NBC reverses decision to hire Rona McDaniel after backlash on air
NBC reverses decision to hire Rona McDaniel after backlash on air

Amid a chorus of on-air protests from some of the network’s biggest stars, NBC announced Tuesday night that former Republican National Committee chair Rona McDaniel will no longer join the network as a paid contributor.

The announcement came in a memo from NBCUniversal News Group Chairman Cesar Conde, who said he had listened to the “legitimate concerns” of many network employees. “No organization, especially a newsroom, can succeed unless it is cohesive and coherent,” he wrote. “Over the past few days, it has become clear that this appointment undermines that goal.”

Conde also apologized to employees “who felt we let them down” and took “full responsibility” for the hiring.

The network announced her hiring on Friday, telling employees that McDaniel had signed on to provide her “expert insight and analysis on American politics and the 2024 election.” One NBC News executive said in a memo that “it couldn’t be a more important time to have a voice like Rona’s on the team.”

But the company’s on-air personalities — particularly those at the liberal-leaning NBC cable affiliate MSNBC — strongly disagreed, saying McDaniel’s promotion of Donald Trump’s allegations of media attacks and fraudulent election fraud disqualified her for a role in their news departments.

And one by one, they took to the airwaves to deliver that message to their bosses in front of a live audience on Monday.

“Take a moment, admit that maybe it wasn’t the right call,” top-rated MSNBC star Rachel Maddow said on her show the other night. “It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to admit when you’re wrong.”

The backlash against McDaniel’s appointment was indicative of the larger struggle TV networks face in hiring pundits to offer a pro-Trump perspective without coming across as offensive to both the audience and their own employees.

CBS News employees, for example, raised objections when the network hired Trump administration official Mick Mulvaney — another promoter of the former president’s fact-free claims — as a contributor two years ago. He ended up appearing on the air only sporadically and left the network after about a year.

Yet NBC also hired Mark Short, Trump’s former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, in February to little fanfare.

NBC staffers have expressed outrage over the company’s hiring of former Republican National Committee Chair Rona McDaniel after years of being voted out. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Conde said in his memo that the network is still committed to ideological diversity. “Our initial decision was made because of our deep commitment to bringing to our audience a widely diverse set of perspectives and experiences, especially in these sequential times,” he wrote. “We remain committed to the principle that we should have diverse perspectives on our agendas, and to that end we will redouble our efforts to seek out voices that represent different parts of the political spectrum.”

NBC employees have said publicly and privately that their complaint is not about McDaniel’s party affiliation, but about her actions.

“To be clear, we believe that NBC News should seek out conservative Republican voices to provide balance in their coverage of the election,” co-anchor Mika Brzezinski said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday. “But it should be conservative Republicans, not a guy who used his position of power to deny elections against democracy.”

“We welcome the Republican votes,” the show’s host Joy Reid added later that day. “The reality is: this is not a difference of opinion. She literally supported an illegal scheme to steal elections in the state of Michigan.

McDaniel appeared on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” where host Kristen Welker let her audience know she had no idea when they scheduled the appearance weeks in advance that McDaniel would soon be her co-star — and then continued to win his guest in an interview that critics praised for his aggression and severity.

Later in the show, political analyst Chuck Todd raised questions about McDaniel’s “credibility,” telling Welker, “I have no idea if any answer she gave you was because she didn’t want to mess up her contract.

The backlash only intensified Monday morning when the “Morning Joe” co-hosts said they wouldn’t hire her. During the evening lineup, MSNBC hosts took turns criticizing McDaniel and the decision to hire her, which Maddow called “inexplicable.”

On Tuesday morning, the situation looked untenable. Even if McDaniel stays with the company, one of its major channels has already signaled that she’s hardly welcome to appear there, with MSNBC president Rashida Jones telling her hosts they don’t need to book her.

One of NBC’s major failings in the matter, network officials and competing media executives agree, is that it did not secure buy-in from the network’s stars before hiring McDaniel.

Had NBC not reversed its decision, the network almost certainly would have come under further criticism Tuesday night from prime-time anchors Chris Hayes and Alex Wagner, who are both off Monday night.

This is a current story that will be updated.

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