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NBC News’ Ronna McDaniel Problem Looms Larger: How Should Networks Cover Trump Republicans? | Analysis

The chaos surrounding the hiring and firing of former Republican Party chair Ronna McDaniel from NBC News has underscored the difficulties of covering Donald Trump and his party this year without simultaneously promoting those who enabled the former president’s lies about the 2020 election.

Television news has long elevated voices from both of America’s major political parties. But in the current, highly polarized climate, networks are struggling to provide balanced coverage while upholding their journalistic integrity and not infuriating their staff in the process — as NBC was reminded this week.

“The only way that most news organizations are going to be able to include these kinds of contributors in the mix, if they choose to do so, is to find smart ‘contained’ ways to do so in their digital and streaming platforms and not high-profile TV news slots,” David Clinch, a consultant at Media Growth Partners, told TheWrap, adding that he would not “advise anyone to take that risk.”

“This isn’t just about McDaniel or NBC; it’s about every reality-based news organization that’s wrestling with Trump’s unreality,” wrote Brian Stelter, the media commentator.

The McDaniel debacle — in which the talent at NBC News and MSNBC staged a revolt against management over their decision to hire her — is also likely to strain the network’s relationships with current Republican officials.

“NBC News staff reportedly fear Republican backlash after Ronna McDaniel firing: ‘Angry GOP sources’,” went a Fox News headline on Wednesday as the fallout continued, and former President Trump attacked Comcast CEO Brian Roberts:

“The sick degenerates over at MSDNC are really running NBC, and there seems nothing chairman Brian Roberts can do about it,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social website on Tuesday. “Watching Chuck Todd, of all people, viciously giving Roberts a piece of his small mind, and then berating him for hiring Ronna without his, or the other lunatics, approval, was just a step too far.”

From politics to network news

NBC’s hiring of McDaniel was hardly the first attempt to put a former high-level GOP political operative on the air. Nicolle Wallace, the former communications director for President George W. Bush, is one of MSNBC’s most beloved hosts, and former RNC chair Michael Steele is a regular commentator on the network and coanchors a new weekend show.

Other news networks also feature former Republican operatives including Scott Jennings, Ana Navarro and former Trump communications director Alyssa Farah Griffin, who all contribute to CNN political coverage, with Navarro and Griffin also appearing regularly on ABC’s “The View.”

But these pre-Trump era Republicans and former Trump officials no longer represent the current GOP base, which has made it abundantly clear through this year’s primaries that Trump is their candidate — despite his being indicted for attempting to overturn the last election.

How can news organizations covering the election include diverse political views without buying into a candidacy that threatens to undermine democracy itself? Or, as Stelter put it in a recent column: “How to appropriately represent the views of all Americans, including a sizable minority who have soured on the system we all grew up calling ‘democracy.’”

Jay Rosen, associate professor of journalism at New York University, writing on social media, said that “some parts of the political spectrum can only be represented in studio if the network is willing to let editorial standards slide to meet this other priority.”

Morning Joe
“Morning Joe” on MSNBC with former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough (MSNBC)

Indeed, more than half of 31 White House press secretaries and communications directors, dating back to 2000, have gone on to some form of paid gig at a news network, according to Axios.

And 21 people who served in the Trump administration have worked for Fox, including Hope Hicks, Kayleigh McEnany and Larry Kudlow — with some joining almost immediately after leaving their political posts, Business Insider reported.

MSNBC employs numerous former Republican officials including Joe Scarborough, a former congressman turned cohost of “Morning Joe,” in addition to Wallace and Steele. Other frequent Republican contributors include Marc Short, a former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence; Brendan Buck, former advisor to then-House speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan; and former Gov. John Kasich.

But these contributors and hosts are decidedly centrist-right, and far out of step with what animates Trump and his supporters.

Building ties to the RNC

Last year, NBC News stepped up its efforts to foster a relationship with the RNC to try and secure a GOP debate for the network in 2023. And for the third debate of the primary cycle in November, NBC News was tapped as the first non-Fox network to host the live event.

To some observers, McDaniel was a questionable choice by NBC News leadership not only because of her efforts to appease Trump while at the RNC, but because she has since been ex-communicated from MAGA world after being pushed out of her role.

On-air talent from NBC News and its sister cable channel MSNBC publicly denounced leadership’s initial decision to hire the former RNC chair last week, not for her being a Trump supporter, but for her documented role in aiding his attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. McDaniel also has a track record of undermining the media, referring two weeks ago to MSNBC’s primetime lineup as “propagandists” on social media.

Which only serves to highlight how difficult it is to try represent the conservative side of the political spectrum at the moment.

MSNBC sparked controversy in September as Kristen Welker was preparing to debut as the new “Meet the Press” moderator when Trump was booked as her first interview. While the network attempted to mitigate the former president’s expected falsehoods by prerecording the interview and offering live fact checks, the interview nevertheless received backlash for giving the former president a platform on national television.

The only way that most news organizations are going to be able to include these kinds of contributors in the mix … is to find smart ‘contained’ ways to do so in their digital and streaming platforms and not high-profile TV news slots.

David Clinch, a consultant at Media Growth Partners

Meanwhile, questions are still ricocheting around the executive suites of 30 Rockefeller Center, over who decided to hire McDaniel and who decided not to inform on-air talent before the decision was announced. NBC News president of editorial Rebecca Blumenstein went to Washington, D.C. on Thursday to meet with staffers in the bureau, and reportedly backed her Politics chief Carrie Budoff Brown, according to Oliver Darcy’s Reliable Sources.

Others in the company were dismayed at the ongoing, painful media cycles and questioned who would be held accountable.

“For the life of me I cannot figure out how we got to this decision,” a top executive from a different division of the corporation said. “That is not our culture. We are not a company that makes decisions like that without talking to talent.”

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