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Rachel Maddow Says NBC News’ Hire Of Ronna McDaniel Was “Inexplicable,” Calls For Network To Reverse Decision

UPDATE: Rachel Maddow devoted the top of her MSNBC show to outlining the reasons for her objections to NBC News’ hire of former Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, calling the decision “inexplicable” and challenging some of the network spin in response to the backlash.

“I will tell you, the fact that Ms. McDaniel is on the payroll at NBC News, to me that is inexplicable,” she said. “You wouldn’t hire a wiseguy, you wouldn’t hire a made man like a mobster to work in a D.A.’s office, right? You wouldn’t hire a pickpocket to work as a TSA screener. So I find her decision to put her on the payroll inexplicable, and I hope they will reverse their decision.”

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Maddow, the top rated personality at the network, is the latest NBCU personality to publicly call out news division leadership over the decision, an unusual moment where internal drama has played out on the airwaves.

She also noted that MSNBC leadership initially “did not object to Ronna McDaniel to not being hired by NBC New when the matter first arose.” She said that when the hiring was announced and “MSNBC staff essentially, unanimously and instantly expressed outrage, our leadership at MSNBC heard us, understood, and adjusted course.”

Maddow said that they were told over the weekend “in clear terms, ‘Ronna McDaniel will not appear on our air. Ronna McDaniel will not be on MSNBC.’ I give you that level of detail because there has been an effort since by other parts of the company to muddy that up in the press and make it seem like that’s not what happened at MSNBC. I can assure you that is what happened at MSNBC. Ronna McDaniel will not appear on MSNBC, so says our boss since Saturday, and it has never been anything other than clear.”

In the backlash over the hire, the network P.R. team had said that it would be up to individual shows to decide whether to book McDaniel on their programs, rather than there being a blanket ban.

Maddow’s segment, lasting nearly 25 minutes, started with a history lesson of past fascist candidate campaigns for the presidency, all of which are footnotes given that the campaigns drew few votes. But Donald Trump has succeeded with the help of the Republican Party.

“The person who was the head of the Republican party during Donald Trump’s time in office, and during his effort to throw out the election result and stay in power anyway, and during his effort to run for election again, after having done that, is Ronna Romney McDaniel. And she pitched in and helped. She helped set in motion part of the plot that involved fake Trump electors to Congress from states that Trump did not win so Republicans in Washington could use those fake, fraudulent elector slates, to contend that maybe Trump didn’t win those states, even though he didn’t.”

She also accused McDaniel of “pitching in” on Trump’s attacks on American elections generally. “Right now, the [Trump] project is to tell the American people that those efforts around the 202 election were righteous, that 2020 election, it wasn’t okay. Those election results were not correct. We shouldn’t believe American elections. American elections aren’t real elections. American election results should not be seen as real. They should not be respected. That is the project now, right? It didn’t work to overthrow the government the last time, but as long as you can build on that first effort, as long as you can keep up the entire election mythology, then you are priming your people. You are priming the American public to not accept the results of the next election, either.”

Throughout the day, MSNBC personalities have blasted the decision to hire McDaniel, starting with Morning Joe co-anchors Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, continuing to Nicolle Wallace, and then Joy Reid and Jen Psaki in primetime. After Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell also added to the chorus of figures criticizing the decision, as well as Stephanie Ruhle.

Maddow also suggested that the network’s response so far has been defensive. She said at the end of her segment, “Part of our resilience as a democracy is going to be recognizing … when decisions are bad ones and reversing those bad decisions. Hearing legitimate criticism, responding to it, and correcting course, not digging in, not blaming others. Take a minute, acknowledge that maybe it wasn’t the right call. It is a sign of strength, not weakness, to acknowledge when you are wrong.”

PREVIOUSLY: Nicolle Wallace added her voice to the NBCU personalities blasting the NBC News decision to hire former Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel as a paid contributor.

On this afternoon’s Deadline White House on MSNBC, Wallace did an extended segment on the controversy, reading from a passage in Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny before bringing the author on as a guest.

Wallace read, “Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being access. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power in what it can do.”

Wallace then said that in hiring McDaniel, “NBC News is, either wittingly or unwittingly, teaching election deniers that what they can do stretches well beyond appearing on our air and interviews to peddle lies about the sanctity and integrity of our elections.”

She then ran a clip of Meet the Press moderator Kristen Welker’s interview with McDaniel from Sunday morning, in which the former RNC chair said that Joe Biden won the 2020 election “fair and square.” But she had previously refused to say that Biden was legitimately elected president, including in an interview with CNN’s Chris Wallace last year. In the Meet the Press interview, McDaniel said that still believed that “there were problems” with the 2020 results.

Wallace told viewers, “There were no problems.”

She continued her criticism of the network, “What we’ve also said to election deniers is not just that they can do that on our airwaves, but they can do that as one of us, a badge carrying employee of NBC News, as paid contributors to our sacred airwaves.”

Wallace also praised NBC News’ chief political analyst Chuck Todd who, in an appearance on Meet the Press, publicly rebuked the network for the decision, saying that McDaniel had questionable credibility.

Earlier in the day, MSNBC’s Morning Joe co-anchors Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski called on NBC News to reconsider its decision.

“There is this reputation that MSNBC is somehow different, maybe less than, because we platform opinion,” Wallace said. “I will tell you, over the last 48 hours, it has been the opinion anchors most upset about the liar. And I won’t say most because I think Chuck Todd made clear. He went first. He did something really brave. I talked to him yesterday. I said, ‘I am knitting you a cape.'”

The story also was the topic of segments on CNN and Fox News.

NBC News has had no comment. It’s unclear when or if McDaniel will make her official debut as a paid contributor. According to network sources, it will be up to individual shows to decide whether to book her. That in and of itself would be an awkward moment, given the criticism that McDaniel has faced internally and the questions over her credibility.

The network saw McDaniel as a way to increase the number of its pundit voices from the right, from a person with first-hand knowledge of the Republican party as Donald Trump has dominated. Ironically, McDaniel was ousted as Trump sought a tighter control of the RNC, installing his own allies, including his daughter in law Lara Trump as one of its leaders.

Snyder told Wallace, “What NBC has done is they have invited into what should be the normal framework, someone who doesn’t believe that that framework should exist at all. What NBC has done, on its own volition, is bring into a very important conversation about our democracy, one which is going to take place over the next seven months or so, someone, Ronna McDaniel, who tried to disassemble our democracy, who personally took part in an attempt to undo the American system.”

McDaniel also participated in a Nov. 17, 2020 phone call with Trump to urge Michigan Republican canvassers not to certify the results. “Do not sign it,” McDaniel said on the call, according to The Detroit News, and offered to get them attorneys. In the Meet the Press interview, she characterized the call as one to check in on the canvassers’ well being amid threats.

Snyder also cited McDaniel’s attacks on the media, as she bought into Trump’s characterization of the press as “fake news” whenever it was a story she or he didn’t like. He also suggested that the NBC News hiring was an effort to appease Trump and his supporters, but that such a notion is misguided.

“This is not a normal political situation where you give a little and you get a little,” Snyder said. “You can give as much as you want to Trump between now and November. You’re not going to get anything back in January, ’21. And the perverse thing is, if you practice giving things away to Trump now for the next seven months, all you’ve done is practice, all you have done is gotten better at appeasing him after January of 2025 should he win. So this is like a trial run for NBC and everyone else to say, ‘OK, we’re going to practice appeasing a dictator, and then when a dictator comes we’re going to be better at it.’ Is that what you should be doing? I don’t think so.”

Todd, meanwhile, expanded on his criticism as well as some of the reaction to the NBC News decision.

He wrote on X/Twitter, “The issue isn’t about ideology, it’s about basic truth. Those trying to make this a left-right issue are being intentionally dishonest. This is about whether honest journalists are supposed to lend their credibility to someone who intentionally tried to ruin ours.”

PREVIOUSLY: MSNBC’s Morning Joe co-anchors Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski called on NBC News to reconsider its decision to hire former Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel as a paid contributor.

They are the latest network voices to publicly criticize the decision to retain McDaniel, who was ousted as chair earlier this year.

“We learned about the hire when we read about it in the press on Friday,” Scarborough told viewers. “We weren’t asked our opinion of the hiring but if we were, we would have strongly objected to it for several reasons, including, but not limited to, as lawyers might say, Miss McDaniel’s role in Trump’s fake electors scheme and her pressuring election officials to not certify election results while Donald Trump was on the phone.”

Brzezinski added, “To be clear, we believe NBC News should seek out conservative Republican voices to provide balance in their election converage, but it should be conservative Republicans, not a person who used her position of power to be an anti-democracy election denier, and we hope NBC will reconsider its decision.” She added that “it goes without saying” that McDaniel will not be a guest on Morning Joe in her capacity as a paid contributor.

Morning Joe then cut to a segment on Meet the Press from Sunday, in which moderator Kristen Welker pressed McDaniel on her past refusal to say that Joe Biden was legitimately elected president in 2020. Welker played a clip of an interview McDaniel, when she was still RNC chair, gave to CNN’s Chris Wallace last year, in which she said that she didn’t think Biden “won it fair.” But in the interview with Welker, she said that she now thinks that Biden won it “fair and square.”

A spokesperson for NBC News said that they had no comment.

In a panel discussion later on Meet the Press on Sunday, NBC News chief political analyst Chuck Todd sharply criticized the network’s decision to hire McDaniel, saying she had credibility issues and that it put Welker in an awkward spot. Welker had been working to secure an interview with McDaniel before the network’s decision to retain her as a paid contributor.

NBC News and other networks have grappled with how to cover Trump and his allies as the former president makes a new bid for the White House. Last year, CNN faced internal pushback for its decision to feature Trump in a town hall, which turned into a rally-like atmosphere with his supporters in the audience. MSNBC and CNN also have carried portions of Trump’s speeches, but with fact checking as he continues to traffic in unfounded claims.

Since her departure from the RNC, McDaniel had been pitched to the networks, a common practice after elected and political officials depart from high-profile posts. There had been definite interest at other networks, with a view that McDaniel wasn’t the kind of flame thrower like other Trump allies, figures like Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager who went on to serve as commentator on CNN.

In announcing the hire of McDaniel on Friday, the network said that her role “represents an ongoing commitment to featuring a variety of voices who can offer firsthand insight on today’s politics.” The network also said that she would appear across NBC News platforms, including MSNBC. The network saw her as someone who could provide insight into the Trump campaign, unlike other analysts.

But after the announcement, MSNBC President Rashida Jones assured staffers that it would be up to individual shows whether to book her and that they would not be forced to have her on as part of political analysis. That also is the case for other shows on the network platforms.

Networks have seen internal discord over other past hires of contributors, as was the case when NBC News and MSNBC tapped Jen Psaki as she was preparing to depart the White House as President Joe Biden’s first press secretary. In 2022, CBS News also got pushback when it hired Mick Mulvaney, who has served as acting chief of staff for Trump, as a political analyst. He has since left the network and joined NewsNation.

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