MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski is facing growing backlash – including criticism from President Donald Trump – after calling Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a “wannabe dictator’s butt boy” Wednesday during a segment of “Morning Joe.”
The remark was triggered by a less-than-impassioned response from Pompeo about the murder of Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Pompeo had ducked questions in a “Fox & Friends” interview about Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the killing.
“I understand that Donald Trump doesn’t care,” Brzezinski said to her co-host Joe Scarborough.
Moments earlier, Scarborough spoke to a panel that included Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who described Trump’s motivation to ignore the inculpatory evidence against the crown prince as financially based.
“But why doesn’t Mike Pompeo care right now? Are the pathetic deflections that we just heard when he appeared on Fox & Friends – is that a patriot speaking?” Brzezinski continued, “Or a wannabe dictator’s butt-boy? I’m dead serious, I’m asking: are these the words of a patriot?”
The network tried to bleep out the remark but was too slow.
MSNBC representatives declined to comment on Brzezinski’s remarks – or the president’s response to them – as well as any action the network may take over the incident. Earlier this year, the network stood behind host Joy Reid after she apologized for controversial years-old blog posts about gay people and same-sex marriage.
Brzezinski was not on “Morning Joe” on Thursday morning; Scarborough, her co-host and husband, said she had the day off for a “long-planned family event.”
Her only response to the backlash, in a tweet, has not satisfied critics:
“Totally agree with you -SUPER BAD choice of words . I should have said “water boy” … like for football teams or something like that. apologize to @SenatorDurbin too! SO SORRY!”
And the condemnation has continued, with Trump weighing in on Twitter on Thursday afternoon:
“If it was a Conservative that said what “crazed” Mika Brzezinski stated on her show yesterday, using a certain horrible term, that person would be banned permanently from television….
“….She will probably be given a pass, despite their terrible ratings. Congratulations to @RichardGrenell, our great Ambassador to Germany, for having the courage to take this horrible issue on!”
Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany who Trump praised for “having the courage to take this horrible issue on,” called Brzezinski’s comment “outrageous … totally unacceptable & deeply disturbing. Sexualizing gay people this way is designed to control them & minimize our worth.”
Grenell, who is openly gay, also urged Brzezinski to apologize more directly.
“This is bad. Will require more from Brzezinski than a Twitterpology,” tweeted David Folkenflik, a media correspondent for NPR.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted, “Homophobic insults of the kind vomited out this morning by @morningmika have become a completely common and acceptable component of anti-Trump discourse, starting from the endless Trump/Putin gay insinuations to trash like this.”
Photographer and writer G.E. Anderson suggested other phrasing: “I was with you, @morningmika, right up to the ‘butt boy’ comment. Try ‘toadie’ or ‘lackey’ or ‘stool pigeon’ or ‘ass kisser,’ or ‘traitor,’ but maybe don’t equate homosexuality with Mike Pompeo carrying water for the murderous regime in Saudi Arabia.”
Even Donald Trump Jr. swooped in – not to champion gay rights, but to make a comparison to comedian Kevin Hart, who was forced out as Oscars host after some old homophobic tweets resurfaced.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Brzezinski had at least one high-profile supporter: Fox’s Sean Hannity, who said she had made a “pretty bad choice of words.” He also called Brzezinski and Scarborough “insane” – but defended her apology.
“I’m not the thought police. I’m not the speech police,” Hannity said. “And something they would never do for a Fox opinion host is … stand up when people try to boycott, or stand up when people call for firings. I believe she’s probably sincere in her apology.”
He added: “People do want to destroy her career over this. This is a problem we have in all of media.”
It’s not the first time Brzezinski has been slammed by Trump. Last year, the president attacked her on Twitter, calling her “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and claiming that she had recently had plastic surgery.