The presence of sexism in 30 Rockefeller's hallowed halls is undeniable in Stelter's side anecdote about the rise of "Morning Joe." Once MSNBC officially picked up the political morning talk show, it designated Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist as co-hosts in their contracts, while Mika Brzezinski's was treated as a generic MSNBC contributor, despite Scarborough's insistence that she was a crucial element on the show ("the first time in history that a solo host of a program wanted a cohost," remarked one MSNBC exec). When he discovered that even after two years she was getting paid 1/14 of him, Scarborough insisted she be given a hefty bonus. Brzezinski, at first frustrated with Scarborough's interference, ultimately negotiated a raise and a contract upgrade herself, as she recounted in her own book "All Things at Once."
In "Top of the Morning," Scarborough and Brezezinski's relationship shines against Lauer and Curry's dysfunction, and is a testament to "Morning Joe's" success verses "Today's" stumbles.
Closing the gender gap alone wouldn't have solved the challenges "Today" was facing. "Top of the Morning" highlights a number of other factors outside the "Today" studio set at play: the fragmentation of the viewing audience, the rise of social media, sheer bad timing with the Olympics and various contract renewals.
But these are not an excuse for the internal culture it depicts, where corporate rivalries rule and the talent is often kept in the dark – albeit sometimes willingly — about the decisions being made about their employment. It's a cruel irony then, that though the vast majority of the wrangling takes place behind the scenes, it's those in front of the camera who take the fall.
"If they had explained themselves, if they had told the audience why they were making the change, if they had taken responsibility and apologized after Ann cried on air, I don't know if the viewer backlash would be nearly as severe as it was," Stelter says.
Yet in the ways the talent did get involved in the decision-making, the disparity at the top was reflected. Curry acted as if she was in denial of her fate and her replacement Savannah Guthrie buried her head firmly in the sand. Lauer was able to make his opinions on Curry well known, and while not singularly to blame for the debacle, he was very influential in NBC's haste to get rid of her.
Stelter says Jim Bell and the other executives involved are not evil people, and had good intentions at heart. But at the end of the day their decisions are subjective ones."Their personal opinions of the quality of these hosts play a huge part in who gets hired and who gets fired," says Stelter, and those subjectivities might not always match those of their audience.
A few more women on the top deciding who gets fired and how to do it would have likely helped "Today" better navigate those troubled waters.