A former MSNBC producer has written an open letter explaining why she left the notoriously liberal network.
“July 24th was my last day at MSNBC,” reads the letter Ariana Pekary posted to her personal website. “I don’t know what I’m going to do next exactly but I simply couldn’t stay there anymore. My colleagues are very smart people with good intentions. The problem is the job itself. It forces skilled journalists to make bad decisions on a daily basis.”
It’s possible that I’m more sensitive to the editorial process due to my background in public radio, where no decision I ever witnessed was predicated on how a topic or guest would “rate.” The longer I was at MSNBC, the more I saw such choices — it’s practically baked in to the editorial process – and those decisions affect news content every day. Likewise, it’s taboo to discuss how the ratings scheme distorts content, or it’s simply taken for granted, because everyone in the commercial broadcast news industry is doing the exact same thing.
But behind closed doors, industry leaders will admit the damage that’s being done.
She then quoted a “successful and insightful TV veteran” who told her, “We are a cancer and there is no cure. But if you could find a cure, it would change the world.”
“As it is, this cancer stokes national division, even in the middle of a civil rights crisis,” she wrote. “The model blocks diversity of thought and content because the networks have incentive to amplify fringe voices and events, at the expense of others… all because it pumps up the ratings.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was not immune to this, either, and Pekary says it risks human lives. “The primary focus quickly became what Donald Trump was doing (poorly) to address the crisis, rather than the science itself,” she explained. “As new details have become available about antibodies, a vaccine, or how COVID actually spreads, producers still want to focus on the politics. Important facts or studies get buried.”
Pekary notes that MSNBC is repeating the same pattern of focusing its election coverage entirely on Trump, with little attention being given to Joe Biden, and lamented that context and factual data “are often considered too cumbersome” for MSNBC’s audience.
Not shocked about that, not one bit.
Stories are chosen almost exclusively based on how they are expected to rate, and MSNBC journalists even admit their role is not to report the news. According to Pekary, a “very capable” senior producer once said, “Our viewers don’t really consider us the news. They come to us for comfort.”
Pekary says it’s not the people that are the problem, it’s the culture of journalism. “I think the job itself needs to change. There is a better way to do this. I’m not so cynical to think that we are absolutely doomed (though we are on that path). I know we can find a cure.”
Matt Margolis is the author of the new book Airborne: How The Liberal Media Weaponized The Coronavirus Against Donald Trump, and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis