NBC News journalists are troubled by and have expressed dismay to network executives about MSNBC’s intention to hire White House press secretary Jen Psaki when she exits the Biden administration, people familiar with the matter told CNN.
Noah Oppenheim, the NBC News president, even held an impromptu phone call Friday so that he could address the matter with vexed staffers from the Washington bureau, some of whom have complained to their superiors that the tentative hiring tarnishes the NBC News brand.
Oppenheim, attempting to quell the anger, reaffirmed the distinction on the call between NBC News and MSNBC’s opinion programming, some of the people familiar with the matter said.
Oppenheim, who does not oversee MSNBC, told the journalists that NBC News did not have a role in hiring Psaki. And he noted to those on the phone that they work for the NBC News brand and that the hires made for MSNBC’s opinion arm should be viewed as unrelated to their work, the people said.
“Here’s what he was saying: They have perspective programming. This was done on the perspective programming side. Not anything that reflects on NBC News,” one of the people, who was on the call, explained.
“People wanted answers on what NBC’s role was in this and NBC News had no role in this,” the person added. “This is MSNBC’s perspective programming.”
It is not unusual for politicians and government officials to sign deals with news organizations when they exit their positions. But Psaki’s tentative deal with MSNBC perturbed staffers because news of the negotiations between her and the network came while she is still in her post as White House press secretary.
Additionally, instead of hiring Psaki into the more typical post-White House role, such as a political analyst offering opinion and analysis on another person’s program, MSNBC intends to make her a host for a show that will stream on its Peacock platform.
Oppenheim told the journalists on the call he held to ignore the noise surrounding Psaki’s hire and to continue doing their jobs as normal, the people who spoke to CNN said.
Kristen Welker, chief White House correspondent for NBC News, did exactly that later in the day. She repeatedly pressed Psaki about the ethics related to her plans to host an MSNBC show while also continuing to serve as press secretary.
Oppenheim’s call, however, hasn’t fully stamped out the frustration among NBC News journalists, the people who spoke to CNN said.
As was first reported by Puck, Psaki engaged in talks with several television networks, including CNN, about potential jobs she could take after exiting the White House. While she has not officially signed a contract with MSNBC, the talks with the network are in the advanced stages and the two sides essentially have a handshake deal.
Psaki declined to comment on Wednesday. But a White House official previously told CNN that she had recused herself from interviews on NBC News and MSNBC.
A spokesman for NBC News and MSNBC declined to comment.
The drama around Psaki’s hiring has exposed a larger issue at play in the NBC Universal News Group: a rift between NBC News and MSNBC that is once again growing.
In fact, Psaki’s hiring wasn’t the first move that has irked some journalists at NBC News. “This has been a slow boil for a while,” one NBC News staffer said.
Some NBC News journalists were first bothered when MSNBC announced that it had hired Symone Sanders, the former senior spokesperson for Vice President Kamala Harris, to host a show on the weekends, people familiar with the matter said.
And NBC News journalists have watched closely as MSNBC has leaned into shows that prioritize commentary and perspective over those that emphasize hard news reporting since Rashida Jones took over as president of the network a little more than a year ago.
Jones replaced the 9 a.m. show with an additional hour of “Morning Joe” and filled the 11 p.m. hour, formerly occupied by Brian Williams, with Stephanie Ruhle. While Williams did offer his perspectives while at MSNBC, Ruhle is blunter in sharing her opinion.
“Rashida is unapologetic with what she’s doing with MSNBC,” an MSNBC staffer told CNN. “She has been clear about the network’s direction.”
Nevertheless, the moves by Jones have put the NBC News journalists who host shows on MSNBC in a delicate position.
On one hand, journalists such as Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Hallie Jackson, and others report to bosses at NBC News. But on the other hand, they also host shows on MSNBC, which means that — fairly or not — the cable news network’s actions do end up reflecting on them.
“It’s a challenge for all of them to navigate,” an NBC News staffer familiar with the internal dynamics told CNN.