We should all be concerned about Joe Scarborough. The host of MSNBC's Morning Joe has an utterly nonsensical column in Politico defending his opposition to marijuana legalization which boils down to five words: "pot just makes you dumb." No, really, that's all there is. The first half is sarcastic mockery of Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, who had dubbed Scarborough, along with the New York Times' David Brooks, as members of the "Yuppie Prohibition League," arguing that the war on drugs disproportionately affects poor black kids. Scarborough's response is that Taibbi, who in fairness is no stranger to the arts of ad hominem, is a prissy child of privilege. Then Scarborough offers an anecdote: he was in high school bands, and some bandmates smoked weed, and some of those guys did hard drugs later, and one of those guys died. That's the entirety of his case: keep prosecuting pot smokers because Scarborough "spent too many nights dealing with the stupidity and struggles of stoned bandmates in their early teens to want to follow that path."
It's frankly reminiscent of Scarborough's inability to accept Nate Silver's analysis of the polls in 2012 showing Obama far ahead of Romney simply because it didn't feel right to Joe Scarborough. As he said at the time, "Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue [that] they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops, and microphones for the next ten days, because they're jokes."
Still, Scarborough, so long a jocular voice of reason in these acidly partisan times, we fear is losing his edge. We have spent too many mornings dealing with the struggles and stupidity of poorly argued punditry to want to follow his path, but let's lumber forth. As The New York Times David Brooks did last week, Scarborough appears to think marijuana is the cause of teenage stupidity, rather than a symptom of it. Let me offer my own experience as a counter-example: I had lots of crushes on guys in high school bands. It was a different era, and so instead of being stoners, they were straightedge. Therefore instead of wasting time smoking weed, they wasted time giving each other piercings in sensitive places. Could it be that teenagers are just prone to goofing off?
But let's not be too hard on Scarborough for this nakedly dumb article. He's going through struggles of his own. As Dorsey Shaw masterfully compiled for BuzzFeed, the entire Morning Joe team has been brazen in flaunting its dependence on the sleeping pill Ambien. Shaw's video mashup is tragically unembeddable, but we can see Scarborough and his co-host Mika Brzezinski confess their reliance on the pill over the years. "Addled by Ambien and not able to remember my name," Scarborough says in one clip. He accuses Brzezinski of sleep-texting on Ambien in another. "You can only jangle around so much Ambien and vodka on the road," he says. Teasing an upcoming segment, Brzezinski says sadly, "and why heavy doses of Ambien isn't a solution." "Uh oh," Scarborough says. "Then what do you do?" she asks. In the GIF above, Scarborough mimics popping a bunch of Ambiens, as if this were all a funny joke.
It's not a funny joke. As The New Yorker's Ian Parker reported thoroughly in December, Ambien can have dangerous side effects. Ambien users report sleep-driving, sleep-texting, sleep-eating, sleep-shopping — followed by amnesia, which Parker notes is now disclosed on the drug's label. If marijuana turns you into a giggling teen, Ambien can turn you into a toddler. "Many people experience [the drug's effect] as a contented swoon that silences inner chatter while giving a half glimpse of childhood; they are overtaken by sleep, like a three-year-old in a car seat," Parker writes. And there's potential for unwholesome abuse:
But others resist sleep and embrace the woozy, out-of-body license. To some, this is an opportunity to take part in what Rachel Uchitel, a former girlfriend of Tiger Woods, has reportedly described as "crazy Ambien sex." At the London Olympics, some Australian swimmers took Ambien to build team spirit. After taking the drug, they larked around and knocked on the doors of other athletes. As one of them later put it, they allowed themselves "to be normal for one night."
In one truly sad Morning Joe moment not included in Shaw's mashup, Scarborough displays the kind of irresponsibility, denial, and vulgarity we typically associate with people dependent on street drugs.
Scarborough describes "decent, steady men who don't go around flipping people off or screaming 'Fuck you' at the top of their lungs." His co-hosts gasp, and giggle uncomfortably. Scarborough doesn't realize he's said a forbidden word on live TV, and goes on making his point. Finally, someone alerts him to the problem. "Hold on, let me call a time out. Did I not say what you said?" Scarborough asks a guest, still in denial that he's done something wrong. "I may be the one on Ambien if I actually said the word instead — did I say the word?" Brzezinski indicates he did. Scarborough still denies it, like a criminal caught red-handed: "I said the letter." He claims he was just quoting someone. Finally, he admits it, sort of. "So, great apologies if I said the word instead of the letter. My wife is going to kill me when I get home. I am so sorry." Problems at work, problems with his marriage — all thanks to a little pill Scarborough appears to think is harmless.
Perhaps Scarborough's Politico column was written in an Ambien-induced haze. I don't know what that's like, I've never taken Ambien. But I think it's time we get real about this drug. Ambien just makes you dumb.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.