Newsweek interviewed MSNBC morning host Joe Scarborough last week, and prominently mentioned when Scarborough defended the murderer of an abortion doctor. That didn't go over well in Scarborough country, so Newsweek editor— and frequent Scarborough guest—Jon Meacham changed it.
The Scarborough interview, by Johnnie L. Roberts was a "web exclusive." It was posted to Newsweek's web site on Friday afternoon with Roberts' introduction leading with the newsiest bit of the interview: Scarborough's first comments about serving as the defense attorney for Michael Griffin, the anti-abortion zealot who murdered Dr. David Gunn in 1993, and whether that had affected his coverage of the death of Dr. George Tiller. Here's the original introduction:
In the wake of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the abortion doctor shot dead in front of his church on May 31, a Village Voice writer had set the blogosphere abuzz about Joe Scarborough. Why had Scarborough's morning news show, "Morning Joe," been silent on the sensational murder story? Was it because Scarborough, as a young lawyer in Pensacola, Florida, had helped defend one of the nation's first murderers of an abortion doctor 16 years ago?
"We covered it as a news story, Scarborough told NEWSWEEK during an interview about his new book, "The Last Best Hope: Restoring Conservatism and America's Promise." Scarborough says he condemns the Tiller murder, and has since talked about his involvement in the 1993 Florida case on his show. "I'm an attorney," he says. "I represented clients. I did it as a favor to the family. The goal was to stop this young man from trying to defend himself."
Purchasers of his book won't read about this time in Scarborough's past, though he does advise conservatives to stop demanding that Washington become entangled in "gay marriage debates and ob-gyn issues." The morning news anchor spoke to NEWSWEEK's Johnnie L. Roberts about his book, Rush Limbaugh and how conservatives lost their way.
That went up Friday afternoon; by Friday night it was gone, replaced with an anodyne introduction that didn't mention Griffin or Tiller. Roberts' exchange with Scarborough about Griffin was still in the interview, but moved down into the body of the Q-and-A. And it no longer contained a reference to the criticism that Morning Joe gave short shrift to the Tiller murder or that Scarborough's book—curiously, for a work that deals with the politics of abortion and extremism—omits his relationship with Griffin. And that troublesome link to the Village Voice's reporting on Scarborough's past was also gone. The time-stamp—"Updated: 3:02 p.m. ET Jun 5, 2009"—remained unchanged, giving readers no clue that the introduction had been completely rewritten.
Why? We asked Newsweek editor Meacham:
On Friday, a member of Scarborough's team (not Scarborough) reached out when the original story, which led with Griffin, was posted; when I read it, I thought it was better to include that material in the flow of the interview, where it is now on Newsweek.com.
Scarborough himself claims that he had no idea that a member of his "team" was putting pressure on Meacham, a frequent Morning Joe guest, to soften the magazine's coverage of him. "I've never talked to Jon about the article," he says via e-mail, "and never saw the version of the intro you're talking about." Did he ask someone to harass Meacham on his behalf? "No. Below my radar. Again, I didn't know it was even up for a few days. Had a big family get together and didn't spend my weekend inside online."
We don't believe you, Joe. Here's a screengrab of the original introduction: