Mika's Do-Over

Brzezinski told her agent to find her any TV job, even if it was low on the ladder: "Assistant to the assistant. Cleaning toilets."

By Amanda Robb
Brzezinski, Joe Scarborough (right) and MSNBC s senior political analyst Lawrence O Donnell (left)
Photograph: Peter Ross

That was it. Brzezinski told her husband she was quitting her job. “I had it all worked out,” she says. “We would downsize to an apartment, and I’d be a stay-at-home mom.” Hoffer agreed a huge change was necessary but believed if she up gave up the work she loved out of guilt and exhaustion, she’d be miserable. “We’ve been cheap,” he told Brzezinski. “Now we’re going to get all the help you need. If after six months you still want to quit, you can, but you can’t quit like this.”

“So we got help,” Brzezinski says—so much help that she is too embarrassed to reveal the details. “I started spending less time with my daughters,” she says, to go full-throttle on her career. “I missed things. School things. Moments.” There were times when her kids were “on the back burner,” she says. The realization that sometimes her dedication to her career would trump family concerns was an epiphany. “That’s a hard thing for a woman to admit. But that’s what I started doing.”

The rewards came swiftly. Rival network NBC hired her away in 2000, and in 2001 CBS snatched her back. Soon, she was working with every news show at the network. “I felt like such a bright shiny penny,” Brzezinski says. “I would bring in my young daughters, and they’d play under the desk while I anchored the news. I thought it was cute. I drank the Kool-Aid.”

Before long, it turned sour. In 2005, Sean McManus became president of CBS News and, the following year, hired Katie Couric to replace Dan Rather as anchor of the evening news. That week, the network told Brzezinski they were not going to renew her contract, which was set to expire six months later. At the same time, Brzezinski heard that someone at the top of the company didn’t find her attractive. “I don’t think that played a part in my being let go,” she says. “But it is a hard thing to hear when you’re in TV and you’re 39, and you’ve just been fired.”

For the record, a spokesperson for CBS News says that neither Katie Couric’s arrival nor Brzezinski’s looks had any-thing to do with the network’s decision not to renew her contract. Its on-air needs just changed. “TV news is an unforgiving craft,” says Dan Rather, who was the CBS Evening News anchor for 24 years (and has a lawsuit against CBS involving his own dismissal). “It’s filled with mysteries and unexplained things.” Bottom line, he says, “There are only two kinds of correspondents: those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.”

Maybe it was growing up around pol-itics or maybe it was having spent years covering them that caused Brzezinski to spin her story to her children.

“Mommy has good news,” she told her daughters, “Mommy is going to leave CBS. I’m going to have more time with you!”

“No, no, no. You can’t do that,” Emilie, then 11, said. “That’s the only reason the library lady likes me!”

The next day, her younger daughter’s school called saying eight-year-old Carlie was lying on the floor in the fetal position.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” Brzezinski whispered when she got there. “I’m here for you.”

“That’s actually the problem,” a teacher said. “Your daughter told me you’re leaving your job, and she’s very upset.”

“Mommy, you love [work] so much,” Carlie said. “I don’t want you to have to leave your job.”

There are probably a dozen ways to analyze these mother-daughter scenes. The way Brzezinski interprets them is, “Kids can see that their mother is more than mom or wife, that she has things that define and make her happy and bring her joy, and they want her to be able to have those things.”

Brzezinski, who has been an avid runner all her life, tried to get back in stride. She had her agent set up high-level interviews. But one after the other, executives would sit Brzezinski down and ask, “So what really happened?” Brzezinski had no dastardly tale. “In the news business, having no story . . . well, what use are you?” she says.

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