Mika Brzezinski is what you might call a baller. Over the last ten years, she, along with her cohosts Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist, have made MSNBC’s Morning Joe the center of the national political conversation. She holds court for three hours every morning, corralling a rotating cast of panelists, pundits, and government leaders. She is one of the most vocal critics of Donald Trump, routinely calling him bizarre, unpresidential, and “not well,” even before she became the subject of a misogynistic, personal attack from him on Twitter (which left her unruffled: “This is absolutely nothing for me personally. I’m more concerned with what it means for the country.”)
So it’s hard to imagine that as recently as age 40—in other words, not that long ago—Brzezinski was at a career low, having been fired as a weekend anchor at CBS News, facing few prospects and soon unable to even land meetings at networks. Worse, once she finally landed at MSNBC and began to turn things around, she accepted terms far beneath her worth—and failed miserably and repeatedly at asking for more. Brzezinski’s transformation from insecure apologist to badass is the subject of her 2011 book, Know Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth, a recast and significantly updated version of which was released this week.
As Brzezinski recounts from those low days in 2007, after pleading with MSNBC for anything they could offer her, she accepted a job as a low-paid freelance newsreader, levels below what she had been doing before. Shortly after she joined, executives noticed her and began trying her in more prominent spots, and soon after that, a former congressman named Joe Scarborough asked her to be his co-host for a show he was conceiving to replace Imus in the Morning, which had been abruptly cancelled after Don Imus made offensive statements about the Rutgers University women’s basketball players. That show, Morning Joe, would soon become the talk of morning television, but Brzezinski’s terms of employment did not change much: she got a contract that moved her to a staff position, but it wasn’t much more money, and unlike Scarborough and Geist, she had to also be available to work on other shows, meaning four to five hours of television and 16-hour days—but she didn’t want to seem difficult by turning down the extra assignments. She asked for more money from network chief Phil Griffin, but apologized profusely while doing so—and didn’t get it. When she ripped up a script about Paris Hilton on air one morning in protest of celebrity news, another executive reprimanded her for being a “problem”—and Brzezinski stammered and apologized.
This is the same Mika?
The original Know Your Value was a rallying cry for women of all walks of life to stop apologizing and accepting and start demanding their full worth; women routinely stop Brzezinski at her events to tell her it helped them get a raise. While many of her foundational stories and experiences appeared in the original edition, the re-release is a significant rework. It addresses the dramatically different times we find ourselves in now, from the cultural shift of the #MeToo movement, the Trump era, slowing progress in women’s equality, and changes in Brzezinski’s own personal life, and is augmented with many new interviews and research. (Full disclosure: I have been a regular guest on Morning Joe since 2010. Brzezinski has been supportive of me over those years, and I, too, am in the book, citing some important advice she once gave me—page 179, in case you’re wondering.) The updated result is a book that is even more relevant in today’s climate.
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For example, Brzezinski cites the rise of Donald Trump and the fall of Harvey Weinstein as particular catalysts for the re-release of the book, and both figure in the new version. Brzezinski describes being invited with Scarborough to a Sunday lunch with Trump at the White House shortly after his inauguration when at one point, she said they needed to talk about women’s issues. “What?” he said, following with a “huh?” Exasperated, she gestured with her arms an exaggerated hourglass figure in the air. “Donald! I said WOMEN!” She writes that he looked at Ivanka, also in the room, and said, “Oh yeah, women. Yeah honey, yeah, we will get to that.”
Brzezinski also tells her side of the story behind the nasty “facelift” tweet Trump posted last June. (As a refresher, he called her “low-IQ Crazy Mika,” claiming she had insisted on coming to Mar-a-Lago last New Year’s Eve—and that she “was bleeding badly from a facelift.”) Brzezinski writes that it was the President who insisted that she and Scarborough join him and that, after declining once, she accepted. When they arrived, she writes, they were ushered up to the family quarters where, along with Melania, Baron, and a friend of his, they casually chatted and Brzezinski, who admits she often overshares, explained that her hesitation to join was because she’d just had some skin or her chin tightened. Trump, she says, fascinated with plastic surgery, immediately asked her who her doctor was. Within a half hour, she writes, they left—and five months later came the famous tweet.
She also writes about learning of the accusations against Harvey Weinstein—particularly relevant to her since her previous books had been published by Weinstein Books, and weeks earlier the imprint had announced a new three-book deal with Brzezinski (which, against her wishes, Weinstein had leaked to Page Six before the contracts were signed). He was using the news of her books, she writes, which focus on female empowerment, to make it look like he cared about the value of women as the press was closing in on his offenses. That weekend, she tweeted that she could not go forward with the deal unless he resigned. (Hachette, which owned Weinstein Books, shuttered the imprint and published Brzezinski’s book under its Hachette Books imprint.)
Brzezinski regularly “goes there,” on air and in her books. In her first book, All Things at Once, she chronicles one of the lowest moments in her life, working so hard and being so over-exhausted after her second daughter was born that she fell down the stairs with the baby in her arms (her daughter suffered a broken thigh bone but was fine). Her 2013 book, Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction—and My Own, was a raw and brave account of her lifelong battle with binge eating. Brzezinski’s candor and honesty in her writing and on air are her trademark, and they make her sympathetic and real.
It’s a good thing, because in this case, reading about her firsthand experience is an incredibly powerful call to arms. Readers from all industries and walks of life will likely recognize themselves in Brzezinski’s shoes—and those of the many other high-profile women she interviews. Among the new names added to the re-release: the BBC’s Katty Kay and MSNBC’s Katy Tur, Kasie Hunt and JJ Ramberg, all of whom share their own firsthand accounts.
The new edition, like the original, contains some very tangible, brass-tacks tips, like know when to hold your fire, research the salaries of those around you, and have meetings with your boss for no reason sometimes. And whatever you do, she writes, don’t try to act like a man. One of the best scenes in the book is when Brzezinski decides, after watching Scarborough and Griffin nearly come to blows over a pay dispute only to agree and hug it out bro-style seconds later, to try to mimic this behavior. The scene of her waltzing into Griffin’s office, slamming her hand down on the desk and channeling her best inner male is hilarious (spoiler alert: it didn’t work).
The advice, research, and interviews combine to provide a well-rounded handbook, which I suspect readers will find even more compelling at a time when women are increasingly standing up, publicly and privately, and demanding to be heard. (Separately, fans of Morning Joe will love the insidery, early-days account of the scrappy team building the show on almost no budget.) But at the root of it is Brzezinski’s own tale of redemption and reinvention, which, even seven years later, is as powerful as they come.
Brzezinski eventually got what she deserved, of course, in large part with the help of Scarborough, who fought for her the whole time, would not let her leave, and at one point demanded that NBC deposit his ratings bonus into her account. And finally Brzezinski herself had a confident and blunt conversation with Griffin, in which she told him he was a “bad boyfriend- you take and take but you never give.” He agreed to give. Presumably she’s making more now, since the Trump era has thrust the show, and Brzezinski, even more onto center stage.
Anyone who knows Brzezinski now knows you do what she says and you don’t say no to her. Learning that she didn’t start out that way—far from it—and how she learned to ask for what she was worth gives inspiration to women everywhere at a time when such a message could not be more needed.