May the 4th be with them!
If their wedding is as triumphant as Thursday’s brilliantly orchestrated public relations rollout of their engagement announcement—an obviously authorized gossip item in the New York Post’s “Page Six” column, followed at 9 a.m. sharp, just as their MSNBC show Morning Joe went off the air, by Vanity Fair’s on the record interview with the happy duo (along with a tender photo of them, showing off Mika’s substantial diamond)—they will have a long and loving marriage.
On Thursday’s installment of Morning Joe, the couple—dressed, perhaps serendipitously, in complimentary ensembles of blue and pink—acted coy about their big news, deflecting felicitations from show regulars Harold Ford Jr. and Steven Rattner by pretending that they were being feted for Morning Joe’s robust ratings.
“The numbers have been up lately—the show’s going well,” regular co-host Willie Geist quipped, playing along with the fiction.
“More people have watched us in the last two months than ever before, so thank you,” Scarborough responded with a smirk.
“It’s like we’re family,” Geist retorted.
“You can almost drop the ‘like’,” Ford chimed in with a laugh.
“I’m reading over here that there’s other things to say congratulations about,” Rattner added, while Joe & Mika pretended not to hear.
Later on in the program, Scarborough blushed when Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee gushed: “Congratulations, by the way. Congratulations on all the news that are coming out.”
Scarborough pretended that Sen. Corker was referring to Buckingham Palace’s announcement of a royal retirement: “He knows I’m a big Prince Phillip fan, and it’s good that after all these years of working he can relax.”
Through it all, Brzezinski gesticulated with her left hand, sometimes flaunting the shiny thing on her ring finger and sometimes keeping it out of view.
For their close colleagues and friends, the proclamation of Joe & Mika’s pending nuptials is a moment of private joy.
It is also a nearly miraculous demonstration, in the public sphere, of how savvy, scrupulous and vigorous press-handling can sometimes prevent unwelcome rumors from inconvenient publication—i.e., the persistent rumor that Scarborough and Brzezinski have been romantically entangled for years.
“It’s one of the great mysteries that people speak to each other about—‘How is it that none of this ever appears in the newspapers?’,” a television industry insider told The Daily Beast. “I don’t know how they do it, or what magic they worked.”
Only their sometime frenemy and lately enemy Donald Trump has been uncouth enough to hurl the tittle-tattle into the public domain.
Irked by their criticisms of his campaign, the future president tweeted last August: “Some day, when things calm down, I’ll tell the real story of @JoeNBC and his very insecure long-time girlfriend, @morningmika. Two clowns!”
In the Vanity Fair story, Joe & Mika confided that in January, when they were on better terms, the president offered to officiate at their wedding over lunch at the White House with Trump, his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner.
“If it weren’t Trump, it might be something to think about,” Mika said. “The mental picture is just fascinating, but the reality is just… no. No, no, no, no, no.”
So far, the wedding plans are apparently undecided.
Yet the gossip column cemetery is chock-a-block with killed stories about Joe & Mika’s alleged off-air intimacies.
In one such case in November 2013, shortly after Scarborough’s divorce from his second wife was finalized (and three years before Brzezinski’s official split from her own spouse), The New York Post’s Richard Johnson was preparing to declare them an item.
According to sources familiar with the situation, a distraught Brzezinski reached out to then-Fox News CEO Roger Ailes —like Johnson, a vassal in the Murdoch media empire—and tearfully asked Ailes, with whom she was friendly, to intervene with the gossip columnist, arguing that their respective children would be hurt by such publicity.
Ailes made his pitch to Johnson on Brzezinski’s behalf, and the columnist obligingly stood down.
The next day, the sources said, Johnson was rewarded when Scarborough phoned him and gave him the juicy scoop that Alec Baldwin was about to be fired from his short-lived MSNBC program.
Not only did everybody win (with the possible exception of Alec Baldwin), the outcome suggested that Joe & Mika have a virtuosic mastery of the power grid—and know precisely which buttons to push.
In retrospect, the public positioning of their private ardor looks like a textbook illustration of PR expertise. Little by little, especially in recent months, they have sent public signals of their passion, and members of the Fourth Estate have apparently agreed not to challenge them on their insistence that nothing physical was happening between them while their respective marriages were legally in force.
In a profile of Scarborough published in September, GQ writer Jason Zengerle chronicled their amatory gradualism, starting with another apparently authorized Page Six report last June about Brzezinski’s quiet divorce and the prediction that they “could soon go public as a couple.”
“But inside MSNBC, and even on the set of their own show, it’s widely assumed that they are a couple,” Zengerle wrote. “They are frequently spotted outside 30 Rock, traveling together on Nantucket and in Charleston, or sitting at tables for two over cozy dinners in Manhattan.
Last December, when Scarborough hosted a Christmas party for friends and colleagues at his home in New Canaan, it was Brzezinski who welcomed guests at the door. Visitors also couldn’t help but notice that the giant Peter Max painting of the pair—the one that greets visitors at the Morning Joe offices—also hangs in Scarborough’s home.”
More recently, last month, Scarborough pretty much acknowledged to the Hollywood Reporter what everyone by then had assumed was true: “We have a crackling on-air chemistry, and a crackling off-air chemistry, too.”
The timing of Thursday’s big reveal might have come as a surprise—Scarborough’s bended-knee proposal happened at the end of a romantic weekend in Cap d’Antibes to celebrate Brzezinski’s 50th birthday—but the general reaction is “shock, shock,” in the Casablanca sense.
Indeed, for at least the past five years, Scarborough and Brzezinski’s on-air chemistry and body language—along with their penchant for traveling to each other’s out of town speeches, book launches and other events, when both were married to other people and then going through their respective divorces—fueled endless speculation in the business as to the true nature of their relationship.
They met cute. Their first conversation, recounted by both in profiles over the years, reads like Bogie and Bacall.
Fired from CBS News, washed-up at age 40, Brzezinski was a freelancer, doing news cut-ins for Scarborough Country, Joe’s evening MSNBC show. He asked her what she thought of it. “I don’t watch,” she replied cheekily. He was smitten, and persuaded her to join him on tryouts for a brand new morning program.
It was a raging success. These days, the 54-year-old Scarborough, a Republican former congressman from Florida, and his four-years-younger bride-to-be, the well-connected daughter of foreign policy guru Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, have an all-access pass to the high and mighty.
Ten years ago, they had instant chemistry as TV spouses—sometimes warm and fuzzy, and other times tense and irritable—the cable news answer to The Bickersons.
As recently as April 26, Joe exploded at Mika when she mocked his comparison of Ivanka Trump’s and Jared Kushner’s role as presidential advisers to her father to Bobby Kennedy’s role with JFK.
“You don’t have to be so snotty,” Scarborough scolded as Mika smiled winsomely and rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to be so rude. The fact of the matter is that they are not Bobby Kennedy as I was about to say, but you wanted to get your cheap shot in so you got your cheap shot in. No I am not saying Jared and Ivanka are Bobby Kennedy.”
Now that they are officially intimate, their will-they, won’t-they allure could wither, and that crackling onscreen tension might dissipate. It’s an open question how viewers will react to the freshly formalized Mika & Joe. It matters, because their Acela corridor power-politics franchise is extremely important to the Comcast-owned MSNBC, both as a profit center and prestige enhancer.
But an executive at the cable outlet sounded sanguine about the future. “There’s little or no concern that this changes anything about their relationship,” said the exec. “Their well-established on-air dynamic is consistent with this latest development.”