By Alex Distefano
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By Anna Merlan
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By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
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Craig Crawford, who is a former Orlando Sentinel reporter, says he met Scarborough at this time and had been told that Republicans called him "our Bill Clinton"—a reference to Scarborough's engaging Southern style, not his politics.
Once Scarborough was in Washington and began doing the talk-show circuit blasting Clinton, a White House aide bumped into him on Capitol Hill and told him that the president hated his guts—a feeling he described as "mutual" in his book. "I can't even look at the man's face on TV," Scarborough told his staff. The ever-flexible Scarborough now likes to say that he's "spent the past five or six years second-guessing myself on whether I was unfair to Bill Clinton in the 1990s, why he bothered me the way he did," and insists that he "tries to be positive" about him. He says that he voted for only two of the four impeachment counts against Clinton while in Congress, though he made regular appearances on the talk-show circuit, including Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, to condemn the then president.
Pressed about his continued contempt for Clinton, Scarborough shifts to claiming how much he likes Hillary. But confronted with one of his January quotes—when he called her "disoriented" for "saying Martin Luther King wasn't responsible for the Civil Rights Act"—he smiles, acknowledging the distortion of her words, and says: "You got me there." In fact, he often lumps Bill and Hillary together—as in "the Clintons want the issue to be race"—just like many other commentators do.
But he also tries to hide his baggage of bias, refashioning himself as a good ol' boy who has seen the light, a source of reasonable and open exchange. He tells the Voice that he's even leaving Scarborough Country, moving his wife and family to New York, where he's been spending most of his time since he signed a new MSNBC contract and launched the morning show in 2007. He's selling his Pensacola home, but "will always" maintain a residence there.
His divergent worlds, however, do have a way of colliding. He is a favorite of the Media Research Center, a right-wing news monitor that gives "Dishonor Awards" to mainstream and liberal journalists at its annual fundraising gala in Washington. Scarborough was listed on the 2007 program, along with Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity, as a presenter of one its five major mock awards—although so was Keith Olbermann, who was a finalist for three of them, including the "God, I Hate America Award." (Olbermann was nominated for his extraordinary commentary from Ground Zero on the fifth anniversary of September 11, when he charged Bush with forgetting "who left this hole in the ground"—an assertion the MRC gang apparently thought worthy of a joke prize.)
Scarborough went to the Grand Hyatt cocktail party that year, but he slipped out before the awards. It's impossible to tell if he engineered that compromise out of respect for Olbermann or for Bill Maher, whose HBO show he frequently appears on. Maher was a finalist for the award Scarborough was scheduled to present: the "I'm Not a Political Genius But I Play One on TV Award." But while Scarborough didn't appear on the MRC stage in 2007, he did present the "Baghdad Bob Award for Parroting Enemy Propaganda" to Diane Sawyer in 2004. (Jeane Kirkpatrick accepted it for her.) Scarborough has also periodically entertained MRC guests on his MSNBC shows.
Al Sharpton is another Scarborough contradiction. Joe now calls Sharpton a "friend," adding that he recently went to a Sharpton conference and participated in a media panel. But in 2000, Scarborough did precisely what he has repeatedly accused the Clintons of doing this year—race-baiting, as Bill Clinton supposedly did in South Carolina this year by comparing Obama's campaign to Jesse Jackson's—when he attempted to link Al Gore to Sharpton, simply because Gore went to a Sharpton event at the Apollo. Scarborough also introduced a resolution in the House condemning Sharpton. He called Gore "an Al Sharpton Democrat," assailing him for "continuing to embrace the most mean-spirited, racist extremes" of the Democratic Party. "How can Mr. Gore go to New York City and embrace such a man?" Scarborough said on the House floor, dismissing the fact that Sharpton also had strong ties to New York Republicans like George Pataki and Al D'Amato.
The RNC even set up a Sharpton desk at its headquarters. Stephen Marks, who has since written a book called Confessions of a Political Hit Man, claims that his "finest moment" was creating a television advertising campaign, funded by an independent 527 group called Americans Against Hate, that seared the Gore/Sharpton connection in the public mind, especially in certain key states. Even Bill O'Reilly denounced these ads, which flashed a photo of Adolf Hitler after claiming that Sharpton admired him. Scarborough doesn't shrink now from his role in jump-starting the Gore smear, insisting that "it had nothing to do with race."
Even when Scarborough tried, during the 2006 congressional elections, to put some distance between himself and the scandal-scarred Republicans, his past came back to haunt him. "How exactly does one convince the teeming masses that Republicans deserve to stay in power," he wrote for The Washington Post, "despite keeping company with Jack Abramoff, raising cronyism to an art form, playing poker with Duke Cunningham, and repeatedly electing Tom DeLay as their majority leader?" He didn't note that all three of those men had given money to his congressional committee, with Cunningham and DeLay—as well as Dick Cheney—donating to him before he was elected the first time in 1994. Nor did he note, when he put Oregon Republican congressional candidate Derrick Kitts on his show to comment on DeLay's resignation, that he'd just maxed out with $4,200 in contributions to Kitts four days before he was a guest on the show. A former aide to Scarborough who had left Washington years earlier to become a state legislator in Oregon, Kitts was an odd guest on what Scarborough called his "all-star panel," since presumably an actual member of the House who knew DeLay might have been available. Kitts's appearance seemed designed more to give the 34-year neophyte national exposure for his own race than add to the DeLay discussion.