A discussion with MSNBC host and Nantucket summer resident Mika Brzezinski.
Mika Brzezinski is the co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe along with her fiancé, Joe Scarborough. The daughter of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was counselor to President Lyndon B. Johnson and National Security Advisor for President Jimmy Carter, Mika was exposed to the world of politics and international affairs at an early age. After attending Georgetown University and Williams College, Brzezinski became a broadcast news correspondent, most notably covering 9/11 from Ground Zero, before eventually taking her position as co-host of Morning Joe. Recently, Brzezinski became a story herself as a result of a series of personal Twitter attacks by President Trump, which generated national attention. A bestselling author on women’s empowerment, Brzezinski has been an advocate for women prior to the #MeToo movement and is now one of its most ardent supporters. Brzezinski was interviewed by N Magazine and covered a wide range of topics from her re-released bestseller, Knowing Your Value, her interaction with President Trump, and her views on the current state of affairs in Washington.
BRZEZINSKI: Joe [Scarborough] has been bringing his family to Nantucket for fifteen years, so I have been hearing about the island for years. We have some great friends on the island, and that’s where it really intersects between the two of us because he has great family time there and we also are able to socialize with friends who we really love dearly.
N MAGAZINE: When you started writing books like Knowing Your Value about female empowerment, the #MeToo movement hadn’t taken off yet. What did you see that now makes your books so relevant today?
BRZEZINSKI: Whether we’re talking about #MeToo, developing corporate culture, or knowing our value and getting paid equally to men or getting paid the most we can, I focus on the techniques and philosophies that women have control over. Sometimes I feel we are so focused on the wrongdoing that has become of us that we get caught up in that. We get ahead by calling out wrongdoing, which is fine when it really matters, but it’s not the only way to know your value.
N MAGAZINE: What are some of the ways you write about?
BRZEZINSKI: There are ways of conducting yourself, composing yourself, executing decisions, taking risks and reaching out for yourself that I think we all can always improve upon. And there are some areas where I think women really fall short. Early on in my life, I didn’t do that well. On every level, whether it be a #MeToo type moment or a contract negotiation or a relationship situation — I didn’t do my part well. I couldn’t believe the impact that it had on my own life when I changed the part I could control, worked on the techniques of communicating effectively, worked on that confidence that you build up in yourself. It had such an impact on my life that I wanted to share it with other women.
BRZEZINSKI: Do I feel like the wind is at our back? Yes. Do I feel like we could crash and burn? Yes. We need to be really careful with this moment. These are the parts we can control: how we move forward, how fair we are, how consistent we are, how transparent we are about human failings, male and female. That will be the key to #MeToo being a permanent success for generations to come.
N MAGAZINE: Is this a permanent sea change in male behavior?
BRZEZINSKI: I think it’s both male and female behavior. It’s not just men’s behavior. Females can be just as horrible, just as challenged and just as imperfect. The minute we think. [women] are different than men is the minute #MeToo fails. I cannot say that more clearly. We better watch it. There are men who are being called out for doing horrible things — and they should be — but we haven’t covered the story of complicit women or of women who have abused sexuality in the workplace. Quite frankly, there’s just a lot of this story that’s being put under the rug and it’s not an honest conversation. Nobody’s asking me about the women who took advantage of these situations many times over and helped create that culture that was unhealthy. Because a culture not only involves men who abused the system — but also women.
BRZEZINSKI: I think the focus is corporate culture and hiring great people, male and female. Hiring people who are not just fantastic at what they do, but who are good, moral people. I want this to be a watershed moment for my daughters who are entering the working world. I want them to have transparency in their workplace, to feel like they can go to someone if they’re having challenges and have an honest conversation. But I also want them to feel like they work in a company that hires great people who are playing by the same rules.
N MAGAZINE: Did Hillary Clinton lose the election because she was a woman or because she was a bad candidate?
BRZEZINSKI: I thought Hillary Clinton was the only candidate who could lose to Donald Trump — and I thought it from day one. The minute I saw the Saturday Night Live episode with Kate McKinnon and Hillary Clinton laughing hysterically at the end of the sketch at the prospect of Trump winning the Republican nomination, I thought to myself, “Oh my God, we just jumped the shark. Nobody understands just how badly this is going to go. She’s the wrong candidate for Donald Trump.” She canceled him out, whether it’s fair or not. She canceled Trump out on his weaknesses. Their honesty and trustworthy numbers were pretty similar — that’s a bad candidate. That has nothing to do with her being a woman.
We had just witnessed the election of a black man, Barack Obama, with a middle name Hussein. I think we can handle a woman. So I honestly take serious issue with anybody who thinks Hillary Clinton lost because she’s a woman — they’ve literally got their heads in the sand.
N MAGAZINE: Donald Trump did not find Saturday Night Live’s depiction of him to be very amusing. What was your reaction to their sketch on you and Joe?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, if I didn’t have kids that were horribly embarrassed, I would have thought it was hysterical and loved it. One hundred percent. I think Kate McKinnon is absolutely fantastic, brilliant, hysterical. And I think it’s funny… really funny. I can’t lie to you. We both got a big laugh out of that.
N MAGAZINE: You were famously on the receiving end of a personal attack from the president on Twitter, after which you said something to the effect of “this doesn’t get to me… I was brought up to be tough as nails.” Can you explain what that meant?
BRZEZINSKI: The personal attacks don’t get to me. I think my upbringing absolutely impacted me. I grew up with a really thick skin. We debated at the dinner table on a regular basis, and my parents developed that thick skin in all three of us. My mother is an artist. She’s 87 and she’s still working on three-ton pieces that require working with a chainsaw. Nobody messes with her. My dad was a brilliant mind. He changed the world. He escaped Hitler. Can you imagine if I went running home to them and said, “The president is tweeting about me bleeding badly from a facelift”? They would send me to my room for the night.
I didn’t get the timing of that tweet. I laughed. I couldn’t believe how many people were upset — Republicans, Democrats, people around the world. It was unbelievable. I had just lost my dad. I just had this scare with my daughter where for several hours we thought she’d been kidnapped in Baltimore. I had lost my best friend to cancer. Relative to the other things going on in my life, it was so teeny tiny.
N MAGAZINE: If you could close your eyes and snap your fingers and there’d be a new person running the show in the White House, who comes to mind?
BRZEZINSKI: Mike Bloomberg. If I could close my eyes and look for someone who I think could do a good job for America, it would be Mike Bloomberg. Look at his track record. Look at his track record building a company. Look at his track record running New York City. He transformed New York City physically and artistically. And if you look at even the shape of the city, what he was able to do, given all the constraints of trying to even get one block of the sidewalk put down in there, that guy moved mountains. And I think he has the temperament and the approach to do it. It probably would never happen.
N MAGAZINE: If you had been a senator on the panel questioning Kavanaugh, what questions would you have asked that were not asked?
BRZEZINSKI: In a 2015 speech, you listed the qualities needed to be a “good judge.” That included, in your words, having the “proper demeanor,” keeping your “emotions in check,” not being a “political partisan.” What would that version of you from 2015 think of your opening statement here today? Based on your own criteria in 2015, why should the Senate see you as fit for the highest court in the land?
N MAGAZINE: If other members of the Supreme Court retire under Trump’s watch, what do you think America will look like after that?
BRZEZINSKI: More Supreme Court openings during Trump’s presidency would be really bad for women, and for the country.
N MAGAZINE: In the days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, it would have been journalistically inappropriate for broadcasters to take sides and to be advocates. Are those days gone forever?
BRZEZINSKI: I’m not saying those days are over, but it’s really a difficult time to stick to the facts. It’s hard not to feel a sense of concern in your language about someone who lies about America. And as a result, there’s a tension between the president and the press more than ever.
I don’t really know how I would describe Joe and myself in this landscape. We do our best every day to tell the truth, to calibrate and recalibrate exactly how we present the truth. We’re transparent about our political affiliations, our backgrounds and our opinions. The show runs on our ability to break down what’s going on.
Joe’s voice in the midst of this presidency, I think, is the most sound, most accurate, most competent decider of what’s really going on that we have, bar none, in television, online or in print today. I think that America needs to hear his voice every morning and he has risen up to that challenge.