It takes a lot to shock reporters in the Trump era.
The president managed to do that on Thursday morning.
MSNBC staffers say they were not surprised that Trump would condemn their shows and anchors — he’s done that before — but were caught off guard by the intensely personal nature of the president’s attack on the looks of “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski.
Network insiders described a widespread sense of anger among the news staff and said executives felt strongly enough to respond with an official statement condemning the president in unusually forceful terms.
"It’s a sad day for America when the president spends his time bullying, lying and spewing petty personal attacks instead of doing his job,” the network said in a statement.
MSNBC was initially reluctant even to air Trump’s tweets, in which he attacked Joe Scarborough as “psycho” and Brzezinski as “low I.Q. crazy” and that when she and Scarborough visited Mar-a-Lago over New Year’s, she "was bleeding badly from a face-lift.”
Network staffers said the tweets were tinged with “misogyny” and “viciousness,” especially toward a woman on television.
"I’m angry for my colleague @morningmika. I’m deeply embarrassed for our country,” tweeted MSNBC anchor Joy Reid.
"Doesn’t the President of the United States have anything better to do?”’ tweeted MSNBC anchor Katy Tur, herself a victim of Trump’s personal attacks.
White House spokespeople and first lady Melania Trump defended the tweets as an expression of the president’s desire to lash out strongly against those who attack him. On Thursday morning, Scarborough and Brzezinski apparently triggered Trump’s defense reflex by joking about a report that he hung fake Time magazine covers on the walls of his properties, while Brzezinski quipped about Trump’s “tiny hands.”
Trump has known the two anchors, personally and professionally, for years. The pair, who are now engaged to be married, said Trump even offered at a meeting in January to officiate at their wedding.
Scarborough and Brzezinski’s relationship with Trump has deteriorated since then, though they have made on-air references to having spoken with Trump and his advisers behind the scenes. The White House says Trump no longer watches or speaks with them.
Those close to the president say he feels personally betrayed by Scarborough and Brzezinski, in the same way he feels betrayed by CNN chief Jeff Zucker, who, as head of NBC, first put Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice” on air. But the tweets on Thursday morning cut deeper than previous screeds against the pair, especially his comments about Brzezinski.
In a rare moment of unity, nearly the entire national news media, including the often pro-Trump Fox News, condemned the tweet.
“You don’t stoop to that level … that’s just not how you run a country,” Fox News host Julie Banderas said to Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel. “Eye for an eye doesn’t work here.”
On the Fox show, “Outnumbered,” the four female co-hosts blasted the tweet, saying it was beneath the dignity of the office. The “one lucky guy” on the show that day just happened to be former Gov. Mike Huckabee, father of White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Though he gave a defense of Trump hitting back at his detractors, he noted that Sanders wasn’t defending “what he said, she just defended the right to fight back.”
Even some of Trump’s closest allies in the media, while publicly defending the president’s right to fight back, conceded in off-the-record conversations that the tweet wasn’t helpful to Trump’s agenda.
CNN put out a rare official tweet supporting a competitor, saying it stood by the MSNBC co-hosts. CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, who in December criticized Scarborough and Brzezinski to POLITICO for being “boosters” and “spokesmen” for the president’s transition, defended the pair.
"We are competitors, but Joe and Mika deserve respect,” Cuomo said in a tweet. "Mr. President, this attack is beneath the dignity of your office.”
Initially, MSNBC did not spend much airtime discussing the tweets. But by afternoon, as reactions from Republicans blasting the president came in, that changed.
“He has said worse things about cable news hosts than he has about Vladimir Putin,” MSNBC contributor Elise Jordan said.