Tuesday, April 23

NBC News debacle: Ronna McDaniel hiring infuriates MSNBC insiders, prompts on-air rebukes

When former Republican National Commitee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel landed a paid contributor gig at NBC News and its affiliated platforms on Friday, the uproar was predictable and immediate. And it hardly died out over the weekend. If anything, it got worse.

Chuck Todd demanded an apology from network honchos while on NBC’s crown jewel Sunday news program, “Meet the Press.” Current MSNBC host Symone Sanders-Townsend – a Democratic political operative herself – taunted McDaniel on social media for her first interview where she was pressed by her new colleague, “MTP” host Kristen Welker. Welker was forced to explain at the start of the show that she had nothing to do with McDaniel’s hiring and openly questioned the analyst’s integrity. MSNBC president Rashida Jones assured furious staffers that McDaniel wouldn’t appear on the airwaves of NBC’s left-leaning cable affiliate. 

So far, it’s been a debacle for NBC News all the way around to bring in McDaniel, a Donald Trump acolyte besmirched in liberal eyes by her association with his stolen election rhetoric and efforts to overturn President Biden’s 2020 victory. 

Her hiring was championed in a memo Friday by NBC News political chief Carrie Budoff Brown, which stated, “It couldn’t be a more important moment to have a voice like Ronna’s on the team.” But social media erupted, with former MSNBC figures like Keith Olbermann and Steve Schmidt declaring it an atrocity, and current MSNBC columnists publishing their own misgivings. Media critics on the left didn’t hide their disdain, either, and the network felt the heat.

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An MSNBC insider told Fox News Digital on Sunday that McDaniel was a liar and gaslighter who would never be welcome on their show. For Brown to pass off nabbing McDaniel as a major catch infuriated staffers, they said, and they added that Jones and other network leadership had not anticipated such ferocious pushback at bringing her on.

“[McDaniel] participated in a fake elector scheme designed to overthrow an elected president,” another MSNBC insider told Fox News Digital. “Mind boggling that anyone that this hire was appropriate.”

“Tim Russert would be outraged,” they added, referring to the longtime “Meet the Press” host who died in 2008.

They confirmed earlier reports that Jones had told MSNBC staffers McDaniel wouldn’t have to appear on their shows.

McDaniel made her first NBC appearance since the hiring on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.” It had been initially billed as her first interview since resigning from the RNC earlier this month, but Welker was put in the strange position of explaining to viewers beforehand that it would be a “news” conversation, and she had nothing to do with hiring McDaniel.

They went on to have a contentious interview, as Welker pressed her on whether former President Trump pushed her out of the RNC job, whether she’d really run a neutral primary given she called for Nikki Haley to step aside, Trump’s rhetoric about Jan. 6 rioters, how she helped in his efforts to overturn 2020 election results, and whether McDaniel was even trustworthy.

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On a panel after the interview, Todd lit into network honchos and said they should apologize to Welker. According to Politico, Welker and the show’s producers knew ahead of time that Todd, whom Welker replaced as the show’s host, would go off and did nothing to dissuade him.

“I think our bosses owe you an apology for putting you in this situation, because I don’t know what to believe,” he fumed.

“Booking this interview and then all of the sudden, the rug’s pulled out from under you, you find out she’s being paid to show up? That’s unfortunate for this program, but I am glad you did the best that you could,” Todd later added.

The program devoted an entire panel segment to discussing the interview afterward. The Boston Globe’s Kimberly Atkins Stohr said McDaniel’s credibility “was completely shot.” Todd said she was not a worthy addition to the NBC News roster.

“When we make deals like this, and I’ve been at this company a long time, you’re doing it for access. Access to audience, sometimes it’s access to an individual,” he said, later adding, “This is a Washington operative who I don’t think is going to bring the network what they think it wants to bring to the network. I understand the motivation, but this execution, I think, was poor.”

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday, the show’s hosts also criticized the hiring and said she wouldn’t be a guest on the program.

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

McDaniel’s hardly the first political operative figure to get a plum television gig at NBC or other networks – Biden’s first press secretary Jen Psaki and former Kamala Harris staffer Sanders-Townsend both host MSNBC shows. But like when former Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney landed at CBS, there was immediate media outcry over someone associated with Trump.

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Puck News reported that McDaniel had been given a $300,000 annual contract. A former high-level NBC staffer told Fox News Digital that the reported salary may not be a huge sum for an A-list contributor, but it was still more than MSNBC producers or senior producers make, and it could cause resentment that a Trump supporter could land that kind of figure.

McDaniel and spokespersons for NBC News didn’t return requests for comment.

During her interview with Welker, McDaniel defended her record at the RNC, which included stinging election defeats in three straight cycles. She also appeared to backtrack on previous remarks that Biden’s 2020 election was unfair, although she said it was acceptable to ask questions.

“Fair and square he won. It’s certified. It’s done… I do think it’s fair to say there were problems in 2020. And to say that does not mean he’s not the legitimate president,” she said.

A gleeful Sanders-Townsend watched from social media as McDaniel was interrogated.

“Baby, Kristen Welker has Ronna Romney McDaniel on the hot seat,” she wrote on X.

Overall, it wasn’t exactly a warm welcome to NBC News’ newest member.

Fox News’ Brian Flood and Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.

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