For two days running, beginning on Tuesday, MSNBC's Morning Joe seemed overwhelmingly in
favor of allowing the Ground Zero mosque to be built, despite a poll
showing Americans being opposed to the construction of the mosque.
The panels included co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, and liberal columnist Mike Barnicle as well as MSNBC contributors Mark Halperin, Norah O'Donnell, and Pat Buchanan. Their toughest rhetoric was reserved for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, due to his comments about the mosque being the equivalent of Nazis hanging a swastika next to a Holocaust memorial. But the talking heads also failed to give the American people's opposition to the mosque its just due.
Perhaps the biggest gem came from columnist Mike Barnicle, who described those Americans questioning the mosque as stuck in their own reality. "They're not really thinking about the idealistic trek, they're thinking about their own reality," Barnicle quipped. "And their own reality is that we were attacked on September 11. They're not making the connection to the Constitution, and that's where we are this morning."
Joe Scarborough called the whole debate a "wedge issue" that is distracting the country "from doing good things" such as "working on jobs." The co-host continued, saying the issue has become so much more complicated due to opposition to the mosque, and added that America giving in to "radicals" could worsen the whole debate.
When the news broke that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) opposed the location of the Ground Zero mosque, co-host Mika Brzezinski huffed, "I just have a question. Did somebody ask him what his opinion was? Um, 'cause I didn't. Did you?"
When Pat Buchanan asked guest Anita Dunn "What about tolerance for the vast majority of Americans and their opinions?" Mika Brzezinski jumped in with Dunn afterward. "They have, like, other things there that are - a lot of people would have issues with - like peep shows," the co-host chimed in, dismissing the argument that the area around Ground Zero is free of obstacles to its "hallowed ground" status.
The panels reserved the biting criticism for Newt Gingrich, however, describing his words as "political pyromania," "despicable," and "demonizing."
Mike Barnicle went further, opting to get personal, bringing Gingrich's failed marriages into the debate. "Apparently, because he has had two badly failed marriages, quite publicly failed marriages, [he] has now married his ambition to his ignorance on this issue in a craven attempt to get votes, as he thinks he's going to run for President of the United States."
A transcript of the notable exchanges from the August 17 and 18 editions of Morning Joe follow:
MORNING JOE 8/17/10 7:06 a.m. EDT
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: I just have a question. Did somebody ask [Sen. Harry Reid] what his opinion was? Um, 'cause I didn't. Did you?
MIKE BARNICLE: It has nothing to do with life in America. But it's going to be, right now and for the forseeable future, maybe a couple of weeks, the paramount issue in our pathetic politics.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Newt has always been a provocateur. We've known that, that's how he got elected Speaker. I don't think he's gone quite as far as he has. He's made a couple of comments over the past month, Pat, that have been obviously fanning the flames of several controversies, and Newt's taken, then this - what did Mike call it - political -
SCARBOROUGH: ...pyromania to a new level.
SCARBOROUGH: I just know that the only human being alive who has characterized him as a radical Islamist suggesting that he's a terrorist somehow connected to 9/11 attacks is Newt Gingrich, who again has compared building of a mosque in America, on private property Mika, to putting a swastika on the Holocaust Museum. It's deplorable, it is sick politics, and I pray to God sincerely that some Republican on the national stage, some elected leader, will have the courage to call Newt Gingrich out. Because until the party stands up to this type of extremism, this is a party that will find itself further and further marginalized by these voices of hate and anger.
BRZEZINSKI: Honestly Anita, I think it's going to lead us toward an independent candidate sooner than we could expect.
ANITA DUNN, Fmr. White House Comm. Dir.: I think the Republican Party as solidifying it's reputation for intolerance in this year for almost any kind of difference in American society, is going down a very dangerous long-term road, and they might see some short-term things, although I think the American people are better than that.
PAT BUCHANAN: Anita, let me ask you about this word "tolerance." I mean, what about tolerance for the views of the thousands of families of those who died on 9/11. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are saying "Please, you have the right to move the mosque there, but please don't do it, it doesn't belong there." And the vast majority of Americans who say the same thing, they have a right to build a mosque. But for heavens sakes, given the fact that the terrorists were Islamic, it was crucial to their identity and their mission, please don't put an Islamic mosque just two blocks from where this happened. What about tolerance for the vast majority of Americans and their opinions?
DUNN: Well, you know, I have to ask, it's two blocks from the site. It's a center that is supposed to be about promoting inner faith and about reaching out, which is in many ways what I think President Bush back in those horrible days of 2001, really tried to promote. And I think that how many blocks is okay? Is nine blocks okay? Is ten? I don't know where you go with this argument.
BRZEZINSKI: And Anita? They have, like, other things there that are, a lot of people would have issues with like peep shows. So, I mean, I think you bring up a really good point.
SCARBOROUGH: The Gingrich comment - so over the top.
BRZEZINSKI: I think that Gingrich's comments are more of a story than anything the President did. I think they are a real sign of the times, and I hope that the times are changing, and that the people don't play into that, fall for it even, and that they're smarter.
SCARBOROUGH: The comments are reckless, they're irresponsible, they make millions of Muslim Americans law-abiding Muslim Americans - feel as if some leaders want them to be under siege in their own country. And it sends a horrific message across the globe.
BRZEZINSKI: Yeah. But what you're saying actually takes a backbone, and takes a little bit of self-control, when it comes to not wanting to feed into either extremist views or to make waves by kind of playing into weaknesses, tendencies, or even a lack of understanding of our Constitution that some may have.
SCARBOROUGH: Because I actually have read the First Amendment, and understand what the First Amendment means, and understand what freedom of religion means, and understand that if our government, our centralized state takes actions which chills people's freedom of religion today, because they're Muslims, and because they're unpopular in lower Manhattan, then the next time with another administration, it could be a Pentecostal church that's not allowed to build in San Francisco. And then it may be an Evangelical church or a conservative Catholic church or it may be, with anti-Semitism in this country and across Europe, it may be a conservative Jewish synagogue 20 years from now. I mean, you don't take the first step down this path, it's what, in law school, our professors always called the slippery slope. This is taking the first step, and when Newt Gingrich compares Muslims to Nazis, which he did, unmistakably, compared Muslims to Nazis simply because of the god they worship, because of the faith they follow, that is contemptible, and it suggests that Newt Gingrich is either desperate for votes, or desperate for money. I suggest this man read the Constitution of the United States of America, and that he reveres the Constitution of the United States of America, and he stops pandering to the lowest base of American politics, and instead embraces the genius of our Constitution.
BRZEZINSKI: He is definitely pandering, and even worse, and I don't even like to think of the word that comes to mind to characterize this, but he's demonizing people.
SCARBOROUGH: Newt Gingrich will not be elected President of the United States. He will not even win a Republican primary. He will sell a lot of books. He will make a lot of money. He will stir up a lot of hatred on the right on this issue, but just because he may have this overarching ideological theory of a grand clash between civilizations doesn't mean that he can get his facts wrong, doesn't mean that he can call the Imam a "radical Islamist."
BARNICLE: It's about the lowest common denominator of politics, taken there by people just like Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, who apparently, because he has had two badly failed marriages, quite publicly failed marriages, has now married his ambition to his ignorance on this issue in a craven attempt to get votes, as he thinks he's going to run for President of the United States.
MORNING JOE 8/18/10 6:47 a.m. EDT
SCARBOROUGH: So even if the President, even if David Patterson, even if people inside this Islamic cultural center developing want to move it 20 blocks, we now are in a much more complicated situation than we would have been a month ago in trying to figure out how to do it without thinking, "Well, America caved in to these radicals that were accusing this guy of being a Muslim radical, and accusing all Muslims of being Nazis, so it's gotten much more complicated, hasn't it?
BARNICLE: I think this entire flap is just one more thumb on the scale tilted against the President at this moment in time. Memory has nothing to do with it. And I think what the mosque flap does, is it adds to the agita that's out there in this country over the economy. I mean, the President can talk all he wants about what he inherited. This is his economy, these are his wars, this is his problem, and now I think people are looking and saying "Geez, is this guy in over his head?" Not that he is, but I think people are now beginning to wonder what is going on here. Every time he opens his mouth, and maybe he opens his mouth too much, something happens.
BARNICLE: There's a lot of people in this country who say, you know, "Why? Why are we letting them build a mosque?" Them being the people who want to build the mosque. They're not really thinking about the idealistic trek, they're thinking about their own reality. And their own reality is that we were attacked on September 11. They're not making the connection to the Constitution, and that's where we are this morning.
SCARBOROUGH: The fact of the matter is that Harry Reid was forced by Sharron Angle to come out and take this position after Newt Gingrich started going on Fox News comparing Muslims to Nazis. Now if you don't think that there is a connection, a nexus, between Harry Reid scrambling out with a statement after being pressured by Sharron Angle to make a statement on this, you are, I think you are sadly disconnected from the realities of Nevada politics. I know that's not the case.
SCARBOROUGH: We always, always find a wedge issue, as a country, to distract us from doing good things, to distract us from working on jobs, to distract us from balancing the budget, to distract us from reforming social security, to distract us from ending the war. There are always these stupid wedge issues - and I'm not talking about this one specifically - where there's more heat than light, and it's a distraction for Washington and the chattering classes.
-Matt Hadro is News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here .