MSNBC’s On-Air Ronna McDaniel Drama Did Little to Boost Ratings

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

The open revolt that played out on MSNBC’s airwaves over Ronna McDaniel’s NBC hiring may have made compelling television for political media junkies, but it didn’t do much to expand the cable-news channel’s overall audience.

According to Nielsen, the network’s primetime ratings on Monday night were virtually unchanged from the previous three weeks, even as host after host blasted NBC management for hiring the former Republican National Committee chairwoman as an on-air political analyst. Even MSNBC’s biggest star Rachel Maddow, who used the first half-hour of her show to tear apart the hiring and urge NBC executives to reverse their “inexplicable” decision, saw no boost in the ratings that evening.

Following last week’s announcement that McDaniel had joined the network, NBC News chief political analyst Chuck Todd condemned the hiring during a stunning segment of Sunday’s Meet the Press, opening the floodgates for other on-air stars within the NBC family to follow suit.

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The following morning, Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski urged the network to “reconsider” McDaniel, who “used her position of power to be an anti-democracy election denier.” Later that afternoon, Nicolle Wallace devoted much of her broadcast to condemning the hire as a threat to democracy. “NBC News is either wittingly or unwittingly teaching election deniers that what they can do stretches way beyond our air,” she declared.

MSNBC’s entire primetime lineup, meanwhile, continued to use their airwaves to criticize NBC executives. “This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats. This isn’t about red versus blue,” insisted Jen Psaki, a former Obama and Biden aide-turned-MSNBC host, during a rebuke of those comparing her career journey to that of McDaniel’s. “This is about truth versus lies—service to the country versus service to one man committed to toppling our democratic system.”

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The dramatic condemnations culminated in a stern rebuke from Maddow, often viewed as the authoritative voice of MSNBC, who said: “I want to associate myself with all my colleagues both at MSNBC and at NBC News who have voiced loud and principled objections to our company putting on the payroll 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.”

While the end result was McDaniel’s ouster on Tuesday, the extraordinary on-air insurrection didn’t actually do much to juice viewership—save for one program, which saw a substantial boost.

MSNBC drew an average primetime audience of 1.988 million viewers on Monday night, with 199,000 in the key advertising demographic of adults aged 25-54. But over the previous three Mondays, the network averaged similar tallies of 1.985 million total viewers and 199,000 in the key demographic. (The Rachel Maddow Show and Inside with Jen Psaki only air on Monday evenings.)

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While delivering a knockout blow to McDaniel’s short-lived NBC career, Maddow drew 2.522 million viewers overall and 260,000 in the demographic. But over the previous three weeks, her show nabbed a total audience of 2.514 million and 265,000 demo viewers. Morning Joe also stayed relatively stagnant, pulling in a total audience of 1.127 million compared to 1.095 million the past three Mondays.

MSNBC’s audience for the entire day on Monday, meanwhile, was only slightly larger than the rest of the month. The network attracted 1.288 million total viewers for the day and 119,000 in the demo compared to an overall audience of 1.143 million over the three Mondays prior—though the key demo viewership was slightly higher at 121,000.

Much of this would seem to be due to Nicolle Wallace’s 4 p.m. broadcast, which experienced a sizable audience increase on Monday. The former George W. Bush flack opened her broadcast by teasing that she’d address the kerfuffle over McDaniel, and she ultimately drew 1.747 million total viewers and 141,000 in the demo. The previous three Mondays, the show averaged nearly 300,000 fewer total viewers. Her demographic viewership, howeverr, remained unchanged.

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