- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2007

NEW YORK — A lighter and paper shredder helped make Mika Brzezinski the symbol of TV journalism’s guilt trip about Paris Hilton.

Miss Brzezinski used both to destroy a script calling for her to read about Miss Hilton’s release from jail on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program recently. Part serious, part an act, it has become an Internet sensation. More than 2 million people have watched a clip of the incident, about 10 times the number who watched it live on TV.

Apparently, she’s not the only one sick of the socialite.

“Among journalists, it touched a nerve because I think we’re tired of pretending this is important,” she said. “We also know that, deep down inside, our viewers know that we don’t believe this is news. They can’t. They can’t think we’re that dumb.”

Miss Brzezinski, who left CBS News last year, has been working as a news-reader and on-air foil for Joe Scarborough on the show that MSNBC is trying out to replace Don Imus in the morning.

Hours after Miss Hilton’s June 26 catwalk to freedom, Mr. Scarborough and Miss Brzezinski discussed one of the day’s other big stories at their show’s opening: influential Republican Sen. Richard G. Lugar’s declaration that President Bush’s Iraq strategy wasn’t working.

It was then Miss Brzezinski’s turn to sum up the day’s news. She looked down at her script, and Miss Hilton was the top story. She froze.

“I could not get through the first three words without crumbling,” she said. “My skin was crawling. This was our lead? On a day like this? To me, it was just the ultimate Paris Hilton out-of-control moment. We’ve gone too far, and we’ve got to stop. That was all real. There was nothing planned about that, and I believe we got a little snappy.”

Indeed, Mr. Scarborough egged her on. He took the wadded-up script and drew it to his nose, inhaling with a look of rapture on his face.

“Smell that,” he said. “It even smells good.”

Broader antics took over during subsequent news breaks. Miss Brzezinski attempted to set the script ablaze at one point, then sent it through a shredder borrowed from network chief Dan Abrams’ office.

She attracted the world’s attention. Miss Brzezinski’s gotten more than a thousand e-mails and was named “woman of the week” by dollymix.tv. She’s been invited to address a media symposium in Scotland. The New Zealand Herald hailed her: “Deliberate or not, there is no denying the incident struck a chord with viewers the world over. When it comes to Paris, we’ve all had enough.”

There’s been no shortage of journalists making clear their distaste for the story, only to find Miss Hilton’s siren song irresistible.

CBS’ Katie Couric told a Boston audience in May, to applause, that “we have a precious amount of time on the ‘CBS Evening News’ and I don’t think we need to ever utter the name Paris Hilton.” A month later, Miss Couric’s broadcast reported on Miss Hilton’s jailing and the controversy over her short-lived release.

Anderson Cooper couldn’t help himself when his CNN newscast immediately followed Larry King’s exclusive interview with Miss Hilton on June 27.

“I think we have heard a couple of you screaming at the screens,” Mr. Cooper said. He then proceeded to spend an hour talking about Miss Hilton. And he was rewarded: His 1.89 million viewers that evening more than doubled his average June audience of 790,000 people, according to Nielsen Media Research. Mr. King nearly tripled his typical audience that night.

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