The XX Factor

What I Learned Watching MSNBC This Morning

Time’s Mark Halperin goes on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to discuss not the health care issue itself nor the controversial town hall protests that threaten to disrupt debate of the issue but whether the controversial town hall protests that threaten to disrupt debate of the issue are getting too much attention in the mainstream media. Halperin spends his airtime arguing that “the parts of our political media culture that let the discussion of [the disrupted town hall meetings], rather than the discussion of whether the public option is a good idea, are … a national disgrace.” Scarborough, who would seem to have just been berated for his choice of discussion subject by the guest with whom he is discussing it, takes the opportunity to ask whether it would be a national disgrace to cover the shouting-down of a conservative. Halperin says yes, in fact, it would be a disgrace. And so on.

I’m struck by how hard morning-show hosts have to work to avoid actually talking about the subjects they’re purportedly covering. The above is a third-order conversation; obviously, no one wants to talk about the public option because the real news is boring, and talking about the town hall protesters got old, so now we’re driven to talk about whether the coverage of the protesters is crowding out coverage of the boring news we really ought to be discussing. Still, to buy Halperin’s “crowding out” thesis you have to believe that in the absence of these meta conversations the airwaves would be flooded with talk of cost control and risk-adjusted premiums. I think it’s more likely that we’d be talking about, say, the Miley Cyrus pole dance situation and ignoring health care altogether.

Photograph of Joe Scarborough by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images for Meet The Press.