NBC reversed its decision to hire Rona McDaniel after an on-air backlash

Amid a chorus of on-air protests from some of the network's biggest stars, former Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel will no longer join the network as a paid contributor, NBC announced Tuesday night.

NBCUniversal News Group President Cesar Conde told employees in a memo that he had heard the “legitimate concerns” of several network employees. “No organization, especially a newsroom, can succeed unless it is cohesively aligned,” he wrote. “Over the past few days, it has become clear that this appointment undermines that goal.”

The network announced four days earlier that it was bringing on McDaniel to provide “expert insight and analysis” on politics. “It couldn't be a more important moment to have a voice like Rona's on the team,” an NBC News executive told staffers at the time.

But the company's on-air personalities — particularly those at NBC's liberal-leaning cable affiliate MSNBC — strongly disagreed, saying McDaniel's promotion of former President Donald Trump's media-bashing and false election-fraud claims disqualified him from participating in their news segments.

One by one they went on air to deliver the news to their bosses in front of a live audience on Monday.

“Take a minute and admit that maybe it wasn't the right call,” MSNBC's top-rated star Rachel Maddow said on her show that night. “Admitting when you're wrong is a sign of strength, not weakness.”

NBC broke the news of its course correction to its staff before notifying McDaniel, said a person familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect confidence.

McDaniel was surprised by the backlash to his hiring and NBC's handling of the matter, according to two people familiar with the situation. Plans to hire a lawyer to deal with contractual issues.

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The outrage over his nomination points to the larger struggle television networks face in hiring pundits to offer a pro-Trump perspective against viewers and their own employees.

For example, CBS News staff raised objections when Trump administration official Mick Mulvaney — another purveyor of the former president's untrue claims — was hired as a contributor two years ago. He eventually appeared on the air only occasionally and left the network after about a year.

Yet NBC also hired Mark Short, a former chief of staff to Trump's Vice President Mike Pence, in February without sparking backlash.

NBC employees expressed outrage over the agency's hiring of former Republican National Committee Chairwoman Rona McDaniel after years of being denied the election. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

NBC employees argued publicly and privately that their complaint was not with McDaniel's partisanship, but with his actions.

“To be clear, we believe NBC News should seek out conservative Republican voices to provide balance in their election coverage,” co-anchor Mika Brzezinski said Monday on MSNBC's “Morning Joe.” “But it should be conservative Republicans, not a person who has used his power as an anti-democratic voter.”

“We welcome Republican voices,” prime-time host Joy Reid added later in the day. “The truth is: This was not a disagreement. He actually supported an illegal scheme to steal an election in the state of Michigan.

In his note to staff, Conte apologized to staff “who felt we let them down” and said he took responsibility for the hiring.

He added that the network is committed to ideological diversity, “to that end, we will redouble our efforts to seek out voices that represent different parts of the political spectrum.”

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Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who worked on Marco Rubio's 2016 presidential campaign, told The Post earlier this week that television producers face a challenging pundit-supply problem.

“The networks are really struggling to keep Trump loyalists on the air,” he said. “To be good at it, you have to be a serious person. You can't be a conspirator and succeed in that role. They were trying to find serious people coming out of Trump World, and didn't see much appetite.

During the first Trump presidential campaign and administration, CNN sought to capture the voice of his supporters. But some pro-Trump contributors like Jeffrey Lord have been heavily criticized, while others have been washed up by various controversies and scandals.

McDaniel made his first appearance on Sunday's “Meet the Press,” where host Kristen Welker clarified for her audience.

He then grilled his guest in an interview that critics praised for its aggressiveness and harshness.

After the show, political analyst Chuck Todd raised questions about McDaniel's “credibility,” and told Welker, “I don't know if she gave you any answers because she didn't want to mess up her contract..

The backlash Monday morning was that the co-hosts of “Morning Joe” would not have hired him. Throughout the evening lineup, MSNBC hosts took turns attacking McDaniel and the decision to hire him, which Maddow called “inexplicable.”

The comments by Todd and the “Morning Joe” hosts are notable because NBC employees rarely criticize the network, Tate James, a network video journalist who leads the union unit that represents digital workers, told The Post on Monday. “They're the NBC establishment, and they see that executives are confused about this,” he added.

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The situation was out of control till Tuesday morning. Although McDaniel will remain with the organization, one of its major channels has already signaled that he is not welcome to appear there, MSNBC president Rashida Jones told her hosts that she doesn't have to book him.

One of NBC's major failings in the matter, network employees and rival media executives admit, was not securing buy-in from the network's stars before hiring McDaniel.

If NBC doesn't reverse its decision, the network will face additional criticism on Tuesday nights from prime-time hosts Chris Hayes and Alex Wagner, who are stepping down from Monday nights.

Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.

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