned for the fifth anniversary of the financial collapse, Obama attacked the GOP for risking “economic chaos,” with its threats to shut down the government if Obamacare isn’t defunded (which the House just voted for today) and to refuse to raise the debt ceiling. Obama addressed the massacre, and he delayed the speech by an hour but no longer because, as he later told Telemundo, “Congress has a lot of work to do right now.”
That set off nearly three days of Morning Joe tsk-tsking, as if they were a swarm of media cicadas. Mika made sad faces, Joe went into his customary high dudgeon, and the other boys, including Mike Barnacle, John Heilemann and liberal Donny Deutsch, joined the concerned circle of consensus.
But it was frequent MJ guest and former George W. Bush aide Nicole Wallace who pointed out the faux pas’s true dimensions. It was, she said, as devastating a moment as when her old boss, asked what was the biggest mistake he made after 9/11, said he couldn’t think of one. “This for me is that moment for Obama,” Wallace said, “where he is publicly showing us he’s incapable of adapting and adjusting to events. It’s incredibly revealing and incredibly damaging to the White House.”
Wallace, a moderate Republican, may sincerely believe this, if only to remind herself that good people can make bad, career-crushing decisions. She’s no stranger to that problem, having worked as Sarah Palin’s adviser in the 2008 campaign—until she realized the Alaskan governor wasn’t fit to be a vice-president. (Wallace later revealed that she didn’t vote that year.)
But no such excuse exists for the rest of the Morning Joe gang or for Chuck Todd. Todd complained about Obama’s misstep all day Tuesday. He led The Daily Rundown the next day by asking, “Where’s the outrage?”—outrage not only that Congress, just blocks from the Navy Yards shooting, wasn’t stirred to debate gun control but outrage that the president didn’t change his plans.
Maybe Obama should have rescheduled. Waiting a day wouldn’t have hurt; and, sure, he should have anticipated the media carping. But the carping itself—not just from MSNBC, of course, but from the usual suspects like Maureen Dowd and Fox News—was way out of proportion. Especially given the outrage that the same media choose not to feel every day.