MSNBC producer pens scathing exit letter: Ratings model ‘blocks diversity of thought and content’

Producer Ariana Pekary recently resigned from MSNBC with an open letter accusing the news network of predicating its editorial process on ratings and alleging that its model “blocks diversity of thought and content because the networks have incentive to amplify fringe voices and events.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do next exactly but I simply couldn’t stay there anymore,” Ariana Pekary, a producer for MSNBC’s second-most-watched program, “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” wrote on her website. “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 into the editorial process — and those decisions affect news content every day,” she continued. “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 continued.

Pekary, who worked on O’Donnell’s show until July 24, added that she believes the news media is making the same mistake it did in 2016 by focusing almost exclusively on President Trump in 2020 and not so much on presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

“This cancer risks our democracy, even in the middle of a presidential election,” she writes. “Any discussion about the election usually focuses on Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, a repeat offense from 2016 (Trump smothers out all other coverage). Also important is to ensure citizens can vote by mail this year, but I’ve watched that topic get ignored or ‘killed’ numerous times.”

“The model blocks diversity of thought and content because the networks have incentive to amplify fringe voices and events, at the expense of others,” Pekary also wrote. “All because it pumps up the ratings.”

Pekary joined MSNBC seven years ago as part of the launch of actor Alec Baldwin’s weekly program, which lasted just five weeks.

The resignation echoes that of former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss, who last month penned a scathing resignation letter to Times published A.G. Sulzberger on her website claiming a “hostile work environment” by fellow staffers because of her centrist views.

Weiss also alleged that editors were reluctant to go “against the grain” with pieces that could spur a backlash on social media.

“Showing up for work as a centrist at an American newspaper should not require bravery,” she wrote in the letter, which quickly went viral.

MSNBC is having its best year from a ratings perspective in its 24-year history and is currently the second-most-watched channel on cable behind Fox News.

Tags Ariana Pekary Bari Weiss Donald Trump Joe Biden Lawrence O'Donnell MSNBC The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell The New York Times

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