WaPo: MSNBC Prez Helped Recruit Ronna -- Then Chickened Out

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Blue on blue, heartache on heartache ... This story gets more inglorious every day for NBC News and MSNBC. Rashida Jones, the MSNBC president who sided with her channel's on-air hosts to oppose Ronna McDaniel's hiring, turned out to be one of the most significant figures in her recruitment. 

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According to the Washington Post, in fact, Jones had to talk McDaniel into agreeing to appear on MSNBC, and NBC offered more money to sweeten the deal to convince her:

MSNBC President Rashida Jones participated in recruiting former Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel earlier this month and McDaniel was offered a more lucrative contributor contract after she agreed to appear on MSNBC and not just NBC News, according to people familiar with the matter. ...

In a friendly call between Jones and McDaniel, the two spoke about American politics, their young children and the need to have differing views on the airwaves, the people familiar with the matter said. McDaniel left the call heartened, people close to her said.

Top NBC News executives preferred that McDaniel agree to appear on both channels, according to the people familiar with the matter. MSNBC is a liberal-leaning sister network to NBC News.

McDaniel agreed to appear on both networks after a series of informal discussions and the improved contract, the people said.

And then when the proverbial excrement hit the proverbial fan ...

After McDaniel was hired and a backlash ensued, Jones privately told MSNBC anchors on Friday and Saturday that McDaniel would not appear on the network, according to people familiar with her calls last weekend.

The plot thickens! We already knew this involved gutless wonders at NBC, but now we have a real hypocrite at the top of MSNBC as a key factor. Assuming this is accurate, it casts a new shadow on Jones and could change the tenor of this story from the current narrative of NBC News being clueless to Jones betraying her corporate bosses in an attempt to avoid the wrath of her own newsroom. 

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At this point, it might be fun to play a traditional Washington game: Guess The Leaker(s). Where did the WaPo get this story, accurate or not? Let's put the possibilities in categories:

  1. Ronna McDaniel and her camp - She clearly has motive to burn everyone involved, especially Rashida Jones, if this sequence is accurate. Every single NBC/MSNBC figure will be a target for her ire, and she has no reason to refrain from burning everyone involved in this debacle. At least one part of the story was sourced by "people close to her," as the excerpt above notes. But would the WaPo run this as a fact-based report just on her word alone? Doubtful, so ...
  2. NBC News execs - They got scorched by their own talent and much of the Protection Racket Media world for hiring McDaniel in the first place. Critics derided them as out of touch with their "talent," and supposedly disconnected from the Dire Threat to Muh Democracy!® that would erupt if McDaniel had access to a microphone. Cesar Conde, Carrie Budoff Brown, and Rebecca Blumenstein have plenty of reasons to set the record straight after Jones' grandstanding and butt-smooching with her talent, and the Post would definitely take their input (or those who work with/for them) as authoritative sources. Or it could be ...
  3. MSNBC personnel - I'd bet that Jones' efforts to recruit McDaniel wasn't a closely held secret at the cable channel. If that got around, Jones' about-face may have rubbed people the wrong way -- or maybe someone wants to punish Jones for recruiting McDaniel in the first place. Executive offices are competitive environments in the first place, and maybe someone sees this as a way to force Jones out and open up some opportunities. This might be a little more Terran Empire/Spock's Beard than we'd expect, but it's not outside the realm of possibility.
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Don't choose right away. This may be tougher than it seems at the moment. 

The sources may matter less than the damage being done at this point by all of the leaks, accusations, and bad blood being created by the bucketful. NBC is melting down, not least in the way that the executives appear to be afraid of the people working for them. Comcast may be forced to intervene to restore order, CNN's Oliver Darcy reports this morning, mainly because no one in the NBC division seems to know how to act like an executive:

What is Brian Roberts going to do?

The Comcast boss is watching an unceasing five-alarm fire rage at 30 Rock, scarring the reputation of NBC News and threatening to consume multiple parts of the Cesar Conde-run NBC Universal News Group.


It’s difficult to succinctly summarize the disastrous state of affairs at the news division, given that multiple engines are failing simultaneously. But one thing is clear: Conde has lost control of his organization, prompting industry insiders to wonder how he continues to remain in his role as chairman of the NBC News Group. In the words of one veteran media executive I spoke to Wednesday, “It’s inconceivable that he should.”

Instead of extinguishing the inferno that broke out on Friday with the hiring of former Republican National committee chair Ronna McDaniel, sparking an unprecedented on-air mutiny over her role in working to subvert the 2020 vote, the actions of Conde and the NBC executives he has empowered have only hosed gasoline on it.

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Darcy relates some of the infighting going on at NBC that Dylan Byers revealed at Puck yesterday, but which is mainly firewalled. For one thing, MSNBC staffers already suspected before the WaPo story that Jones had more to do with recruiting McDaniel than she let on:

Over at MSNBC, Rashida Jones, the network chief, did not escape unscathed. Byers reported that not only did Jones initially not object to McDaniel’s hiring, but that she expressed interest in having the election denier on the progressive cable network.

The WaPo report will no doubt stoke some anger among the MSNBC rank and file. Also, Brown reportedly asked a Republican influencer to bolster conservative pushback against Chuck Todd on social media (she denies this), Blumenstein has engaged in radio silence, and everyone's looking for someone to get fired over the debacle. 

That seems pretty inevitable at this point. The question may not be whether someone loses a job, but how many people will get canned. Roberts probably should fire everyone involved at this point, and then start looking for executives who will take charge -- and remind everyone who works for whom in the organization. And for that matter, given the hysterical shrieking over adding McDaniel as a punching bag from its "talent," maybe Roberts should play Grim Reaper at that level as well, and look for replacements that aren't crippled by their progressive fragility. 

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David Strom 5:20 PM | April 15, 2024
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