Taking Center Stage
Co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” founder of “Know Your Value” and the author of four best-selling books.
By Jennifer Dixon
At this time a year ago, Mika Brzezinski — TV news-show host and money role model to countless women — was honored with a Matrix Award, saying, “It’s all about being exactly who you are, knowing who that is. Knowing what that value is, and getting it across.”
Today, she takes the Matrix stage as emcee.
It’s been an action-packed 12 months for Brzezinski. She continues to co-host MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in the midst of an endlessly turbulent news cycle, and to tussle publicly with President Trump. And she republished her 2011 bestseller Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth in expanded form, “updated for the challenges women face in the age of Trump.”
“We’ve been set back on so many levels,” Brzezinski said, “but we’re also emboldened and we’re pissed and we’re inspired.”
No stranger to life’s challenges herself, Brzezinski claims she’s been fired more times than she can count, including a rather public dismissal from CBS in 2006 (Brzezinski and several colleagues were rumored to have lost their jobs to cover incoming anchor Katie Couric’s salary). “Any guy would’ve said, ‘I’m going to do way better,’ ” said Brzezinski of life after her CBS departure. “I did end up doing way better, but I had no idea that I would — I walked into job interviews wearing that firing on my face.”
“Way better” indeed. Brzezinski joined forces with co-host (and now husband) Joe Scarborough to launch “Morning Joe” in 2007. Brzezinski immediately inspired Scarborough with her courage and work ethic, dedicating up to 20 hours a day to help develop the program. Scarborough recalled one early phone conversation while Brzezinski was in the midst of a nine-mile run. “All of a sudden, I hear this UGH,” he said. “Mika’s phone had gone flying and she ran into a parked car because she was so focused on [planning] the show.”
From its inception Brzezinski believed in “Morning Joe,” while Scarborough worried about its success. “I was very insecure and lacked confidence when the show started,” he said. “I believed we were lucky to have people like Dan Rather and U.S. senators and pop culture icons come on.” The first week Brzezinski schooled Scarborough, telling him to relax and not appear too eager with guests. “She said, ‘This show is going to be at the center of the universe, and how people start their day,’” he said.
‘I feel responsible to help women know their value and to communicate it effectively.’
“Everything she said came true, but it took me a while to follow her advice.” The early years of “Morning Joe” included guest segments with Brzezinski’s father, the late National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski. “I found myself personally nervous interviewing him,” she recalled. “It really ripped off the veil.” Not only that, the elder Brzezinski — by all accounts a brilliant debater — used what his daughter called “verbal weaponry” on Scarborough. “Joe was a little overconfident, and my father could be cutting,” she said. “Watching the two of them spar about the Middle East, I would just slink back in my chair.”
Born in New York City, Brzezinski spent her formative years in McLean, Virginia, while her father rose through the government ranks in neighboring Washington, D.C. After enrolling in Georgetown University, she moved on to Williams College, graduating in 1989 with a degree in English. In 1993, she married investigative reporter Jim Hoffer, with whom she shares two college-age daughters, Carlie and Emilie. “This business is so tough on family,” Brzezinski said of her chosen career. She initially set her sights on becoming a 6 p.m. anchor for a local affiliate. “That was a job you could aspire to, and still be impactful on your family,” she said. “I wanted to be in television journalism, but I could have never imagined this.”
Never one to rest on her laurels, Brzezinski continues to leverage her celebrity to grow the Know Your Value platform. “I didn’t know I had it in me,” she said. “I feel responsible to help women know their value and to communicate it effectively.” Brzezinski certainly knows her worth, and that of her fellow journalists, particularly at a time when politicians are quick to label any negative coverage “fake news.” She said: “During these challenging times for the media, I’m proud of my fellow journalists, news hosts and the networks for making a concerted effort to double down on real journalism.”
Jennifer Dixon is the Vice President of Finance Communications at Morgan Stanley. An earlier version of this article appeared in the 2018 Matrix Journal.