Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the generally cheery right-left duo that's anchored MSNBC's Morning Joe for nearly 10 years, are angry.
They're furious that so many people think they are in the tank for Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. They are downright apoplectic that anyone could think they've been anything but tough and fair with The Donald, that they merely were right about his chances to be a viable candidate and the critics misplace this for support.
They're mad enough, in fact, that the two have repeatedly taken to the airwaves to bat away accusations that they're too cozy with the billionaire New Yorker, who has become something of a regular call-in fixture on the show.
When Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) suggested last month that some in the press have played along with Trump's “reality TV show,” Scarborough said, “You weren't referencing us, I'm sure there, when you said media was having fun with Donald Trump, right?”
“We've been very tough all along,” Scarborough said. “I just don't think you should put us in with the rest of the media,” Brzezinski added.
On Feb. 19, the two fumed for nearly 10 minutes about the media bashing of their Trump coverage, with Scarborough calling the suggestion they were in Trump's tank “a lie,” Brzezinski fretting about being put under a “strange microscope,” and the two congratulating themselves for their coverage.
“People have the audacity to ask, ‘Are we too close to Donald Trump?' The answer is, ‘No, we're not,” Scarborough snapped.
Just this week, Brzezinski, after concluding a call with Trump Tuesday, went into a brief rant about the “eye-rolling that I hear happening” about his frequent appearances.
“Donald Trump has proved himself to be the most accessible candidate, like it or not, but don't blame us if the other candidates are not as accessible,“ Brzezinski said, reminding the audience that other presidential candidates were free to call in at any time.
She wasn't done, saying at the end of the show that Trump would be on Morning Joe again the following day and people should “understand he's accessible.”
“Mika! Stop reading Twitter!” Scarborough yelled, suggesting she was responding directly to online critics.
Scarborough and Brzezinski blanched on Feb. 10 when Trump thanked them for being “supporters,” leading the two to hastily correct the record afterwards. Scarborough said it was not “support,” and he boasted he'd hung up on Trump on live television, omitting that in that situation Trump returned to the program immediately after a commercial break.
It's not just behavior on the show, though, that has drawn the criticism.
There's the hot mic that caught the trio being casually friendly during a town hall they hosted with Trump last month. At one point, Trump reminded Brzezinski to ask “nothing too hard.” That same town hall was panned by the Washington Post for letting Trump skate by on too many questions.
There's a clip of Scarborough telling a story to Peggy Noonan about going to Trump's office to offer him debate advice.
There's a voicemail where Scarborough tells his kids to yell “thank you” to Trump for some unknown favor or gesture.
And it's not just conservatives, who might already be predisposed to dislike MSNBC and its lefty Beltway chumminess, who have lodged the complaint about the show and Scarborough in particular. CNN reported that NBC insiders were uncomfortable at the show's consistent on-air boosterism of Trump, with one calling Scarborough's admiration “unseemly” and “over the top.”
Outlets ranging from Salon and Media Matters on the Left to National Review and NewsBusters on the Right have noted the trend. The Washington Free Beacon posted a SuperCut of some of Morning Joe's gushing Trump analysis earlier this week.
In addition, Scarborough's criticism of Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) has strongly contrasted his positive tone with Trump and drew enough attention that he wrote a column insisting he had no personal animosity toward Rubio.
Scarborough's demeanor on and off the show would suggest otherwise. According to National Review, he likened Rubio to a candidate for student council, called him a liar about his finances, and told a private donor gathering that Rubio “looks like he's 12” and should wait his turn to run for president. As Scarborough himself acknowledged, he was planning to vote for Jeb Bush, Rubio's mentor-turned-rival, until Bush dropped out of the race last month.
Scarborough has actually aped Trump's mockery of Rubio's boots and propensity for perspiration on Morning Joe, and he recently yelled at guest Nicolle Wallace to take off her “Marco Rubio badge” for suggesting Rubio should stay in the race a little longer. Even Thursday morning, he took a dig at Rubio by sarcastically asking Florida Gov. Rick Scott why he wouldn't endorse his state's own senator.
Yet the hosts are defiant about the calls of pro-Trump bias. The accusers, Scarborough and Brzezinski charge, are envious that their analysis was so good on Trump.
One of the show's hallmarks as of late has been to repeatedly spike the football over their foresight, when his entry into the race last June was written off as a joke by many observers.
The day after Trump won the most delegates on Super Tuesday, the show actually ran a montage of its own hosts making vaguely prescient remarks about Trump in the primary fight dating to last summer, contrasted with other, less wizened pundits who didn't see this coming.
“We called it, and all along we said, not because it's good, not because it's right, not because it's bad, but we saw it coming,” Scarborough said.
Of course, Scarborough and company have had harsh words for Trump on their show. He called Trump's inability to disavow the KKK “disqualifying,” and he compared Trump's proposed Muslim ban to Nazi-era tactics. Just on Thursday, Brzezinski cut off the interview with Rick Scott when he wouldn't answer if he agreed with Trump's recent anti-Islamic rhetoric. Brzezinski, a liberal, repeatedly makes it clear she disagrees with many of Trump's policies.
Nevertheless, the show's Trump friendliness and the hosts' defensiveness over the accusations make for one of the political season's more intriguing media sub-plots.