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NBC hires, then immediately fires, former Republican Party chair as commentator

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW")

RACHEL MADDOW: I find the decision to put her on the payroll inexplicable, and I hope they will reverse their decision.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Rachel Maddow on MSNBC on her show earlier this week on NBC's decision to hire Ronna McDaniel as a political commentator. And in very short order, network executives reversed their decision and let go of the former Republican national chair. We're joined now by Jonah Goldberg. He's a conservative columnist and editor-in-chief of "The Dispatch." Jonah, thanks so much for being with us.

JONAH GOLDBERG: It's great to be here.

SIMON: How do you read this episode? What are you seeing here?

GOLDBERG: I see it as a massive collective action problem and collective failure on pretty much every front. I think the whole thing was handled terribly from beginning to end, and I find the whole thing fairly embarrassing for everybody involved, including me, as being part of this general industry.

SIMON: Explain that a little bit, please. (Laughter). I'm looking for a shred of light.

GOLDBERG: So I don't think she should have been hired. I also don't think she should have been fired. If everyone is telling the truth, if all of these hosts of MSNBC and NBC, from Chuck Todd to Rachel Maddow to Nicolle Wallace to Joe Scarborough - if they're all telling the truth, and I have no reason to think that they're not, then these executives who hired Ronna McDaniel did not run the traps with their own highest-paid, highest-profile talent to say, what do you think about bringing her on board, that's just malpractice.

Regardless, look, I want to live in a country where the events of January 6 disqualify people from public life who were involved in them. At the same time, there are an enormous number of people who want to say that this episode only has to do with Ronna McDaniel's specific behaviors relating to January 6 and the fake electors in Michigan. And I'm sorry, but there are big chunks of sort of the mainstream media or liberal media, whatever you want to call it, that have lost their credibility to make that argument.

When Mick Mulvaney was hired by CBS, people lost their minds. Mick Mulvaney quit the administration over January 6. You can just go down a very long list of examples of people being shunned. And so I think there's a huge intolerance problem that makes the specific arguments about Ronna McDaniel less than wholly credible.

SIMON: To paraphrase, I think, what a lot of people said, I think the argument many people made against Ronna McDaniel was that she had essentially not recognized the legitimacy of the 2020 election, and therefore, that was a little bit like hiring somebody as a science commentator who said that man never landed on the moon.

GOLDBERG: Oh, I'm totally sympathetic to that. But the thing is, once you hired her, I think it just looks very bad for NBC. It's very good for the Trump crowd that this happened. And it would have been better to keep her on payroll and have her come on every now and then and get yelled at by other "MSNBC" hosts than lend credence to this idea that anybody from Trump world, anybody sympathetic to Trump, any Republican, is unwelcome in the mainstream media.

SIMON: I confess I'm thinking out loud now, but was Ronna McDaniel hired to be a punching bag?

GOLDBERG: Look, I've been a columnist for the "LA Times" for 17 years. I've been invited to be on panels and events where I'm the only token conservative. You know, I am the Washington Generals up against the Harlem Globetrotters, and I'm supposed to lose entertainingly. That has been the nature of being a conservative for a very long time in American life. And I wouldn't pick Ronna McDaniel to play that role 'cause I don't think she's particularly, like, well versed in the arguments of conservatism, and she's too beholden to the sort of partisan politics stuff. But if that's the only role that she ended up playing at NBC, I think that would have been better than the debacle that we saw.

SIMON: Let me ask you this, finally. Do you have any concern that people who, let's say, voted for Donald Trump but wouldn't necessarily refer to themselves as devoted to Donald Trump, will cease to get information from mainstream media, which will make it more difficult for a democracy to operate because we all come at it with different ideas?

GOLDBERG: I think that's a huge problem. I don't think you have to focus just entirely on Trump voters. I think that's a problem with a lot of Democrats and a lot of Republicans. The era of broadcasting has kind of ended. Most outlets narrowcast. They have a select audience, and they're very sensitive to the blowback they get from their most passionate consumers. And that's a big problem, the siloization of politics.

I tell people all the time, first of all, read 'cause reading is better than watching TV. TV's an entertainment medium. But read from a diverse range of sources because I guarantee you if all you're doing is getting your news from MSNBC or from Fox, you're missing part of the story, particularly if you're just watching the primetime stuff. And having a diverse diet, not only does it expose you to more information, but it also exposes you to this almost subversive realization in today's political climate that the people who disagree with you might have sincere and good reasons for disagreeing with you, and not because they are cartoon villains.

This demonization of the people we disagree with is not a left-wing problem and is not a right-wing problem. It's an American problem.

SIMON: Jonah Goldberg, editor-in-chief of "The Dispatch." Thanks so much for being with us.

GOLDBERG: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.