Ariana Pekary, an MSNBC producer for “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell”, resigned from the network on July 24th and published a letter to her own website in which she explained her decision to leave and the diseased culture in which she had worked.
Her personal letter, vulnerable and insightful, begins with a quote from James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
“My colleagues are very smart people with good intentions,” Pekary writes. “The problem is the job itself. It forces skilled journalists to make bad decisions on a daily basis.”
She reflects on times when she saw choices made not for the education of the audience, nor for the quality of the news, but for the purpose of ratings.
Any news about President Trump is given priority, the election coverage focuses on Trump more than on Biden, and reports on mail-in voting is ignored. Coverage of COVID focuses around the politics, rather than the science, of it. “Important facts or studies get buried,” she states.
“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.”
“Context and factual data are often considered too cumbersome for the audience.” She recounts one senior producer telling her, “Our viewers don’t really consider us the news. They come to us for comfort.”
Pekary disagrees: “…it is the job of journalists to teach and inform…”
“You may not watch MSNBC but just know that this problem still affects you, too,” she warns. “All the commercial networks function the same…”
Pekary writes knowing full well the power that networks hold and the deep patterns in which they are entrenched. Her goal is not to single-handedly change the culture of America’s news network overnight. The goal of her letter is to face the problem head-on, no matter the ultimate outcome.
“We are a cancer and there is no cure,” she recounts being told by a veteran in the industry. “But if you could find a cure, it would change the world.”
“…this cancer,” she writes, “stokes national division, even in the middle of a civil rights crisis.”
Lest the political right lead this letter to think they’ve been given a free pass, Pekary wrote a follow-up letter on Tuesday to expose Fox News for the same rates-driven practices she witnessed at MSNBC. They had written a piece about her letter on Monday which she found to be slanted and divisive.
“The headline skewed the intention of my piece and they removed almost all of the context in which I explain the systemic nature of the problem.”
In this follow-up letter, she clarified that her goal is not ideological in nature, but rather seeks to change the structure in which America’s news networks function. “My goal is to work to create a fair arena for discussion, debate, and reliable information.”
Far from abandoning the diseased culture entirely, Pekary’s language indicates she is making plans to challenge the status quo, to find the cure. “I hope to have a plan very soon,” she writes in Tuesday’s letter, “and I will let you know when that happens.”