If there is an issue about which discussion is unsuited to the strictures of television news shows, it is the controversy that has blown up around Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-MN) recent comments. And if there is a television news show unequipped to handle the complexities of the debate, it is Morning Joe.
For evidence, one need look no further than the clip above, in which Joe Scarborough attempts to explain, in tones of self-righteousness bordering on the messianical, to Sam Stein of The Daily Beast why he thinks this is a very simple issue.
“It does seem pretty basic,” Scarborough tells Stein, and that is the problem right there. If it was basic, our entire political and media establishment would not have been consumed by this argument for the past week.
Stein tried to push back, explaining that while some of Omar’s specific word choices might have played right into some ancient anti-Semitic tropes, that on her larger point about America’s policies on Israel, lots of American Jews actually agree with her. “There are people who are yearning for an alternate approach to U.S.-Israel relations, and the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and of course our seeming allegiance to the Netanyahu government,” he stated.
Stein then tries to talk about the way anti-Muslim bigotry has permeated public discourse without drawing the rebukes that Omar’s alleged anti-Semitism have. Scarborough interrupts to holler, “We understand that! Everybody’s talked about that!”
Stein’s point is a pretty simple one, which Scarborough runs right over. While Omar’s comments have been condemned by both Republicans and Democrats, the Republican Party itself has rallied around anti-Muslim hate speech and policies such as Trump’s attempt at banning Muslims from certain countries from entering America. (That the Supreme Court wouldn’t sign off on the ban until the administration made the language of it at least facially neutral on the question of whether it discriminated on the basis of religion is beside the point.)
Republicans have in no way condemned the anti-Muslim bigotry coming from their own side, but have been more than happy to pile on Omar in terms that make what she said sound much, much worse than it actually was. All while not condemning anti-Muslim bigotry directed at her by members of the GOP, most recently in this incident in the West Virginia statehouse.
Scarborough then turns to Willie Geist while hollering “This is not hard! This is not hard!” But it is! Otherwise, Scarborough would not be in the middle of a ten-minute segment on the issue on his show!
A few minutes later, Scarborough’s co-host Mika Brzezinski, gives Stein “a final word.” Then when Stein says he hopes Omar’s comments would spur a more nuanced conversation about U.S.-Israeli relations, she sighs heavily and interrupts him to say he is making Scarborough’s point that it is actually a simple problem that could be resolved if she would only just say “I’m sorry.”
As for Stein getting the last word, it is not to be. Scarborough still gets the last word, stating again that “this is not complicated.” He goes on to say one can criticize Israeli policies without questioning a person’s loyalty to America, and that certain tropes need to be condemned whether they come from Ilhan Omar or Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the House Republicans.
What Scarborough misses is that McCarthy’s anti-Semitic tweet did not get condemned by the same Republicans who are now calling Omar “evil” and demanding she be removed from the House Foreign Relations Committee. What he misses when he invokes Michelle Obama’s infamous “when they go low, we go high” dictum (aside from the fact that even Obama has backed off the sentiment somewhat) is that condemning anti-Semitic tropes because of this one incident is a deflection from talking about bigotry against all minority groups, or the wider issue of U.S.-Israeli policy. It is a deflection that particularly allows the GOP to keep playing these sorts of games to get Democrats fighting each other while Republicans get to ignore all the bigotry in their own ranks.
Omar’s comments might have bought into some anti-Semitic tropes without her necessarily realizing it. Scarborough does himself and the public discourse no favors when he buys into a one-sided condemnation of them.
Watch all the videos above, via MSNBC.