NBC Hiring Ronna McDaniel Was Such a Farce, Even Chuck Todd Said So

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NBC Hiring Ronna McDaniel Was Such a Farce, Even Chuck Todd Said So

NBC staffers have been in open revolt over former Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel’s hire which has proven to be beyond the pale even for bigwigs like Chuck Todd who hobnob with network executives. Joe Scarborough even went on TV and trashed his bosses over it, and Rachel Maddow said live on air that McDaniel will never appear on MSNBC. This extremely public and extremely aggressive rebuke of mainstream media management was remarkable to watch unfold, punctuated by Chuck Todd openly fuming on Meet the Press.

“I think our bosses owe you an apology for putting you in this situation.”

That sentence coming out of that man’s mouth on that show feels like something of a watershed moment in this longstanding battle against the corporatization of journalism, and the fact that NBC dropped Ronna McDaniel after this outcry from its staff indicates that NBC management pushed its staff too far in its mission to make journalism take a backseat to profits and cronyism.

As media editor at Paste during the Trump years, I spent practically every day blogging about some new example that highlights the biases and inadequacies in mainstream media’s political coverage (mainstream political media for me is generally defined as: CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal), but I don’t believe it’s as simple as just “the media is bad.” I do believe however, that Americans have been on to something the last half-century in their mounting distrust of the press.

I’m a big believer in both the carrot and the stick-style motivation, and my coverage of the corporate media wasn’t universally negative at Paste (just mostly). If we really want our most powerful purveyors of the Truth™ to tilt the pendulum back towards journalism, you have to actually point out when they do good journalism, like Chuck Todd did here.

As I advanced in my career critiquing the mainstream media, I met more people working in it and ultimately came away with the impression that the majority of people working for these organizations do want to do good work to try to properly contextualize the immensely powerful people, corporations and institutions they cover. The problem is the capitalistic incentive structure created by the managerial class directing the major decisions at the places they work.

Chuck Todd going off on his bosses for a cynical hire is proof that even he has a red line (a hire that frankly isn’t that different from CNN adding an entire wing of Trump’s comms team or MSNBC installing George W. Bush’s Communications Director as a centerpiece of their daytime coverage, or even MSNBC making Joe Biden’s former Press Secretary Jen Psaki into a network star—like Todd said, this is about access). If that line has been crossed, you know that thousands of people underneath him at NBC and other mainstream organizations are beyond fed up too.

What made Ronna McDaniel’s hire a bridge too far for NBC is her participation in 2020 election denialism. She eventually said that Joe Biden won “fair and square” and is “the legitimate president,” but given that she got an NBC gig after saying so (that lasted less than one Scaramucci, albeit), it is not that cynical to suggest that quote was her tryout for it, and like Chuck Todd wondered, perhaps she is simply just speaking on behalf of whoever is paying her.

Journalism Is Incompatible With Capitalism

Being able to tell that a certain post will yield X% return is mostly just guesswork. If I gave you the entire Paste politics archive and told you to pick out the posts that did the most traffic for us, you’d give up guessing well before you got to them (it was the week United dragged a passenger off a plane in 2017, and it seemed to wash over everyone how the authoritarianism we were expecting from Trump was already embedded in American society). For reporting and investigative journalism, translating this process to capitalistic frameworks is even more difficult due to the longer time horizons and larger investment to make the product. How long it will take to report something and how much it will cost to do that is contingent on uncovering new information and following wherever that leads the reporter. To quote the horrid Donald Rumsfeld, there are unknown unknowns here. Managers can create models that establish a traffic range and a likely outcome for each subject, etc…but pinpointing each individual journalistic effort and giving it a thumbs up or thumbs down purely through a capitalist lens is an absurd exercise.

And Chuck Todd knows it. The mainstream media’s priorities were tilted more towards their boards of directors than say, Edward R. Murrow’s long before Trump, but Trump exposed how nakedly cynical and financially self-interested much of mainstream media coverage has become. A high-profile NBC employee told Semafor that “executives are concerned at the possibility that Trump could take revenge on the company” and now NBC news staff are reportedly worried this dramatic hiring then firing has ruined their relationships in the GOP.

NBC is run by a publicly traded company that legally has a fiduciary duty to its shareholders. From their perspective, it can’t be doing things like journalism and pissing off presidents and cutting off access and losing market share to its competitors under the framework it operates within. Scoops pulled out of powerful people and institutions are the currency of a media world that lives moment to moment and has no long-term vision outside of permanent profitability, and the net result of a half-century or so of this capitalistic degradation is steam shooting out of Chuck Todd’s ears on live TV over NBC’s inability to adhere to basic journalistic standards.

Todd is a favorite punching bag of the internet, largely because he was the host of a show that has long been dedicated to letting politicians distribute their talking points without serious pushback past a follow up question or two, and he has been a good corporate soldier in feigning ignorance to protect his employer and make himself look like a naïve fool at times. Despite this image of a hapless chud he has helped to cultivate, he has done good stuff like this before, like when he said “we’re not going to give time to climate deniers” on Meet the Press.

Acknowledging objective reality is one thing, and complimenting a mainstream anchor for doing so shows how far behind the curve we were in 2018, but given Chuck Todd’s lofty status in the mainstream media, being this forceful with his critique of management on live TV feels like a really big deal. Lines are being drawn.

The New York Times newsroom has long been embroiled in an existential fight with its bosses over its coverage, and the NYT Guild is now alleging racial discrimination by the Times in their leak investigation over The Intercept‘s must-read exposé. The report detailed how the NYT assigned a story about Hamas’ alleged widespread sexual violence on October 7th to a freelancer with no investigative reporting experience, who also liked a tweet which said that Israel should “turn [Gaza] into a slaughterhouse.” The fear communicated by Times staffers in The Intercept report is that this freelancer will be thrown under the bus in order to protect management, who assigned her the story in the first place.

You can see this push and pull between journalists and management at places like CNN too, who will solemnly read Airman Aaron Bushnell’s final words on air and properly contextualize his protest against the American-supported Israeli genocide of Gaza in his own words, then turn around and chastise Nina Turner for talking about Gaza while trying to explain the Michigan undecided vote. The open tension between standard journalistic priorities and each outlet’s capitalistic impulses has become so thick that you can cut it with a knife.

The problem with American mainstream media lies in the incentive structures created by its management to maintain a capitalistic order that allies itself with those in power, and not with the journalists trying to build a career questioning their boss’s friends (the stenographers who consistently eschew journalism so they can dutifully serve their masters however, are certainly not beyond reproach). There is no such thing as moral consumption under capitalism, and we can only sell our labor to whatever market exists for it at the time. Telling journalists to only look for jobs outside the mainstream media is a great way to ensure that most journalists will remain unemployed and mainstream media will just become a full-blown PR shop for the American empire (instead of just a mostly-blown PR shop for the American empire). These mainstream outlets have proven that they have the capacity and the will to do great journalism, they’re just fundamentally flawed models where journalism is of secondary interest at best to management, as Chuck Todd has so helpfully demonstrated for us here by torching his bosses on live TV.

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