NBC News cuts ties with Ronna McDaniel after internal backlash

NBC News has scrapped its plan to make former Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel an on-air contributor to its political coverage.

“After listening to the legitimate concerns of many of you, I have decided that Ronna McDaniel will not be an NBC News contributor,” NBC News Group Chairman Cesar Conde said Tuesday in a memo to staff.

The decision to reverse course comes after a stunning rebuke of the plan by the division’s on-air talent. On Monday, nearly every opinion host on NBC’s progressive cable news channel MSNBC blasted the hiring of McDaniel because of her defense of former President Trump’s false claims of fraud in the 2020 election.

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

The onslaught of internal criticism of McDaniel came immediately after the announcement Friday that she would appear on political coverage across NBC News platforms including MSNBC. (In a memo to staff, Carrie Budoff Brown, the senior vice president of politics for NBC News, said:“It couldn’t be a more important moment to have a voice like Ronna’s on the team.”)

The conflict is a major embarrassment for Brown and the other top NBC News Group executives who signed off on the $300,000 deal to sign McDaniel — mitigated somewhat by their willingness to drop out of the pact in less than a week after it was announced.

In his memo, Conde was contrite and acknowledged his role in the hiring and the division it caused in the organization.

“I want to personally apologize to our team members who felt we let them down,” Conde wrote. “While this was a collective recommendation by some members of our leadership team, I approved it and take full responsibility for it.”

Conde added, “No organization, particularly a newsroom, can succeed unless it is cohesive and aligned. Over the last few days, it has become clear that this appointment undermines that goal.”

McDaniel appeared on the Sunday edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where moderator Kristen Welker pressed her on her positions regarding Trump’s continued belief that the 2020 election was stolen from him due to voter fraud.

McDaniel for the first time publicly acknowledged that President Biden won the election “fair and square.” She also broke with Trump’s plan to pardon the Jan. 6 rioters who have been convicted and imprisoned.

But her credibility was questioned Sunday by former “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd in the panel discussion after Welker’s interview. The floodgates opened on MSNBC the following day.

“She is now a paid contributor by NBC News,” Todd said to Welker. “I have no idea whether any answer she gave to you was because she didn’t want to mess up her contract. She wants us to believe that she was speaking for the RNC when the RNC was paying for her.”

Todd’s comments opened the floodgates for MSNBC’s personalities, who pounded McDaniel throughout the day on their programs, imploring their NBC News bosses to reconsider the hiring. Veterans of the TV news business said they have never seen such a public onslaught by talent against a management decision.

The turmoil over McDaniel’s hiring and rapid departure demonstrates the challenge TV news outlets face in presenting partisan viewpoints in a politically polarized environment. Much of the belief system in the Trump wing of the Republican party consists of misinformation about the 2020 election.

For outlets outside of the conservative media sphere, finding talking heads who support Trump but are not election deniers has become a major challenge. “It’s very difficult,” said one agent who deals with news talent.

McDaniel’s hiring was particularly problematic for NBC News staffers, as she had participated in Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the election.

MSNBC host Joy Reid described McDaniel as “a major peddler of the big lie,” referring to the Trump’s election falsehoods. She cited how McDaniel was on Trump’s phone calls to GOP officials in Michigan, urging them not to certify the state’s 2020 election results.

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