In 2006, CBS News correspondent Mika Brzezinski was abruptly fired, along with several other CBS staffers, ostensibly to accommodate Katie Couric's estimated $15 million-a-year salary. But Brzezinski has pulled off a second act, this time as cohost of cable's hottest political confab, MSNBC's Morning Joe. Here, the 43-year-old mother of two dissects her unlikely comeback, her blunt views on family and career, and why for years she couldn't get a raise to save her life.
MC: You've described your dismissal from CBS as "pretty ugly." What did you take away from that experience?
MB: It felt like a divorce—many of the people I worked with fell off the face of the earth the moment my tide had turned. I now keep a very small cluster of people at MSNBC whom I will take care of—whom I trust will probably, but not definitely, take care of me, too.
MC: Was it hard to transition to being a full-time mom?
MB: I cried a lot. One night, I told my husband [reporter Jim Hoffer], "I'm almost 40, I'm losing my looks, and I can't get a job because I feel like damaged goods. How did I become such a cliché?" But I was making myself the cliché by trying to get the same job I'd had. If you're meant to be somewhere, you do whatever it takes. I came to MSNBC as a freelance reporter, for a job I would have laughed at 15 years ago, at a 10th of the salary. But it was work.
MC: After landing at Morning Joe, you made headlines when, on air, you refused to read an item about Paris Hilton. Have you ever regretted taking a stand?
MB: I have regretted not taking those moments. What I did touched a chord and permanently sealed our voice as a show. If you live to keep everyone else happy, you may never find out your true potential.
MC:What about your potential? You're playing second fiddle to your cohost Joe Scarborough. Don't you want Katie Couric's job?
MB: Everyone at CBS was like, "You need to do 60 Minutes, anchor the evening news." But I remembered when I was doing local news, I was a great coanchor because I would lift up the guy next to me. You have to know your strengths. For me, it's being a supporting player. Women are so busy trying to prove they can do anything, but we're there now, so it's OK to make those choices.
MC:You encourage women to plan for a family early, like you did—married at 26, kids shortly after. But what about our careers?
MB: I don't want to impose rules on people, but you have only a short window, and you're sorely mistaken if you think you can put off having a family. It's very hard to find a good man, and it's never a "good time" to have a baby if you have a career. Plus, someone who is rabidly ambitious and holds off on family—it doesn't come off as that smart. You just know that a woman who has her own life and is raising children really has her act together.
MC: Your book Knowing Your Value (out in April) discusses how women undersell themselves at the negotiating table. Has that been your experience?
MB: My salary situation at Morning Joe wasn't right. I made five attempts to fix it, then realized I'd made the same mistake every time: I apologized for asking. Also, I didn't really know my value, so I didn't know what to ask for. It's not a critique of MSNBC paying me unfairly. I put the blame squarely on myself.
MC: Are you being paid what you're worth now?
MB: There's always more money to be made.