NBC News Faces Rebellion Over Hiring of Ronna McDaniel, Ex-RNC Chair


Leadership at NBC raced to contain an escalating revolt on Monday as some of the country’s best-known television anchors took the extraordinary step of criticizing their network on its own airwaves for hiring Ronna McDaniel, the former chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, as a political analyst.

One day after Chuck Todd stunned executives by denouncing Ms. McDaniel’s appointment on “Meet the Press,” Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski opened their MSNBC show, “Morning Joe,” with a lengthy criticism of Ms. McDaniel, calling her “an anti-democracy election denier” and urging their bosses to reconsider her employment.

“We’ve been inundated with calls this weekend, as have most people connected with this network, about NBC’s decision to hire her,” Mr. Scarborough said. “We weren’t asked our opinion of the hiring, but, if we were, we would have strongly objected to it for several reasons.”

Hours later, the star MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace all but accused her employer of enabling authoritarianism by granting Ms. McDaniel a platform. She told her viewers that NBC News, “wittingly or unwittingly,” had signaled to “election deniers” that they could spread falsehoods “as one of us, as badge-carrying employees of NBC News, as paid contributors to our sacred airwaves.”

Her guest, David Jolly, a former Republican congressman, concurred with her remarks. “The viewers feel betrayed, and they’re asking to be heard,” he said of MSNBC’s audience.

NBC executives were bracing for yet more on-air criticism later on Monday, when the MSNBC hosts Rachel Maddow and Jen Psaki are scheduled to appear.

The rebellion was not limited to marquee talent. Inside NBC’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza headquarters in Manhattan, some rank-and-file employees were starting discussions on how to further pressure network leadership over Ms. McDaniel, a person with knowledge of the talks said.

The firestorm over Ms. McDaniel, who recently stepped down from the Republican National Committee at the urging of former President Donald J. Trump, underscores the challenges facing news organizations as they try to integrate voices that are supportive of Mr. Trump into their election-year coverage, at a moment of intense partisanship and tribalism among voters and viewers.

NBC’s news division must also balance a wide-spanning audience: viewers of NBC News, the network’s traditional reporting arm, and fans of its cable cousin MSNBC, a 24-hour channel that emphasizes left-leaning opinion.

Network representatives declined to comment on Monday.

Ms. McDaniel got to know a pair of top NBC News executives — Carrie Budoff Brown, who oversees NBC News political coverage, and Rebecca Blumenstein, the NBC News president — when the network hosted a Republican presidential primary debate last year. (Ms. Blumenstein is a former editor at The New York Times.) Ms. Brown announced Ms. McDaniel’s hiring on Friday, writing in a memo that “it couldn’t be a more important moment to have a voice like Ronna’s on the team.”

Leadership at NBC believed that Ms. McDaniel — who has both boosted and clashed with Mr. Trump, and hails from the Romney Republican dynasty — would offer a helpful perspective to viewers seeking to understand the views of conservative voters, three people with knowledge of the internal conversations said.

Rashida Jones, the MSNBC president, was briefed on the hiring, and Cesar Conde, the chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, signed off, the people said. Ms. McDaniel’s deal is worth about $300,000 a year, one of the people with knowledge of the conversations said.

Bringing on Washington operatives as commentators is a typical practice at major networks; ABC News, for instance, recently hired Reince Priebus, Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff. MSNBC hired Ms. Psaki, President Biden’s first White House press secretary, as an anchor in 2022.

But in Ms. McDaniel’s case, a chorus of Democrats and MSNBC viewers immediately cried foul on social media, citing her stewardship of the Republican Party during Mr. Trump’s presidency and her handling of his false claims that the 2020 election was rigged.

Anchors at MSNBC, some of whom have gone so far as to avoid broadcasting any live remarks by Mr. Trump on their programs, were alarmed that Ms. McDaniel would appear on their shows, three people with knowledge of their concerns said. Ms. Jones made a round of phone calls to reassure anchors that they did not need to book Ms. McDaniel.

Then, on Sunday, Ms. McDaniel appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” The moderator, Kristen Welker, had booked the interview weeks earlier, but she was not aware that NBC was negotiating a paid position for Ms. McDaniel until shortly before the network’s announcement. Ms. Welker pressed Ms. McDaniel on whether she believed Mr. Biden had legitimately won the election.

“Fair and square, he won,” Ms. McDaniel replied, although she added, “I do think it’s fair to say there were problems in 2020.”

On a panel afterward, Mr. Todd told Ms. Welker, “Our bosses owe you an apology for putting you in this situation.” He added that NBC News journalists were “uncomfortable” working with Ms. McDaniel given the Republican National Committee’s treatment of them under her leadership.

Mr. Todd’s comments opened the floodgates. By Sunday evening, the chair of the Democratic National Committee had weighed in, accusing NBC of “allowing one of the key architects of that shameful period in our country the platform to whitewash her role.”

Ms. McDaniel, who has declined to comment on the NBC fracas, has long walked a fine line in regard to Mr. Trump’s election conspiracy theories.

In the days after the 2020 election, Ms. McDaniel repeated accusations about ballots and election machines in her home state, Michigan, that state officials disputed and later debunked. She participated in a call with Mr. Trump in which he placed pressure on Wayne County canvassing officials not to certify the election results, according to a recording reported by The Detroit News.

But Ms. McDaniel also kept the Republican National Committee away from Mr. Trump’s increasingly audacious lawsuits to overturn the election. She did not endorse his most outlandish theories — such as the hacking of voting machines by foreign powers — although she appeased him in other ways, talking about voting “irregularity” and creating an “election integrity” operation within the national committee.

Some Trump allies criticized her for not taking stronger action to question election processes. A person close to the former president, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it seemed that Ms. McDaniel was “going through the motions” and never really believed the 2020 election was stolen.

On Monday’s “Morning Joe,” Ms. Brzezinski told viewers, “To be clear, we believe NBC News should seek out conservative Republican voices to provide balance in their election coverage.” But she said Ms. McDaniel’s actions surrounding the 2020 election disqualified her from such a position.

“It goes without saying,” Ms. Brzezinski added, “that she will not be a guest on ‘Morning Joe’ in her capacity as a paid contributor.”

Alexandra Berzon, John Koblin and Jonathan Swan contributed reporting.


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