As election returns were coming in Tuesday night and it became clear that Hillary Clinton had put up a very strong showing in that day’s Democratic primaries, the candidate took to the stage in Florida to rally supporters and celebrate her victories. As she was speaking, NBC’s Joe Scarborough logged into Twitter and fired off a bit of advice for the Democratic frontrunner. “Smile,” Scarborough wrote. “You just had a big night.”
It was classic sexism, and it brought down a shitstorm of criticism from basically everywhere. Scarborough’s tweet was, in tone and content, indistinct from catcalls women are pelted with on the street. There is an international anti-catcalling movement literally called “Stop Telling Women To Smile.” Even if there isn’t active malice or lascivious intent behind it, “you should smile more” is still a generally unwelcome remark. “Scarborough’s tweet was a quick reminder that, well, Clinton is a woman, and the script of gender demands a certain affable performance,” Jezebel’s Stassa Edwards wrote. “Telling a woman, particularly a stranger, to smile presumes unearned familiarity,” the Los Angeles Times’ Libby Hill wrote in November. “Worse, it implies a right to dictate behavior.” Scarborough might be more sensitive to this if he weren’t so far up his own ass that he can’t see past the duodenum.
Anyway, after catching hell for this on Twitter, Scarborough responded by calling all the outrage “fake” and explaining to his female critics why they’re wrong and he’s right because he’s so enlightened that he doesn’t even see gender in politics. One might think it would have ended there, but Scarborough is a thin-skinned narcissist who can’t tolerate criticism, so he used his newly obtained perch on the Washington Post opinion page to write a lengthy defense of his sexist tweet.
Under the headline “Why all presidential candidates — male or female — should smile when they win,” Scarborough laid out his argument, which boiled down to: I am Joe Scarborough, I am wealthy and important, and I will not tolerate the sniping of mere Twitter rats. These are the opening paragraphs, which serve no function other than to remind the reader that the author is a well-known personality in media and politics:
When it comes to responding to slights, 20 years in the public eye has taught me it is best to ignore most attacks I read on the Internet and in the press. Four congressional campaigns and 10 years on TV taught me sometimes turning the other cheek is the best PR play. What Congress and television did not teach me about tuning out these attacks, the rough and tumble of Twitter did.
But when outrage spills from the Twittersphere into columns or blogs at the New York Times or The Washington Post, I just can’t help myself. I have to respond! And since today’s tweet-rage was featured in a column where I write my own posts, I thought it merited mention if for no other reason than to drive traffic between two Washington Post articles. Who says I’m not a company man?
From there, Scarborough moves on to downplaying the significance of his own behavior and dismissing his critics as irrational and – lest we forget – far less important and influential than Joe Scarborough:
After getting off the air this morning, I did a quick check of Twitter to find out that my seven-word tweet was the greatest offense committed against womankind since misogynists like Henry VIII and Bobby Riggs roamed the earth. It seems that my brief tweet succinctly summed up 10,000 years of sexism in 30 symbols because I dared to suggest that a political candidate act joyful while delivering a celebratory speech to the American people.
This reaction from a small but hardy band of tweeters was curious considering my long history of praising Clinton as the toughest player on the political scene, and even commenting after 2008 that if I had time, I would write a book about Clinton’s presidential campaign called “True Grit.”
And then, after going out of his way to make clear that no apology was forthcoming, he indulged in still more self-congratulatory exposition regarding his own wealth and stature:
My co-host and I get paid well by NBC to offer critiques of all candidates regardless of their sex, race or political party. We often communicate without a filter, but that approach has put us in the position of standing alone in the media (save Mark Halperin) predicting both the rise of Donald Trump and the coming collapse of Marco Rubio. Like those two counterintuitive political reads, our unvarnished commentary often ruffles feathers while often hitting the mark.
It continues on in that vein, with Scarborough congratulating himself for being “tough” and insightful and using his self-described tough insightfulness as a rejoinder to critics who pounced on his unthinking sexism. But in Scarborough’s view, he wasn’t being “sexist,” he was just telling Hillary Clinton something she needed to hear – something that was obviously correct because it sprang from the mind of Joe Scarborough.
This right here is a perfect example of the very worst instinct coursing through the world of political punditry. Scarborough is a well-paid and influential political commentator, and his job is to provide analysis of elections and campaigns. But he is unwilling to admit error, and he refuses to recognize that his vantage point might not be the correct one, or that his opinions might benefit from a different perspective. Instead, he operates from the presumption that what he says must be correct because he gets paid a lot of money to say it. His critics, who have only barely merited the attention of the high and mighty cable TV host, are pummeled with reminders of his influence.
Scarborough assumes that his opinion is right for no other reason than it’s his opinion. He’s not sexist, he’s just always and forever correct, and he has the famous friends and pay stubs to prove it.