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The McDaniel Affair: Cultural Revolution at NBC News

The incoherent hiring and firing of the former GOP chairwoman lays bare a delusional media environment.

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For all the talk of a “cold civil war” now under way in America, Red vs. Blue, it is the wrong historical example. The professional death of Ronna McDaniel at NBC earlier this month was an event right out of Mao’s time, not Robert E. Lee’s.

McDaniel was fired by the masses at NBC because she wrongthought, because she held political views associated with the right and not the leftist road NBC and its running-dog networks follow. The decision comes less than a week after NBC News announced her hiring, prompting an extraordinary public protest from the former host of its flagship Sunday morning show, as well as from popular MSNBC hosts. They only fired her, but a public flogging would not have been out of the question if Chuck Todd thought he might get away with it—and he might have.


Fans of the new Netflix series “The Three-Body Problem” saw it in action: the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Beginning in May 1966, this was a decade-long period of political and social chaos caused by Mao Zedong’s bid to use the Chinese masses to reassert his control over the Communist party. It was almost unfathomable in its brutality, killing as many as two million people for wrongthinking, for thoughts that failed the ideological purity test. “Wrongthink” is an Orwellian word that preceded the Revolution by decades but described its core spot-on. The word is equally useful today.

“The Three-Body Problem” opens with a fictionalization of just one death, a university professor who refused to change his beliefs about physics to match Mao Thought, as contained in his so-called Little Red Book. For its complexity, the Cultural Revolution boiled down to one thing: believe what the power says is right or suffer, to the pain of death, at the hands of the powerful. Mean Girls it was not.

McDaniel, who is the niece of the Republican Senator Mitt Romney, was first hired to lead the Republican National Committee (RNC) by Trump in 2017 after she had served as chair of the Michigan Republican Party. After her recent Trump-led ouster at the RNC, she was hired by NBC presumably to bring a dot of balance to NBC’s news coverage. She was stricken from the network after only four days on the job because, as head of the RNC, she in the past voiced support for claims by Trump about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. The gist of the burn was that this support was a lie, McDaniel was a liar, and as an NBC analyst she could not be trusted to not lie more.

“Hold my beer,” said dozens of people who came from the Democratic National Committee and the Biden White House to work as NBC analysts, chief among them Jen Psaki, who, as the official spokesperson for the Biden White House, lied professionally to defend Joe Biden. (Here’s a compendium of her lies.) She jumped from liar-for-hire to hosting a show and contributing constantly on MSNBC, including on “Meet the Press.” 

NBC frequently calls on the former spooks John Brennan, James Clapper, and the erstwhile senior FBI official and associate director Frank Figliuzzi. These are trained liars of the Deep State, men who helped promote Russiagate and sought the overthrow of Trump on fake accusations. Previously, neocons were given hours of airtime on NBC to defend the invasion of Iraq under false pretenses and to defend torture as a righteous response of a democracy to terrorism. How are they different from McDaniel? Rightthink versus wrongthink. If you are going to tell a lie it had better be in line with what the masses want to believe at NBC.


Truth? In a cultural revolution such as we are undergoing now, the truth is what the Party tells the masses it is. Remember how vehement Rachael Maddow was about the truth of Russiagate even after it was shown to be an elaborate hoax of the Deep State? No matter; there was no one like Ronna McDaniel around to tell her she was wrong and we now know there never will be.

Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski—hosts of Morning Joe, a morning show watched daily by President Biden—said they were being inundated with calls over the decision to hire McDaniel. They vowed never to have her on their show in any capacity. Nicolle Wallace, a former White House communications director for President George W. Bush turned MSNBC host, said on her show Monday that having McDaniel on the network would embolden “election deniers.” Maddow, continuing the group therapy session, likened it all to hiring “a mobster to work at a DA’s office.” Todd, who emerged alongside Maddow as the spokesperson for the masses in the NBC news division, worried especially about “giving Ronna NBC News’ credibility.”

Credibility? Only 32 percent percent of the population reports having “a great deal” or even “a fair amount” of confidence that the media report the news in a full, fair, and accurate way. The only other time in recent history that trust has fallen to 32 percent was in 2016, with the election. A record-high number of Americans—39 percent—say they don’t trust the media at all. That number has steadily increased since 2018.

Much of the change is driven by Democrats and independents, presumably NBC's target audience, whose collective trust in media plummeted 18 and 13 percentage points, respectively, from their 2018 peaks. What could you expect when the people who create the news are such blatant hypocrites? NBC News should not worry too much; its reputation for honesty ranks somewhere near that of “American Idol.” The latest partisan jousting is just one of the many reasons why so many Americans roll their eyes when asked about the media.

This is in no way to grant Ronna McDaniel status as some magnificent journalist, someone who can be seen as speaking for a generation of Republicans. Nor is it to say she would have spoken much truth to power not at NBC anyway; chances are she would have barked out what those who fed her wanted to hear, perhaps as a Washington Generals–like foil to a Globetrotter like Todd. And what happened at NBC could have just as easily taken place at CBS, CNN or NPR. As my colleague writes, “Greater injustices have been perpetrated in the media world than the premature conclusion to Ronna McDaniel’s punditry career at NBC News.”

The news is not there to make anyone feel safe. It exists so we can learn from it, and for us to learn from it we have to at times be offended and uncomfortable with it, to bathe in it, to taste it bitter or sweet. When you wash your hands of an idea, you also lose all the ideas that grew to challenge it. Think antibodies fighting a disease. What happens when a body forgets how to fight an illness? What happens when places like NBC forget how to challenge a safe idea with an opposing one?