You’ve Got Mika

“Um, thank you?” said Ms. Brzezinski.

At one point, a liberal interloper called in with some advice. “Mika, not only do I think you’re hot, but you have a great voice,” said Robert from Paramus, N.J. “And you’re pretty smart. What you have to do is, you can’t let these conservatives try and use you as a punching bag. Don’t become the Colmes of the former Hannity and Colmes show.”

Mika Brzezinski looks like sterner stuff—and, it probably makes a difference that she is a woman, something that she does not shy away from reminding the knuckle-draggers who surround her. One moment, she rules the Morning Joe set, playing strict disciplinarian, bullying grown men back into line. The next minute she can interview U.S. Senator Jim Webb, with her executive producer’s baby sitting on her lap.

And Mr. Scarborough might be the last person in the world who would underestimate Ms. Brzezinski’s intellect. For the most part, he reacts to the disparaging phone calls with bemused sarcasm. But at one point on the morning of Feb. 5, all the conservative male angst toward Ms. Brzezinski inspired Mr. Scarborough to tell a story.

Years ago, Mr. Scarborough explained, when Mika was a young co-ed at Williams College she had dated a guy at Dartmouth, who happened to be the editor of The Dartmouth Review.

One rainy night, Ms. Brzezinski drove up to Dartmouth to rendezvous with her boyfriend at an outdoor bench on campus. Ms. Brzezinski arrived at the scene. The guy wasn’t there. She waited and waited. The rain turned to snow. The guy remained AWOL.

Where was he? Mr. Scarborough cut to the punch line. As it turned out, the conservative guy had stood her up for drinks with … Laura Ingraham!

Yes, that Laura Ingraham—the brainy blond conservative political commentator, who, as it happens, hosts a nationally syndicated talk show, which in New York airs weeknights on WABC. 

Ms. Brzezinski gave an exaggerated sigh. “She was prettier,” said Ms. Brzezinski, “she was smarter, and she was more conservative.”

“So you were dating a right-winger at college?” said Mr. Scarborough. “What was that like? You’ve got to be a hard-core conservative to run The Dartmouth Review.”

Ms. Brzezinski said they had almost married. You know why she liked him? Tell me, said Mr. Scarborough. “He stood by his beliefs,” said Ms. Brzezinski. “And he wrote beautifully.”

And so the parable came to an end.

A few days later, The Observer asked Ms. Brzezinski how she was coping with the male pattern aggression from callers. Ms. Brzezinski fielded the question gamely. “There’s nothing bad about it,” said Ms. Brzezinski. “It’s either criticism in fun. Or it’s funny. Or on a really good day, someone will explain to me why I’m wrong. I’m way open to being wrong.

“I’ve evolved on certain issues and so has Joe,” Ms. Brzezinski added. “When someone calls me a moron, that doesn’t bother me. I think it’s amusing. To me, it’s a fabulous part of the process.”

And on television, Mr. Scarborough looks a lot like the last conservative standing at the network of Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.

“I live on the Upper West Side when I’m up here,” said Mr. Scarborough. “I always have little old ladies coming up to me saying, ‘You’re my favorite Republican. You’re the only Republican I like other than Pat Buchanan.’ I like Pat, too!”

The next day, on Friday morning, the radio show was humming. Joe and Mika played a clip of Chris Matthews criticizing President Obama. Ms. Brzezinski marveled that the press was beating up so badly on Mr. Obama. Mr. Scarborough called Paul Krugman “grumpy.” A caller accused NBC News of liberal bias. Mr. Scarborough insisted that Mika was practicing the politics of division. Strains of Arcade Fire drifted onto the soundboard between them.

Only one thing was missing. “Where are the ‘Mika is a moron, Mika makes me want to puke’ callers?” said Ms. Brzezinski.

“Where’s the hate?” said Mr. Scarborough.

“Maybe I won them over,” said Ms. Brzezinski. “Do you think that’s possible?”

fgillette@observer.com