“I had this one interview with Jon Klein, president of CNN News,” Brzezinski says. “I kept imagining on my forehead, in bright red letters, FIRED. And under that in parentheses, LOSER. And under that in double parentheses: BTW: DON’T HIRE HER.” As she was talking to him, “I just sort of petered out.”
She knew she could either fall into a pit of depression or dive into what she did have—a ton of time to bestow on those she loved. She dove. Her family became her project and distraction. “My daughter Emilie had an issue with her vision,” Brzezinski says. “My husband’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian and stomach cancer. [Caring for family] helped me feel alive.”
Meanwhile, the couple’s coffers were almost empty. Brzezinski explored other fields. In late 2006, she got to the final round of interviews for a six-figure public relations job. “I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Salary! Salary! Salary! I can’t wait to tell my husband I got this job!’” But she had zero interest in PR. In the last interview, she blurted out that she knew someone better for the po-sition.
The friend she recommended got the job. As bad as Brzezinski felt about let-ting the opportunity go, it made her realize how much she wanted to be back in TV broadcasting. Brzezinski told her agent to find her any TV job, even if it was low on the ladder: “Assistant to the assistant. Clean-ing toilets.”
Her agent found an on-air, entry-level position at MSNBC as a substitute graveyard-shift news update reader. The job paid less than one-fifth what Brzezinski would have made at the PR firm. Despite that, “I was thrilled,” she says. She read updates on then Congressman Joe Scarborough’s weeknight program, at the end of which she’d lower her voice to a sardonic purr, “Now back to Scarborough Country.”
In April 2007, when Scarborough was in New York putting together a morning show, the two met for the first time. “I know you’re making fun of my show every time you toss back to me,” he said.
“How can I make fun of a show I’ve never watched?” she re-plied. Scarborough’s next thought was, I’ve found my cohost! They were both smart-asses. His conservative politics plus Brzezinski’s Democrat bona fides had the potential for stunning TV.
The position was freelance, essentially a tryout, but Brzezinski went for it. When the red ON-AIR light blinked on for their first show, “I was, like, ‘Wow. Of all the thousands of wavelengths out there, [Joe and I] are on the same one,’ ” she says. “I felt I’d known him for 20 years and he was like one of my brothers at the dinner table, fighting the way we fought in our family.”
Brzezinski isn’t exaggerating. Weeks into her gig, she did the newscaster equivalent of sucker-punching the host. She refused to read the lead story about socialite Paris Hilton’s release from prison after serving five days for driving with a suspended li-cense. “I hate this story,” she said on the air, “and I don’t think it should be our lead.” The now-legendary YouTube footage of her try-ing to set the script on fire with a cigarette lighter and, later, running it through a shredder turned her into a news hero. Brzezinski told the net-work, “No more tryout. You need to marry me.”
“She got the contract she wanted,” says Morning Joe executive producer Chris Licht. “Right away.”
Today, Brzezinski’s currency is at a peak because she’s not afraid to speak her mind. Nothing gets liberal blog-gers spewing more than when Brzezinski discusses another unconventional working mother, Sarah Palin, whom she’s described as “interesting,” “exciting” and “important.” “She works 150 percent and doesn’t have a shred of guilt,” Brzezinski says.