Last week, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough went on TV and said something false. Reacting to the inflammatory (and often dubious) allegations in Peter Schweizer’s new book, Clinton Cash, Scarborough posited that the government of Algeria made donations to the Clinton Foundation as a way to buy its way off the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. “The Clinton Foundation takes the check, and then just, out of nowhere the State Department then decides, well, they are going to take Algeria off the list,” Scarborough said. As Politifact and (my former employer) Media Matters pointed out, such an arrangement would have been impossible, given that Algeria has never been on the State Department’s list of terrorism sponsors.
So Scarborough was wrong. And today on Morning Joe, he offered a sneering, sarcastic “apology” to Politifact for having the temerity to point out how wrong he was.
I’m struggling to recall an instance in which a pundit has so self-indulgently wallowed in his own arrogance and sense of entitlement. Everyone gets something wrong every now and then, and the proper thing to do when those things happen is to correct the record, apologize, and move on. For Scarborough, though, the act of correction is an assault on the misbegotten pride he feels in hosting a low-rated and unwatchable morning news program.
First things first: Joe Scarborough seems to believe that because he puts on an “ad-libbed” show that lasts many hours, he enjoys some leeway when it comes to just making shit up. “Last week, in the course of this three-hour, ad-libbed show, I suggested Algeria may have been giving unreported donations to the Clinton Foundation in an effort to change their status on the State Department’s terror list.” Here’s a thought: maybe put a little more planning into what you say on cable news every day. “I do a long show that I put little to no forethought into” is not a justification for getting things wrong: it’s an admission that your show’s format is bad and should be changed to minimize these sorts of errors.
Scarborough also faulted Politifact for not noting that before he launched into this made-up nonsense about Algeria, he offered a disclaimer that he didn’t know what he was talking about. “Now, never mind that I prefaced my statement by saying that all the specifics may not be perfectly lined up. These are the realities, after all, of all of us doing a three-hour rolling conversation without teleprompters or scripts, the very things that every other news show in America is chained to but we aren’t. But still I prefaced my remark, but that prefaced remark mattered little to the Clinton arm of Politifact.” Yes, how dare Politifact not do Joe Scarborough the courtesy of highlighting his admission that he was talking out his ass.
Having begged off any sort of responsibility for the things he says on his own program, Scarborough then lashed out at Politifact, claiming that they were just picking nits (which, of course, absolves Scarborough from any blame).
SCARBOROUGH: So Politifact, let me get this straight. The Clinton Foundation was taking the money, hold on, not to get off the terror list. They were throwing them money at the same time they wanted to the State Department to get them off a list for their gross human rights abuses towards women. I hope I’ve cleared that up. Because I’ve got more. Have I cleared that part up? Because I don’t want to get it wrong! And any time Politifact calls me out on a footnote, I promise I’m going to come out here and let you know that instead of talking about the Clinton Foundation getting money to possibly get Algeria off the terror list, it would possibly be to whitewash gross human rights violations against women. I’m glad I got that off my chest.
Politifact actually noted all of that in their correction of Scarborough – they had a whole section of the fact-check headlined “Human rights violations hamper relations.” But this isn’t a dispute over a “footnote,” as Scarborough’s weaselly, sarcastic rebuttal put it. Inclusion on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror is not a small thing. Once the U.S. government identifies a country as a sponsor of terrorism, they’re immediately subject to a whole host of economic sanctions. If, as Scarborough had posited, the Clinton Foundation had been part of a quid pro quo scheme to let Algeria buy its way off that list and out of those sanctions, that would have been a massive scandal.
But whatever, Scarborough was just “ad-libbing,” so it’s no big deal. It's not Joe Scarborough's responsibility to be right the first time; it's Politifact's responsibility to cut him as much slack as he needs because "Morning Joe" isn't about facts, it's about "conversation."
And that leads to the most important question: why does “Morning Joe” still exist? Scarborough is clearly very proud of the ad-libbed, thrown-together format that permits him and his pundit pals to make stuff up in a consequence-free environment, but nobody actually watches the show. Its ratings are abysmal, and yet it soldiers on as a monument to Joe Scarborough’s insufferable arrogance.