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.
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.
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.