NBC reverses decision to hire Ronna McDaniel after on-air backlash

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

In a memo, NBCUniversal News Group Chairman Cesar Conde told staff that he had listened to “the legitimate concerns” of many network employees. “No organization, particularly a newsroom, can succeed unless it is cohesive and aligned,” he wrote. “Over the last few days, it has become clear that this appointment undermines that goal.”

The network had only just announced four days earlier that they were bringing McDaniel on board to provide “expert insight and analysis” on politics. “It couldn’t be a more important moment to have a voice like Ronna’s on the team,” one NBC News executive told staff at the time.

But the company’s on-air personalities — especially those on NBC’s liberal-leaning cable affiliate MSNBC — disagreed vehemently, saying that McDaniel’s promotion of former president Donald Trump’s media-bashing and false election-fraud claims disqualified her from a role in their news divisions.

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

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

NBC delivered the news of its course correction to its employees before informing McDaniel, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve confidence.

McDaniel was surprised by the backlash to her hiring and NBC’s handling of the matter, according to two people with knowledge of the situation. She plans to hire a lawyer to deal with contractual issues.

The outrage over her appointment was indicative of the larger struggle television networks have faced in hiring pundits to offer a pro-Trump perspective without running afoul of both the audience and their own employees.

CBS News staff, 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 ultimately appeared on-air only sporadically and left the network after about a year.

Yet NBC also hired Marc Short, the former chief of staff to Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, in February without triggering a backlash.

NBC personnel expressed outrage over the company’s hiring of former Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel following years of election denialism. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

NBC employees argued publicly and privately that their complaint was not with McDaniel’s party affiliation but with her actions.

“To be clear, we believe NBC News should seek out conservative Republican voices to provide balance in their election coverage,” co-host Mika Brzezinski said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday. “But it should be conservative Republicans, not a person who used her position of power to be an anti-democracy election denier.”

“We welcome Republican voices,” prime-time host Joy Reid added later that day. “The reality is: This isn’t a difference of opinion. She literally backed an illegal scheme to steal an election in the state of Michigan.”

In his memo to employees, Conde apologized to employees “who felt we let them down” and said he took responsibility for the botched hiring.

He added that the network remains committed to ideological diversity, “and to that end, we will redouble our efforts to seek voices that represent different parts of the political spectrum.”

Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who worked on Marco Rubio’s 2016 president campaign, told The Post earlier this week that television producers face a challenging pundit-supply issue.

“The networks have really struggled to find Trump loyalists to consistently come on air,” he said. “To be good at it, you have to be a serious person. You can’t just be a conspiracy monger and succeed in that role. They have tried to find serious people coming out of Trumpworld and have not found a lot of appetite.”

During the first Trump presidential campaign and administration, CNN also sought to capture the voice of his supporters. But some pro-Trump contributors such as Jeffrey Lord were loudly criticized while others washed out because of a variety of controversies and scandals.

McDaniel’s first appearance as a paid contributor was on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” where host Kristen Welker made it clear to her audience she had no idea that when they scheduled the appearance weeks earlier that McDaniel would soon be her colleague.

She then proceeded to grill her guest in an interview that critics praised for its aggression and rigor.

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

The backlash picked up steam Monday morning, when the co-hosts of “Morning Joe” said they would not have hired her. Throughout the evening’s lineup, MSNBC hosts took turns bashing McDaniel and the decision to hire her, which Maddow called “inexplicable.”

The comments made by Todd and the “Morning Joe” hosts were notable because it’s rare for NBC employees to voice criticism of the network, Tate James, a network video journalist who leads the union unit representing digital employees, told The Post on Monday. “They are the NBC establishment, and even they see the executives messed up on this,” he added.

By Tuesday morning, the situation seemed untenable. Even if McDaniel remained with the company, one of its main channels had already signaled she was hardly welcome to appear there, with MSNBC President Rashida Jones telling her hosts they need not book her.

One of NBC’s major failings in the matter, network employees and rival media executives agreed, was not securing buy-in from the network’s stars before hiring McDaniel.

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

Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.

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