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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Peacock network ruffled feathers by hiring McDaniel

As a journalist in the center who often gets frustrated by the inner workings of a profession that I still adore, I consider it my duty to inform colleagues when they do something that reflects badly on them, the rest of us, and our line of work.

Alas, this particular assignment could be a full-time job. I am often asked why the mainstream media have fallen on hard times. We didn’t fall, I say. We tripped over our own feet.

The recent debacle at NBC News over the hiring and then abrupt firing of former Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel is just the latest example.

Just how hard are these times? Magazines, radio stations and television networks have laid off thousands in the past few decades. According to a report released in November by the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, in 2023, 2.5 local newspapers closed each week. Researchers found that, since 2005, the media industry has lost 2,900 newspapers and 43,000 journalists.

One reason for our troubles is that public trust in the media is plummeting. According to Gallup’s 2023 Honesty and Ethics poll, which surveyed how Americans feel about 23 professions, only 19 percent rate the honesty and ethics of journalists to be “high” or “very high.” That’s down from 23 percent in 2022 and 28 percent in 2019. Journalists are seen in a better light than lawyers, politicians and those who sell cars. But we fall short of the level of trust and respect generated by nurses, police officers and college professors.

Journalists didn’t get here by accident. We’ve made a lot of mistakes. We’ve tried to be leaders, peacemakers and social engineers. We have become combatants and climbed into the arena. We’ve worn our political leanings on our sleeves.

One of the biggest errors is surrounding ourselves with the like-minded and doing our best to silence or stifle opposing views. It’s ironic that a group of people who claim they want readers, listeners and viewers to consider different views and engage in critical thinking is so reluctant to lead by example and show everyone how it’s done.

We should not expect the suits at NBC News — including MSNBC President Rashida Jones or NBCUniversal News Group chair Cesar Conde — to teach workshops on leadership. They don’t seem to grasp that the concept is more about principle than popularity. Both Jones and Conde initially blessed the decision to hire McDaniel as a paid contributor as part of an effort by the network to present its audience with different points of view.

Then — once the feathers began to fly at the Peacock network amid complaints by anchors and other on-air personalities who mistakenly thought they had gone from talent to management — the network brass terminated the deal and ghosted McDaniel.

That could prove to be a costly mistake, given that the Republican appears to be rethinking the wisdom of her party’s long-standing opposition to litigation and tort claims.

According to Politico, McDaniel has met with superstar lawyer Bryan Freedman, who has built a successful practice helping broadcast stars — including Chris Cuomo, Tucker Carlson, Don Lemon and Megyn Kelly — negotiate their exits from network contracts. At the very least, sources told Politico, McDaniel wants her contributor contract paid out, at a cost of $300,000 annually for two years. Politico also reported that she is exploring the idea of suing for defamation and the emotional distress of putting up with a hostile work environment.

So what’s this story really about? It’s about the dangers of groupthink. It’s about poor leadership by well-paid but weak-kneed network bigwigs. And it’s about a successful attempt by liberal media bullies to kick out of their clubhouse someone with a different point of view.

I can also tell you what it’s not about. It’s not really about, as McDaniels’ critics claim, the fact that she helped former President Donald Trump spread the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen, or that she herself misled reporters while heading the RNC. If that were true, who would throw the first stone? The media are full of former political operatives who — in previous gigs — lied to reporters on behalf of some politician, and then got hired by one of the same media companies they misled. ABC News anchor and host George Stephanopoulos — a former senior adviser to Democratic President Bill Clinton — is just one example.

It’s a crazy system. And it’s just another self-inflicted injury by a media that are so busy telling everyone else’s story that they can’t see that their own biography is being written — in crayon.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is crimscribe@icloud.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.

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