Last November, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough sat on stage at the 92nd Street Y in New York and recounted the various times he had given Donald Trump political advice.
"I've actually called him up and said, 'Donald, listen, you need to speak in complete sentences at debates," Scarborough said. "After the second debate ... I walked into his office, I said, 'Donald, do you know how to read? ... I said, 'You should read before a debate! ... Read a paragraph on Syria, read a paragraph on education reform!'"
The anecdotes, which were meant as a testament to Trump's off-the-cuff political savvy, drew laughter from the audience. But today, at NBCUniversal's headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Center, Scarborough's relationship with the Republican presidential frontrunner has become a subject of frustration among staff, and an increasingly problematic issue for the network's top brass.
In background discussions, NBC News and MSNBC journalists, reporters and staffers said there was widespread discomfort at the network over Scarborough's friendship with Trump and his increasingly favorable coverage of the candidate.
"People don't like that Joe is promoting Trump," one MSNBC insider said. Others described Scarborough's admiration for Trump as "over the top" and "unseemly."
Four of those sources also said that the growing media scrutiny over the two men's relationship has caused the network's leadership to more closely monitor Scarborough's comments. "The higher-ups are definitely aware about what's going on," said another person within MSNBC. "It's an issue."
Scarborough and NBC News declined to comment for this article. "Morning Joe," which airs weekday mornings, is followed closely by Washington and New York's political and media influencers, and is seen as a key platform for political figures.
Both Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski are close friends with Trump and members of his family. Scarborough, a former four-term congressman from Florida's 1st district, has often stayed at Trump's Mar-A-Lago Club, in Palm Beach, Florida, with his family and was there during the week between Christmas and New Year's, two sources at the hotel during that time said.
On the night of the New Hampshire primary, Scarborough and Brzezinski visited Trump's hotel room for what MSNBC described as background discussions with the candidate's senior staff and a conversation with Trump that "lasted less than five minutes."
In recent weeks, Scarborough has spoken about Trump in increasingly glowing terms, praising him as "a masterful politician" and defending him against his political opponents and media critics. The Washington Post has noted that Trump has received "a tremendous degree of warmth from the show," and that his appearances on the show, in person and over the phone, often feel like "a cozy social club."
Scarborough has always been opinionated and outspoken, and he has never made any secret about his political opinions. Nevertheless, some of his colleagues believe that his coverage is influenced by his friendship.
Some MSNBC insiders also cringed at an on-air exchange Scarborough had last month with radio host Hugh Hewitt, who pressed Scarborough on whether he would serve as Trump's vice president. Scarborough ruled out the possibility but not before saying he would do "just about anything to try to get the White House back."
Trump, meanwhile, has also spoken in glowing terms about Scarborough.
"He's a great guy, and he has a great show ... and we have a lot of fun," Trump told Howie Carr, the Boston talk radio show host, in January. "Joe's doing well. You know, he's making money for the first time in his life, really making some pretty good money."
After the last Republican primary debate, on February 6, Trump was asked by a reporter how he thought the debate had gone. His response: "I think I did very well. I mean, Joe Scarborough and everyone is tweeting."
But the most notable acknowledgment of Trump and Scarborough's relationship came on the morning after Trump's victory in the New Hampshire primary. In an interview with "Morning Joe," the GOP frontrunner told Scarborough and Brzezinski: "You guys have been supporters, and I really appreciate it."
The remark, which Trump sought to clarify -- "not necessarily supporters, but at least believers" -- sparked a hurried attempt by Scarborough and Brzezinski to dismiss the perception that they were pro-Trump.
"When you say supporter, you're obviously talking about how actually ... there were a handful of people who for six months have been saying what happened last night could happen and the rest of the media world has been mocking and ridiculing exactly what he's done," Scarborough said.
After Trump hung up, Scarborough sought to clarify the matter further: "Donald said support. It's not support ... and I would dare say that I am the only person who has hung up on Donald Trump on live television. And the thing is we've been very critical of his approach toward Muslims, we said he went too far on John McCain, we said he went too far on you name it," he said.