Ronna McDaniel faces sharp criticism after NBC hiring — including on NBC

Former Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel faced brutal criticism Sunday during her first NBC appearance since the network hired her as a political analyst, including tough questioning about her failure to push back against former president Donald Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud and visceral aggravation from journalists who said her hiring raised “credibility issues” for NBC.

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” McDaniel, who stepped down from the RNC this month, was not asked about the firestorm from critics who said her newly announced role as a paid contributor was unethical due to her work to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Kristen Welker, the show’s host, said McDaniel’s interview was scheduled weeks before her hiring was announced. She added, “This will be a news interview, and I was not involved in her hiring.”

McDaniel, who as RNC chair had repeatedly said the election was “rigged,” told Welker during the interview that she disagreed with Trump’s claims of election fraud and his calls to free the inmates jailed for storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. “The reality is Joe Biden won,” she said. “ … He’s the legitimate president.”

But minutes later, a panel of journalists on the show questioned the credibility of her answers and laid into NBC executives for their decision to hire someone who had long attacked the network.

NBC News chief political analyst Chuck Todd on March 24 pushed back on the hiring of former RNC chair Ronna McDaniel by the network. (Video: “Meet the Press” | NBC News)

“Our bosses owe you an apology for putting you in this situation because I don’t know what to believe,” Chuck Todd, NBC journalist and former “Meet the Press” host, told Welker. “ … I have no idea whether any answer she gave to you was because she didn’t want to mess up her contract.

The on-air criticism continued Monday on NBC’s cable cousin MSNBC, where “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough said that he and his co-hosts “strongly objected” to the hire.

Scarborough — a former GOP congressman turned cable-news star — specifically cited “McDaniel’s role in Donald Trump’s fake elector scheme and her pressuring election officials to not certify election results.”

The airing of internal dissent reflected deep discomfort at NBC and many media organizations with how to treat Republicans who indulged Trump’s efforts to overturn the election and undermine Americans’ trust in the media.

Todd said the network had attempted to book interviews with McDaniel for years while she was RNC chair, with no success. “There’s a reason why there’s a lot of journalists at NBC News uncomfortable with this, because many of our professional dealings with the RNC over the last six years have been met with gaslighting, have been met with character assassination,” he added.

Also appearing on the panel, Kimberly Atkins Stohr, a columnist for the Boston Globe, said McDaniel’s “credibility was shot” after the years in which she “carried water for Donald Trump.” “She habitually lied,” Atkins Stohr said. “She habitually joined Trump in attacking the press, members of the press, including this network, in a way that put journalists at risk, in danger.”

Atkins Stohr had posted on Threads early Sunday that she’d considered pulling out of the program due to the “blindsiding and infuriating news” that NBC had hired “someone who has habitually peddled lies, viciously attacked the press, and participated in a plot to subvert our democracy.”

Spokespeople for NBC and McDaniel did not immediately respond to requests for comment following the show’s airing Sunday.

NBC brass were pleased, however, with how Welker conducted Sunday’s interview, in which she repeatedly challenged and contradicted the former RNC chair, according to a person at NBC close to the conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve confidences.

And despite Todd’s pushback, there appears to be no plans to change course with this hire.

Before Sunday’s show, NBC News had sought to defend McDaniel’s hiring as a way to examine “the diverse perspectives of American voters,” according to an internal memo by Carrie Budoff Brown, who oversees NBC News’s political coverage, that was shared with The Washington Post.

In 2022, CBS staffers objected to the hiring of former Trump administration official Mick Mulvaney as a paid on-air contributor — a decision network executives suggested was needed ahead of a likely GOP midterm takeover of the House — because of his past bashing of the press and support of Trump falsehoods.

Later that year, MSNBC drew criticism for hiring Jen Psaki upon her exit as White House press secretary, with some NBC News reporters complaining that it suggested too strong of a link to the current administration.

The McDaniel hiring has stirred outrage in particular within MSNBC, which has cultivated a liberal audience. Many staffers there were on edge after hearing Budoff Brown’s announcement that McDaniel would appear “across all NBC News platforms” — which was interpreted as a sign that she would become an MSNBC regular.

That may not be the case, though. This weekend, MSNBC President Rashida Jones and other executives called network anchors to reassure them that they maintain editorial independence over their shows and are free to book — or not book — whatever guest pundits they please, according to a person at MSNBC close to these conversations.

On Monday, Scarborough’s co-host Mika Brzezinski announced that their show would take Jones up on that promise.

“It goes without saying that [McDaniel] will not be a guest on Morning Joe in her capacity as a paid contributor.”

McDaniel, who was elected as chair in 2017 after serving as the Michigan GOP chair, confirmed during her interview that Trump had pushed her out of the role. She defended the RNC paying millions of dollars toward Trump’s legal bills as well as her tenure as chair, noting the increased turnout of Republicans in recent votes.

Former Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel said March 24 that rioters charged with “violent acts” on Jan. 6 should not be freed. (Video: “Meet the Press” | NBC News)

McDaniel said she disagreed with Trump’s assertion that the violent Trump supporters who attacked the Capitol should be released from jail. Trump has called the rioters “patriots” and “hostages” and said he would pardon them if he returned to power.

“I do not think people who committed violent acts on January 6th should be freed,” she said, calling it a “dark day in our history.”

But she declined to go as far as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the riots. “I don’t think he wanted the attack on the Capitol,” McDaniel said of Trump. “ … I don’t hold him responsible for that.”

McDaniel said her reversal of past comments about election fraud was due to her newfound independence. “When you’re the RNC chair, you kind of take one for the whole team, right? Now I get to be a little bit more myself,” she said. She said she disagreed with Trump and believed violence should not be “in our political discourse” but agreed “with him on a whole host of other things.”

Welker pressed McDaniel on her contradictions, saying in a question near the end of the interview: “You seem to be changing your tone as it relates to Joe Biden being legitimately elected. Why should viewers, why should people, trust you believe what you’re saying right now?”

McDaniel, who framed her appearance as a way to help bust media “echo chambers,” responded that she has not changed her positions. “I think you should trust me,” she said.

Amy Argetsinger and Jeremy Barr contributed to this report.

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