CNN, MSNBC Insiders Shudder at Idea of Hiring MAGA Mouthpieces
Staffers at the major news networks not named Fox News have a message for the soon-to-be former Trump White House officials looking for paid on-air gigs: Not so fast.
If soon-to-be former Trump White House officials were hoping to snag paid talking-head roles at the major television networks, they may be in for a rude awakening.
It’s become a political ritual every four years: After each presidential election cycle, cable and broadcast news executives race to woo outgoing administration officials or top figures from the winning and losing campaigns for cushy roles as talking heads.
Not this time. With Trump’s top aides and advisers all taking their sycophancy to perilous new heights, actively participating in the outgoing president’s efforts to undermine the integrity of the vote, their utility as political pundits may have expired.
The Daily Beast spoke with executives and insiders from many of the top cable and broadcast news networks including CNN, MSNBC, CBS News, and ABC News, and most relayed the same message: Unless they retreat to the comforts of Fox News or even far-right outlets like Newsmax or One America News Network, the former Trump officials who have repeatedly lied to or denigrated reporters shouldn’t expect to land a network paycheck.
CNN, in particular, has traditionally been a safe landing spot for former top campaign officials, regardless of party affiliation. Just days after he exited Trump’s 2016 campaign team, former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski landed a commentator gig at CNN, despite his at-times physically aggressive relationship with the press and the fact that he had a non-disparagement agreement preventing him from speaking freely about the president. His colleague, Trump 2016 spokesman Jason Miller, was also hired by CNN, until being canned in 2018 over allegations (which he vehemently denied) that he impregnated a woman and secretly slipped her an abortion pill.
But the post-2020 outlook for former Trump campaign and administration officials will likely not be as friendly.
“Most of us probably are hoping that we will be seeing very little of these people—unless they are willing to be more honest,” a well-placed CNN insider told The Daily Beast. “The ones that are still out there who are well-known creeps like Jason Miller and Boris Epshteyn—nobody is going to be hiring these people.”
People who work with CNN chief Jeff Zucker relayed that he has been personally offended by the frequent and vicious attacks on CNN from Trumpworld figures, who’ve flamed any and all news outlets reporting remotely negative information on the president. Throughout the Trump era, the network became increasingly emboldened in taking the fight back to a hostile administration. Aside from on-air chyrons fact-checking various Trump lies in real-time, some of the network’s top news personalities have been publicly critical of the administration, in some cases abruptly ending interviews mid-broadcast when Trump officials refuse to substantively engage with the questions, and instead launch ad hominem attacks against journalists.
CNN insiders who spoke with The Daily Beast said there would likely be internal discontent if network bosses decided to pay ex-Trump officials who’ve repeatedly denigrated the network and are now working to undermine the 2020 election on behalf of the outgoing president. There seems to be zero interest, these sources said, in trying to poach even the most visible Trump campaign and White House staffers like Hogan Gidley and Tim Murtaugh—who both have extensive comms backgrounds in D.C.—or Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, a career right-wing pundit with previous stints at Fox News and CNN.
But Zucker himself may not be a part of the network's future for long. It’s widely known in media circles that the CNN boss is unhappy with parent company WarnerMedia’s restructuring moves, which reduced his role, and has not yet re-upped his soon-to-expire contract. It’s possible that a CNN without Zucker—who personally meets with and vets many on-air contributors—could be more receptive to some ex-Trump officials, sources cautioned.
Unlike CNN, MSNBC does not have the same extensive history of paying partisan contributors for on-air appearances, though throughout Trump’s term the network cultivated a stable of so-called “Never Trump” Republicans. Multiple network insiders said the liberal-leaning, Comcast-owned cable network is unlikely to welcome any high-profile Trump loyalists, even gratis, to share their insights into the ongoing failures of a Joe Biden presidency.
“If you’re a person who was a career government official who happened to serve the Trump administration—somebody like Mark Esper or Elliott Abrams—we might have them on,” said an MSNBC insider, “but it’s likely that if Kayleigh McEnany has a book she’s selling, she will definitely be blacklisted. The same goes for someone like Hogan Gidley.”
But it’s not as though they aren’t already trying to get back into the professional pundit class. Even as top Trump officials entertain the president’s “voter fraud” delusions, one agent told The Daily Beast, “They’re all emailing saying, ‘Can you come meet up next week?’” Fox News reported on Wednesday that Trump’s communications director Alyssa Farah has been interviewing TV agents, pursuing a job after her White House exit. (Farah declined to respond to The Daily Beast on the record.)
Another MSNBC insider suggested that some shows like Morning Joe would consider booking less aggressive Trump supporters like former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, currently a contributor at ABC News, “because he has had enough access to be in the room for Trump’s debate prep and get COVID, but at least he’s rooted in reality.”
Meanwhile, predictions that MSNBC’s and for that matter CNN’s ratings are likely to decline under the relative normalcy of a Biden administration might be inoperative if Trump—as seems likely—continues to exert political and cultural influence and presides over a kind of resistance shadow presidency after leaving the White House on Jan. 20.
MSNBC, for one, found a solid business model over the past four years in the relentless narrative, especially in primetime, that Trump was a malevolent force whose presidency was apt to end at any moment in impeachment.
It’s possible, said one cable-news executive, that Trump could still drive ratings even when out of office. “It remains to be seen whether that would compel people to watch obsessively every day like they’ve been doing for the last four years,” the exec said.
Some networks also now have the added concern that Trump-loving contributors could use their perch to feed inside information to anti-media activists as part of Trumpworld’s ongoing efforts to discredit any and all of his critics.
“As a news org, how do you allow someone in your news organization who could James O'Keefe you in a second?” one network executive wondered, referring to the founder of Project Veritas, a right-wing group that uses hidden-camera footage to attempt to show bias at media organizations.
Of course, lack of network interest likely won’t stop some of the most high-profile Trump White House and admin figures from ever popping up again on television.
Gidley, McEnany, Murtagh, and others already get top billing when they appear on Fox News, where they could well join former Trump White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who regularly appears on-air and has a network contributor contract. Other former administration officials like Sean Spicer have found gigs at Newsmax, while others like Sebastian Gorka and Steve Bannon—the federally indicted (for alleged fundraising fraud) former White House chief strategist—have expended their talking-head energies in right-wing radio and podcasting.
“Can I see Mark Meadows appearing as an analyst on MSNBC? No, but on Fox News, yeah, for sure,” one network executive remarked, singling out Trump’s pugnacious chief of staff. Another cable-news insider suggested Fox News might look to hire several MAGA officials to boost its suddenly lagging credibility with Trumpkins angry with the network for calling the election for Biden and not fully playing along with the president’s baseless voter-fraud allegations.
And for networks like CNN and MSNBC—self-styled guardians of democratic norms and civil discourse—President-elect Joe Biden’s reconciliatory Saturday evening victory speech may loom large over decisions on whether to extend an olive branch to ex-Trump henchmen and women.
“Let’s give each other a chance. It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric. To lower the temperature. To see each other again,” he implored. “To listen to each other again. To make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy. We are not enemies. We are Americans.”
“Obviously there are 71 million people who voted for the president and there should be someone that represents their views and can talk about the political landscape,” another network executive told The Daily Beast.
And the networks are already seeking workarounds for representing conservative views on their air without hiring toxic ex-Trump officials. One TV industry insider said there has already been interest from various outlets in hiring the Republican Senate candidates who lost this year, as well as other outgoing GOP members of Congress. Like former Sen. Rick Santorum—a CNN contributor who essentially acts as a the network’s pro-Trump punching bag—these outgoing conservative lawmakers would likely be expected to speak about Republican politics as well as the ravings of the soon-to-be former president and his devoted base.
But some cable-newsers are skeptical that even the most repulsive ex-Trump officials will be totally shunned from a career in punditry.
“I won’t be surprised if some of the folks who were most reviled by mainstream media, Democrats, the resistance, etc., find pretty good jobs when this is over—in the media and in Washington—because ultimately politics is transactional,” said one CNN insider. “And the impulse to punish people leaving the Trump administration will be overshadowed by the impulse to profit off the people leaving the Trump administration.”