'Morning Joe' hosts weigh in on discourse
GREENCASTLE -- How fitting that the keynote speakers of DePauw Discourse 2010 have spent the last three years promoting just that: discourse.
"Morning Joe" co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski spent Friday night on the stage of DePauw's Kresge Auditorium discussing "Journalism in the New Media Age" and trying to bring civility back into political discourse.
Scarborough said the genesis of the show was simple. In an age when so much political talk is about screaming, he wanted to see a show that had simple conversations -- no teleprompters, no scripts, just conversations.
"Let people talk," Scarborough said.
And thus began the show's concept. While the traditional networks balked at the idea of a morning news show that didn't cater to celebrity news or angry talking heads, they managed to get Don Imus' old slot at MSNBC.
The idea was to construct a TV news show that strives for objectivity, while maintaining transparency. The hosts are a great example. Scarborough is a former four-term Republican Congressman from Florida, while Brzezinski is a career journalist whose father Zbigniew Brzezinski was a national security advisor for Jimmy Carter.
"Her dad ran foreign policy, and my dad ran a little league team," Scarborough said.
Clearly, they come from different ends of the political spectrum, but that isn't a problem as long as they are willing to listen to each other.
"I always assume I can learn more from listening than talking," Scarborough said.
"You really need to listen to others whose views may be really distasteful to you," Brzezinski said.
From that viewpoint of being willing to see the other side, a different kind of show was born -- one where difference of opinion is encouraged, but yelling is off limits.
"We have only one rule on our set, and that's be civil," Scarborough said.
While the pair was promoting listening and civility as the right approach to journalism, it goes much deeper than that for them. The yelling that pervades news and political discourse is symptomatic of politics in general in the current age.
They spoke of how political swings of the last 15 or 20 years have been about backlash as much as anything. Conservatives viewed George W. Bush's presidency as a chance to pay back the liberals for the Clinton years. Obama supporters are now viewing the current era in the same way.
"We have got to break this cycle," Scarborough said. "This is no way to run a republic."
He told of how Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill, while great political adversaries, were friends after hours. There was a mutual respect between them seldom seen in today's political environment.
He cited Rush Limbaugh and how he may agree with Limbaugh on many issues, he can't agree with how Limbaugh hopes for President Obama's failure.
"When exactly did we start rooting against the President? You can't root against the president without rooting against the United States of America," Scarborough said. "I'm a Republican and a small government conservative, but I'm an American first."
Speaking on a college campus, Scarborough and Brzezinski tailored their message to the journalists and leaders of tomorrow. They said not to give in to the temptation to sensationalize or dumb it down.
"Never underestimate the intelligence of your audience," Scarborough said.
In addition, strive for objectivity, but be willing to take a stand for your own viewpoint. Also don't be afraid to be on the wrong side.
"I'd rather hear from someone with a little texture and someone who's willing to be wrong once in a while," Brzezinski said.
Finally, hold yourself to high standards. Scarborough said the network president gave them the litmus test by which they should measure their show. Through it, they keep in mind the standards of a late colleague.
"Always imagine you have an audience of one, and that audience is Tim Russert. If it's something Tim would be proud of, keep doing it," Scarborough said.