Did an MSNBC Commentator Say that Recent College Graduates Make ‘$75,000 a Year’?

On February 25 2020, a purported comment from MSNBC commentator Mike Barnicle on talk show Morning Joe netted him accusations of being out of touch with many Americans.

Barnicle was not named in the tweet that prompted the accusation, which has been shared more than 6,000 times and also prompted a Facebook meme that was shared another 2,000 times:

HOLY SHIT – random msnbc ghoul “to young people, free healthcare, college debt forgiveness sounds good to them. think about it, you’re out of college, 25 or 26 years old, working your first job, earning 75,000 or 80,000 a year, that kind of thing appeals to them i guess.”

But a follow-up tweet first connected the former columnist — who was forced to resign from the Boston Globe for plagiarism in 1998 — to the remark:

to kids @mikebarnicle is just a random MSNBC ghoul, but actually he’s a disgraced columnist fired for plagiarism

he mocks millennials who want health care and refuse draconian student debt

cool Comcast tells him what to say, bc we know how hard original thought is for old Mikey

We contacted MSNBC seeking comment but did not get a response. There is no footage of Barnicle making the remark on the network’s YouTube channel or the MSNBC homepage for the news commentary show Morning Joe, on which he often appears. Further, Morning Joe is the only show not listed on MSNBC’s transcript archives; also, a section on the show’s homepage listed as “full episodes” does not, in fact, contain full episodes. Barnicle does have a website that posts his appearances on the show, but the segment in question cannot be found there.

However, we were able to obtain a recording of the episode (that for copyright reasons we cannot embed), showing that Barnicle did make the remark at 7:25 a.m. Eastern time in an exchange with host Joe Scarborough regarding Vermont senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. During the episode, Scarborough had been critical of Sanders for his praise of the literacy program instituted by Fidel Castro when he came to power in Cuba in 1959; the lawmaker, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, has already drawn criticism for reportedly overlooking the ideological bent of the program.

“How do younger voters not know that 100 million people died at the hands of communism in the 20th century in communist countries?” Scarborough asked. “Are they really that illiterate historically?”

“No, I don’t believe they are,” Barnicle responded. “But they listen to Bernie Sanders talk about free college tuition, free medical care, erasing college tuition debt that exists. That’s pretty appealing to a lot of people if you’re 25, 26, you’re out in the job market and making, I don’t know — say you’re doing okay — $75,000 a year and half of your take-home pay each week goes to paying off college debt? Bernie sounds pretty good for you.”

“Yes he does,” co-host Mika Brzezinski said to cut the discussion off.

The claim that recent college graduates are “earning $75,000 or $80,000 a year” is false. According to a report published in August 2019 by National Association of Colleges and Employers, their average salary is actually $50,944, based on data covering 82,850 graduates across 350 colleges and universities throughout the United States.

Scarborough’s argument that “100 million people died at the hands of communism” was an apparent reference to claims surrounding the 1997 book The Black Book of Communism, an academic collaboration documenting repression and other crimes carried out by communist governments. But he failed to mention that not only did the book actually blame communism for 94 million deaths, two of the book’s primary contributors, Nicolas Werth and Jean-Louis Margolin, have distanced themselves from that work and editor Stéphane Courtois.

In a November 1997 op-ed for the newspaper Le Monde, Margolin and Werth said that it was “unjustified” to blame communism for more than 85 million deaths worldwide. They also accused Courtois of being “obsessed” with showing a death tally reaching 100 million. Their estimates range between 65 million and 93 million deaths.