Et Tu, Cesar?

I grew up as a heavy viewer, literally and figuratively, of NBC News.  We lived in an area where the CBS over-the-air signal on Channel 2 was often snowy and grainy, so we only watched in prime time when there was a sitcom or drama we HAD to watch (God, my mom LOVED Steve McGarrett and Joe Mannix).  So Channel 4 and NBC was our default destination.  Huntley and Brinkley.  John Chancellor.  Tom Brokaw.  The Today Show.  I thought every doorbell needed to be set to G-E-C, the notes of the network’s signature chimes (you historians know well that stands for General Electric Corporation, who gave birth to RCA and NBC).

I still watch quite a bit of NBC News out of habit, mostly via NBC News NOW and their heavy online presence.   I tend not to watch a lot of MSNBC, and when I do at times I’m mostly bored by what is undeniably a heavy-handed skew toward left-leaning opinions.  And, no, it’s not because I am a card-carrying MAGA or a syncophant for the obese fake-tanned golfing champion who thinks he’s literally God’s gift to America.   I just don’t need to hear the same exact admonishment and trolling by every single personality at every possible hour of the day.  And considering the fact that the network is a distant number two to its chief rival, jockeying for that distinction with the utter train wreck that is today’s CNN, I’m apparently not alone with that opinion.

Someone I’m certain knows that better than anyone is a 50-year-old Harvard alumnus who currently holds the title of chairman of NBCUniversal News Group.  You might not know the name Cesar Conde or his qualifications.  Wikipedia will help us fill in that gap:

Cesar Conde is an American media executive currently serving as chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, overseeing NBC NewsMSNBC, and CNBC. Prior to this, Conde was chairman of NBCUniversal International Group and NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises. Before that, he was president of Univision‘s networks division.

I personally know many people who have worked for and with Conde over the years, and to a person they have sung his praises as an open-minded, curious and decisive executive, as adept in local markets and acculturated viewpoints as he is with bigger picture issues.  Aggressive?  Arguably.  Clueless?  Hell, no.  And not someone who seeks the limelight.

But thanks to a decision which ultimately was one he at bare minimum approved, he’s been drawn into the type of controversy usually reserved for the fiction of Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall.  The Bounty apparently can’t hold a candle to the degree of mutiny that has gone down over the past few days within the hallowed halls of 30 Rockefeller Center.  The WASHINGTON POST’s Jeremy Barr explains:

A chorus of MSNBC personnel took to the airwaves Monday to voice a stunning public protest of their own company’s decision to hire former Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel as a paid contributor.

A day after NBC chief political analyst Chuck Todd told “Meet the Press” viewers that McDaniel “has credibility issues that she still has to deal with,” hosts on the network’s cable affiliate — including Rachel Maddow, Nicolle Wallace, Joy Reid, Joe Scarborough, Lawrence O’Donnell and Jen Psaki — echoed the rebuke, citing her support of Donald Trump’s baseless claims of a stolen 2020 presidential election.

“NBC News is, either wittingly or unwittingly, teaching election deniers that what they can do stretches well beyond appearing on our air and interviews to peddle lies about the sanctity and integrity of our elections,” Wallace said on her show Monday afternoon.

“Our democracy is in danger because of the lies that people like Ronna McDaniel have pushed on this country,” Psaki said during MSNBC’s 8 p.m. hour.

Maddow, MSNBC’s top-rated star, devoted the first block of her show to addressing the “inexplicable” hiring. She described McDaniel as “someone who hasn’t just attacked us as journalists, but someone who is part of an ongoing project to get rid of our system of government.”

And in a rare sign of solidarity among competitors, even CNN’s Oliver Darcy weighed in this morning:

Cesar Conde has a decision to make — and it’s not an especially difficult one.  Suffice to say, NBCU News Group is in unprecedented territory. Never has a network’s C-suite ever been so thoroughly flogged by its most high-profile stars in such no holds barred fashion. Saying that Conde simply has a crisis on his hands would be a contender for understatement of the year. It’s a five-alarm fire at NBCU News Group, and one of Conde’s own making.  It does not take a brilliant political mind with prescient foresight to understand that hiring McDaniel would ignite a firestorm of outrage — from both within 30 Rock and outside it. Conde, someone who ostensibly supports American democracy, should have rejected McDaniel’s hiring on the grounds that NBCU News Group could not put someone on its payroll who tried to subvert the 2020 vote.

Darcy then doubled down on reminding his readers what kind of trail-blazing, hard-working journalist he is:

I asked his spokesperson, Stephen Labaton, on Monday whether the NBCU News Group boss had any comment on the situation. Does he have any regret? I didn’t get an on-the-record response.

He doesn’t owe you one, Ollie, and, bluntly, he doesn’t even need to address his staffers.  Because any glance at the numbers that matter most to his superiors clearly show his move was equally as justifiable, if not more, than, say the most recent one that gave the camera-friendly Psaki, who previously was President Biden’s spin doctor aka press secretary, a weekly pulpit and megaphone of her own.

I watched the interview that Kristen Welker conducted with McDaniel on Sunday’s MEET THE PRESS.  She did not offer up exclusively softballs.  McDaniel at times flailed and tap-danced.  She was anything but impressive.  I suspect if she were personally grilled by the team of contributors who ganged up on her during Monday’s programming would expose even more of her inconsistent and inflammatory opinions.

For years Sean Hannity was teamed on FOX News Channel with a liberal co-host named Alan Colmes.  Hannity’s reputation as a pugnacious street fighter was established by his nightly jibes with Colmes.  Eventually, Colmes’ health issues (he passed from cancer in 2017 shortly after leaving the company) gave Hannity sole ownership of the time slot that established him as an even more influential personality, but he would not have built his reputation without his sparring partner.  In hindsight, many liberals consider Holmes as a milquetoast who sold his soul to the devil.  On the contrary.  He occasionally got it more than his share of solid points and likely had more influence on FOX News viewers than almost anyone on a competing channel could ever had had.

And if somehow some of McDaniel’s supporters actually did watch her if she’s given a chance to be a similar whipping person as Colmes was?  More people than the minority of audience that currently nod in unison to every viewpoint of the MSNBCers might actually hear some of what the “other side” is saying.  And they just might realize once and for all how batsh-t crazy some of what she has postured is.  They might even win over a few votes while augmenting their audience.

Bottom line, that’s what Cesar Conde is responsible for.  Not the court of public opinion.  But the bottom line of the Comcast divisions he runs.  

But given the intensity of the situation, it would not surprise me if Conde eventually does concede “defeat” and McDaniel is, at best, condemned to the kind of holding room that usually is reserved for tenured teachers who are deemed toxic for a classroom.  Or they merely cut her a check and she becomes a free agent again.

And if any one of those on-air whiners believes for a second that if that seemingly desired result does come to passthere’s no way she wouldn’t wind up on a more partisan platform like Newsmax or, heaven forbid, X, fresh from this controversy that their bitching and moaning has ignited, then they’re honestly in a more delusional state than McDaniel ever was.

Any thoughts that McDaniel’s presence would drive away actual NBC News viewers are as misguided as those that were in vogue among the FOX News executives who feared that the muting of election denialism was directly responsible for the spike in Newsmax audience in late 2020.  I’ve been adamant about the potential to do a very simple audience migration study to answer that question empirically and yet, still no one in a place to do it has ever done so.   I would challenge the NBCU research team to look at this week’s numbers and compare them to last week’s, and analyze if any losses do occur from prior weeks where did they go?  To more right wing networks?  To splintered, mostly non-impactful competitors?  To “off”?  And then follow it up with qualitative research to try and get a handle on why.

Cesar Conde is in a position to demand that data and, at least at this writing, in a position to justify the decision he reached with its utility.  I am hoping against hope he might.  And then if it turns out that his talent is fully justified in their concerns, he indeed should bow to the data and reverse course.

But he should not do so because Lawrence O’ Donnell has morphed into Fletcher Christian.

Until next time…

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