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'Morning Joe' and Eliot Spitzer Know How to Keep Women Quiet

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In her book "All Things at Once," Mika Brzezinski recalls fondly that getting her gig on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" was like being "back at the Brzezinski family dinner table, fighting to make myself heard." We all know families where everyone must fight to have their voice register above the mealtime din. While news talk shows aren't the on-air equivalent of that family dinner table, two high-profile newswomen may as well be kids eating meals in their parents' homes again, because they're having a hard time getting a word in edgewise as they co-host shows.

On "Morning Joe," the show's namesake, Joe Scarborough, speaks five times more than co-host Brzezinski, according to an article in The New Republic titled "The Sexism of Morning Joe." Neither the theme of the article nor the statistic surprises me. Aside from the fact that Mika gets in fewer words, Scarborough never hesitates to interrupt her when she's speaking and, based on my morning ritual of watching a few minutes of the show while making my own morning joe, he often throws in some mocking condescension for good measure if he doesn't agree with her, especially if she's talking about unhealthy food and childhood obesity.

Mika Brzezinski, Kathleen ParkerI've long found Scarborough's dismissiveness extremely annoying, and I have no doubt there's an element of sexism in his actions. But Scarborough's attitude is only one leg of a three-pronged problem when it comes to the low volume of women's voices in the world of cable news punditry.

Brzezinski is no timid twenty-something, no newly minted J school graduate. She's been a journalist for two decades and has had some impressive stints in the mainstream media, not to mention her bold, now famous Paris Hilton script burning/shredding episode. So it's fair to expect Brzezinski, the author of a new book titled "Knowing Your Value," to know her own value, and be less of a sidekick and more of a conversation driver. The show's producers play a role in this scenario, as well. After all, they're the ones who plan the program and have the final say in who plays what role with which guests.

At least Brzezinski has Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker to commiserate with about the clear imbalance.

Disgraced former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer has been maximizing his airtime on CNN's "Parker/Spitzer," continually cutting off his co-host, who just happens to be the one with top billing. Parker has made no secret of the fact that she's not too happy about the continual interruptions and Spitzer's apparent attempts to edge her out with his nightly monologues, leading some to speculate that she is ready to walk away from the prestigious gig unless something changes.

So is The New Republic right? Is sexism at work when it comes to Brzezinski and Parker being marginalized on their own shows or is it part of a long-entrenched male/female social dynamic, one marked by girlish deference, and heightened by network laziness?

In examining gender conversational dynamics, Deborah Tannen says in her book "You Just Don't Understand" that constant interruption is normal for men because they view conversation as a contest. Women, on the other hand, generally are socialized to speak collaboratively and one at a time, and have little experience in "grab[bing] the conversational wheel" in the way that most men do. In other words -- if we don't use it, we'll lose it.

Even if Scarborough and Spitzer are engaging in sexist behavior by excluding their female co-hosts and are monopolizing their shows' conversations because they like to hear themselves talk, Parker and Brzezinski need to take charge and channel their inner Howard Beales by getting mad as hell and not taking it anymore. That's their job -- to make sure that the conversation is lively, that differing viewpoints are exchanged and that they aren't pushed to the side by the boys club of television punditry.

Parker and Brzezinski are no shrinking violets. A Pulitzer Prize winner and a veteran network journalist clearly have the bona fides to take back what their television husbands are trying to keep for themselves.

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26 Comments

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mytwocentstoo

"She's been a journalist for two decades and has had some impressive stints in the mainstream media, not to mention her bold, now famous Paris Hilton script burning/shredding episode."

You have got to be kidding!!! That was bold!
Ms. Brzezinski has no problem with having tasteless conversations in the gutter on the show, why couldn't she just take two seconds and say Ms. Hilton was released and move on? Her little pyrotechnic routine was anything but bold. It was all about Mika. It was irritating. It was obnoxious. It was lame.

January 05 2011 at 3:48 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
amlngn

did i actually just read " the low volume of womens voices in tv punditry"? Oh you must be kidding right? You can barely watch anything without a shout match of women all over cable, it is disgusting the yelling.

December 24 2010 at 1:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
notend

I love the show. The guests are thoughtful and insightful. Joe, however, needs to rein it in.
He can be arrogant and rude and has the unfortunate habit of simply raising his voice and telling someone, "You are wrong!." A typical bullying tactic.

I love the Brzezinskis including her brother and father. Let Joe go and rename the program: "The Brzezinski Family Hour (or three actually).

December 21 2010 at 3:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
danny70000@email.com

I recently attended a group of about half-dozen women at the request of my wife, a regular attendee. The discussion was conducted with each person speaking when they wished, but required that an item be requested and held while speaking. I found it very difficult to refrain from commenting when something was said with which I disagreed or which I felt required some elaboration. Mostly I was able to hold my tongue in check. Mostly. I would say that I agree that men are more likely than women to be more confrontational when something is said with which they disagree.

December 20 2010 at 6:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dc walker

......we lost a very bright talk show host in the 9-12 time slot in DC. They brought Joe and Mika on and the DC,MD, VA listeners almost went wild on the station. Those two were out and our inflammable Plante was back. Viva free speech!!!

December 19 2010 at 11:03 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
jimineygg

I completely agree with you. Mika needs to shove Joe aside. He is one of the most obnoxious TV hosts I've ever seen. The only reason I watch the show is because they have good guests. And I notice Joe is not anywhere as rude to the guests as he is to Mika. Mika's father once said that it's a stupid show. It doesn't have to be. Replace Joe with someone more polite and smarter.

December 18 2010 at 8:25 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jimineygg's comment
Rogell

Now, that's a great suggestion jimineygg, because I too would like to see Joe go. A couple weeks ago, he jumped on the leadership bandwagon, and the lack thereof with respect to the president. I truly wonder if he knows exactly what leadership is all about. Some of the very best leaders of my generation didn't always get it right. For example, Eisenhower, MacArthur, Patton etc. Some of them failed along the way, but taken everything into account, they did pretty well.... That said, and given the circumstances he was dealt, President Obama is moving in that direction too...

February 26 2011 at 4:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Larry

By hiring a misogynist and narcissit like Elliot Spitzer, everyone involved, K Parker included knew exactly what they were getting themselves in for. Parker is getting what she wants, a higher profile in the media. By putting up with Spitzer, she is achieving her goals.
Mika B was a local station news reader, albeit an above average intelligence one. On Morning Joe which debates national and international policy as intelligently as any show on tv, she does not have the bona fides to be a peer. She is, by design, the Ed McMahon of that show. Intelligent, to be respected, but not a full throated voice of policy expertise.
However, I do emphatically agree with this article that it is unfortunate that women in our society still have to employ the Hillary Clinton model of having to bear misbehaving men in order to be recognized as complete players. That is indeed a crime.

December 18 2010 at 11:39 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
bassn55

It's the republican comming out in Joe!!! lol

December 18 2010 at 9:41 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
shmtnmusic

Mika is a lump on Morning Joe. She is a soccer mom who brings nothing to the table. Her comments are mostly off target and lack any sense of depth of thought. She is there for one reason, to read what's on the teleprompter and introduce the next guest. The show is better without her.

December 18 2010 at 9:35 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to shmtnmusic's comment
irishjewnyc

Couldn't have said it better. not only is she worthless, but she somehow manages to get second billing even though Willy is much more interesting and thoughtful. And her father? He worked for Jimmy Carter! His foreign policy is primitive, weak, and racist. Every time he comes on the air and she calls him "Dr." an angel loses it's wings.

February 26 2011 at 12:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ettu

I have to side with the men. I have yet to hear Mika say anything of value.

December 18 2010 at 9:25 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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