Those memoirs continue to beckon: Has it really been ten years?
Apparently, yes it has! Yesterday morning, Morning Joe celebrated ten years on the air. This brings us back to Mika Brzezinki's three (3) peculiar memoirs.
We tried to handle the books last week. As we said at the time, it would take several weeks to do justice to all the nonsense found in the books—to their serial weirdness.
In large part, this involves Mika's ruminations about the role of money in her career. As usual, her apparent self-contradictions provide a great deal of amusement, even as she offers us an unusual look inside this important part of mainstream press/pundit culture.
What do we mean by "her apparent self-contradictions?" Consider the early pages of her second memoir, Knowing Your Value: Women. Money. and Getting What You're Worth.
This book is built around Mika's quest to gain the million of dollars she's so plainly worth, given her array of professional skills and her astonishing thinness. The story starts in early 2008, when she says she discovered that Joe himself was being paid fourteen times what she was paid, and that other "male colleagues," including Willie Geist-Haskell, were being paid "much more" than she was.
These claims are rather fuzzy. It's never made clear how she came to know the things she says she knew. But soon, we seem to be told that Mika had been shortchanged all through her career. On page 4, we're made privy to this:
BRZEZINKSI (page 4): My meeting with Joe that February  morning was the culmination of a problem that had been brewing for decades. I had spent my career moving from job to job, accepting pay that I knew wasn't competitive because I always felt lucky to be there. I figured if I just worked hard, took on more hours, more assignments, and more stories, I could prove myself, and eventually my bosses would reward me with a raise and promotion. Often while I was hustling and hoping for more money, I would discover that my male colleagues were making more than I was. I wouldn't get angry at the men for this—I'd be angry at myself for not earning more respect and compensation from management. Then I'd start feeling underappreciated, talk to other networks, and and then move on and repeat the pattern somewhere else. Clearly the pattern wasn't getting me anywhere.It sounded like Mika had been a real vagabond, that she'd "spent [her] career moving from job to job, accepting pay that [she] knew wasn't competitive." That said, in her first memoir, she'd described her ten-year history at CBS News and MSNBC, and it didn't exactly seem to fit this description.
According to that first memoir, Brzezinksi started at CBS News on the day she turned 30. A few years later, she moved to MSNBC to host an afternoon show, giving her better hours. CBS News hired her back rather quickly. On the day she turned 39, CBS told her it wouldn't renew her contract when it expired, though she stayed on the job for several months after that.
It's true that she'd been "fired" at age 39, and for a year, she couldn't get anyone else to hire her. But had her career really been as peripatetic and penurious as she seemed to say on page 4 of that second memoir?
You be the judge! On page 12 of this same second book, Mika describes the poorly-paid, part-time job she took at MSNBC in 2007, after a year of stone-cold unemployment. It's the job which led to her discovery by Joe Scarborough, thus to her role on Morning Joe. Along the way, she tells us this:
BRZEZINSKI (page 12): If you looked at that MSNBC job, you'd see that it was a considerable step back from my high-profile correspondent job at CBS. It was even a big step back from my job at MSNBC, ten years earlier. I spent my fortieth birthday doing cut-ins, but it was fine. It was work, and I was proud of myself...There was as much value in this moment as the day I got a huge contract at CBS that included a 60 Minutes deal. I was going to be okay.Say what? On page 4, we're told that she "had spent [her] career moving from job to job, accepting pay that [she] knew wasn't competitive" and never being recognized for her amazing array of skills. Eight pages later, she cites the "huge contract" she got at CBS News, the huge contract (for a "high-profile job") under which she even did spots on 60 Minutes.
What's the truth about Mika's pay through the years? How much was she paid in her ten years in network news before she landed her spot at Morning Joe? Was she being paid what she was "worth," as compared to male colleagues?
Based on Mika's memoirs, there's absolutely zero way to settle such basic questions. She only cites one specific salary she ever received. According to her first memoir, when she first went to CBS News, in 1997, on the day she turned 30, she was paid $150,000 per year for anchoring the network's little-watched, 2-5 AM overnight news show.
(Adjusting for inflation, that would be roughly $230,000 today.)
Was that a cheapskate salary? Was she being underpaid as compared to male colleagues? We have no idea. In our view, everything is possible.
But during her second stint at CBS News, she was rewarded with a "huge contract," or so we're told on page 12 of Knowing Your Value. A mere eight pages earlier, we were told that she had "spent [her] career moving from job to job, accepting pay that [she] knew wasn't competitive."
How do these stories fit together? We aren't sure, but just as there were a million stories in the naked city, there are a million apparent self-contradictions in Mika's trio of memoirs.
Mika's memoirs are full of amusing apparent self-contradictions. They're also full of anecdotes that seem so improbable that the puzzled reader is left to wonder if Mika could possibly mean what she seems to have said.
These books rarely fail to amuse the diligent reader. That said, one question arises all through these books, at least to us: How can it be that the author of these puzzling memoirs is a highly influential member of our celebrity pundit corps?
We can't answer that question. But as we watched Morning Joe's tenth birthday, our thoughts were drawn, again and again, to those entertaining but puzzling books.
For at least three decades, our American public discourse has been a dangerous joke. In this particular instance, Joe and Mika loved and fawned to Candidate Trump, then all of a sudden they flipped.
Brzezinksi's three memoirs offer an unusual look inside the world of our big major pundits. At one point, she says the book deal which led to these books was arranged to move her income to the big fat level she so plainly deserves.
Money plays a very large role within our upper-end press corps. It plays a large, very dangerous role, which is why it's so rarely discussed.