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It Shouldn't Have Taken an On-Air Revolt for NBC News to Drop Ronna McDaniel

Seeing an election denier and coup enabler on the payroll pushed anchors like Rachel Maddow to draw the line.
  • Ronna McDaniel (Screenshot: Meet the Press)
    Ronna McDaniel (Screenshot: Meet the Press)

    Former Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel’s anticipated soft landing as an NBC News contributor ended with a splat on Tuesday when NBC News announced that it was ending its brief, misguided relationship with her.

    NBC News editorial chief Rebecca Blumenstein had hired McDaniel as a part-time analyst for $300,000 a year — somewhat of a comedown from the $400,000 McDaniel earned in her past role. Blumenstein reportedly had the support of Carrie Budoff Brown, who oversees the network’s political coverage. MSNBC head Rashida Jones also backed the decision to hire McDaniel. Blumenstein and Brown even briefed Cesar Conde, chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, but they apparently hadn’t solicited buy-in from the people who’d have to work with her. This proved a bigger disaster than when NBC tried to sell Megyn Kelly as an affable morning show host. Putting election denier and coup enabler McDaniel on the payroll threatened the network’s journalistic credibility and resulted in a rare public revolt from on-air talent.

    MSNBC hosts Rachel Maddow, Joy Reid, Jen Psaki, Joe Scarborough, and Mika Brzezinski uniformly denounced McDaniel’s hiring, and after Meet the Press moderator Kristen Welker interviewed McDaniel on Sunday, Welker’s predecessor Chuck Todd said that their bosses owed her an apology for putting her in such a compromising situation.

    "[McDaniel] has credibility issues that she still has to deal with," Todd said. "Is she speaking for herself or is she speaking on behalf of who's paying her?”

    That’s what separated McDaniel from former Republican operatives Michael Steele and Nicolle Wallace who later became MSNBC contributors. McDaniel doesn’t seem to have any sincerely held beliefs. She’s a partisan hack, and she even admitted as much during her interview with Welker. She tried to distance herself from Donald Trump’s open support for violent January 6 insurrectionists, but when Welker asked why she hadn’t spoken out earlier, McDaniel said, “When you’re the RNC Chair, you kind of take one for the whole team." It’s clear from her past actions that McDaniel doesn’t consider American democracy her “team.”

    McDaniel repeatedly promoted Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. In her role as RNC chair, she pressured two Michigan officials against certifying election results from Wayne County. She stood by as the RNC censured former Republican Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney for defying Trump and speaking the truth about January 6. She aided the GOP’s effort to whitewash January 6 as “legitimate political discourse.’”

    “The fact that McDaniel is on the payroll at NBC News — to me that is inexplicable,” an emotional Maddow said on her MSNBC show Monday. “You wouldn’t hire a wise guy, you wouldn’t hire a made man, like a mobster, to work in a DA’s office.”

    Maddow scathingly described McDaniel as “someone who hasn't just attacked us as journalists but someone who is part of an ongoing project to get rid of our system of government, someone who still is trying to convince Americans that this election stuff … it doesn’t really work, that this last election, it wasn’t a real result.”

    Maddow noted that Trump would’ve been one of history’s many forgotten strongmen if he hadn’t been able to “attach himself to an institution like the Republican Party and had the leader of that party in his time [McDaniel] not decided that she wouldn’t just abide him, she would help.”

    That’s not just Maddow’s opinion. It’s what happened, and it’s insulting to the journalists on the front lines during Trump’s attempted coup that Blumenstein and Brown offered a job to someone with so little integrity.

    Maddow’s sober remarks are a staunch contrast to Brown’s absurdly naive comments about McDaniel’s hiring in a NBC staff memo. It reads as if Brown never watched her own network’s coverage of the 2020 election or processed the cheap lies McDaniel peddled.

    “It couldn’t be a more important moment to have a voice like Ronna’s on the team," Brown wrote. "As we gear up for the longest general election season in recent memory, she will support our leading coverage by providing an insider’s perspective on national politics and on the future of the Republican Party—which she led through some of the most turbulent and challenging moments in political history.”

    But McDaniel actively contributed to these “turbulent and challenging moments.” She also wasn’t much of an insider, having been forced out of the RNC after a tenure marked by consistent, often humiliating, failure. Unlike her predecessors Michael Steele and Reince Priebus, she never presided over an election cycle that was an unqualified GOP success. She had little constructive to offer, but she does remain a Trump supporter — a demo that the NBC brass seemed eager to appease.

    NBC News’ dilemma is obvious: It’s an election year, and most reputable conservative commentators, including Scarborough, Steele, and Wallace, are anti-Trump. Even former White House staffers Cassidy Hutchinson and Alyssa Farah Griffin rejected Trump after January 6. They might still hold conservative positions on economic policy, but in a Trump-dominated news environment, they are hardly representative of the current MAGA GOP.

    The Republican primaries just demonstrated that a majority of GOP voters support Trump and want to see him return to the White House. In a normal political reality, NBC News should have right-leaning contributors who support the Republican Party’s nominee for president, but in 2024, providing this perceived “balance” would mean giving a platform to election deniers and shameless liars.

    The backlash from MSNBC’s entire roster of talent caused Jones to openly withdraw her support for McDaniel. She made it clear that she wouldn’t require her stars to have her on their shows. Josh Marshall at Talking Points memo compared the situation to a mob boss refusing to protect a capo no one likes. They obviously aren’t long for this world.

    Dylan Byers at Puck News reports that McDaniel’s talent agency CAA has dropped her as a client. McDaniel has reportedly obtained counsel, and perhaps she’ll receive a similar, but likely much smaller, “please go away forever” settlement that NBC gave Kelly.

    The good news is that NBC's and MSNBC’s journalists stood up and drew a hard line against McDaniel, who will have to find someone else to pay her to lie for them.

    Stephen Robinson is a political columnist, arts writer, and theatre maker.

    TOPICS: NBC News, MSNBC, Donald Trump, Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, Rachel Maddow, Ronna McDaniel