Ariana Pekary, who served as a producer for MSNBC’s #2 program, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, wrote on her website that while she’s not sure what she’ll do next, she could no longer stay at the network. Although she believes that some of her colleagues have good intentions, the job “forces skilled journalists to make bad decisions on a daily basis.”
She said that it is taboo to discuss how the ratings influence content and that the problem is not unique to MSNBC. In facts, she says that the commercial broadcast news industry as a whole all operates the same way. Talking about coverage by the network of recent racial unrest and the coronavirus outbreak, she said 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.”
She said that while network producers occasionally select stories without considering how they well rate, that’s the exception rather than the rule. The industry, she claims, is structured on the desire to charge higher fees for commercials and the ratings bonuses given to top executives stop the network from going after stories that she feels audiences need to know about.
Pekary was with MSNBC for seven years. She originally joined the cable news network for the launch of a weekly program featuring actor Alec Baldwin, which lasted for only five weeks. Before that, she worked for NPR.
In a follow-up post on her website, Pekary said that she was overwhelmed by the responses she received and welcomed the moral support. She indicated that lots of people shared her concerns, writing: “You all are hungrier to address this problem than I thought.”
Similar stories at other newsrooms across America
Her resignation calls to mind another recent resignation, this one involving former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss, who wrote a scathing resignation letter to the Times‘ publisher on her website claiming that her centrist views led to a “hostile work environment.” She said she was the subject of “constant bullying” from colleagues who considered her views “wrongthink.” Weiss also alleged that her editors were hesitant to publish pieces that might spur a social media backlash.
In fact, Weiss said in the letter that Twitter is becoming the liberal newspaper’s “ultimate editor.” Speaking on Real Time with Bill Maher, she expanded on that opinion, saying that “in order to do our job well, writers and editors, we need to have a level of bravery and thick skin and fearlessness. And when you’re living in fear of an online mob, you know, all it takes is a dozen people to repeat a lie about you — that you’re a racist, that you’re a transphobe, that you’re a bigot — for that lie to become true and that’s extremely dangerous.”
She also discussed how Times editorial page editor James Bennet resigned after running a controversial op-ed by U.S. Senator Tom Cotton. She said that regardless of how people feel about the senator, she fears that we are headed for a world where the views of half of our country cannot be shared in “the paper of record.”
In a similar move, British conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan left New York Magazine recently on the grounds that the publication and parent organization Vox Media do not welcome diversity of opinion.
Unfortunately, mainstream media bias is nothing new, and the truth is that outlets like MSNBC and The New York Times actually need more people like Pekary and Weiss in their ranks as they try to hold on to what little credibility they have left. Is it any surprise that people are increasingly turning to independent news these days when the mainstream offerings are doing such a poor job?
Sources for this article include: