MSNBC Turmoil: High-Profile Anchors Oppose Network’s Hard News Pivot (Exclusive)

“Hard news is a mistake,” insider tells TheWrap of direct conversation with one anchor

MSNBC President Phil Griffin, NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack, Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow (Getty Images)

Joe Scarborough might be over the moon for MSNBC’s new hard news direction, but some of his on-air colleagues aren’t sharing his cup of  “Morning Joe.”

Network insiders told TheWrap at least three of the network’s anchors — two of them higher-profile — are not on board with network chairman Andrew Lack and president Phil Griffin’s daytime overhaul from progressive firebrand to traditional news format.

“Hard news is a mistake,” one insider told TheWrap of direct conversations with one anchor.

Another anchor has said in public that Lack and Griffin have a fundamental misunderstanding of MSNBC’s audience.

“Older people aren’t eager to get their news from people like Ronan Farrow or Chris Hayes,” the anchor told TheWrap’s insider.

The anchor also said that MSNBC’s ratings struggles tied to figures like former host Farrow, 27, and Hayes, 36, aren’t just because of programming that’s too liberal, but instead because the wrong talent is delivering the message.

Simply put, the predominately older cable news viewer doesn’t want to watch baby-faced hosts who haven’t been there and done that in political media. Viewers prefer authoritative, charismatic anchors like Chris Matthews or former MSNBC lightning rod Keith Olbermann.

Neither Farrow or Hayes were hired under Andy Lack; Griffin recruited them before Lack was named NBC News/MSNBC chairman. Since Lack joined the network, he’s removed or demoted several personalities that might fall into the younger, less traditional host category, including Touré, Krystal Ball and Alex Wagner. Griffin canceled Farrow in February before his show even reached its one-year anniversary.

Lack is also responsible for Brian Williams‘ return to TV news at MSNBC following his suspension from NBC News over lying about details in an Iraqi helicopter report.

Another high-profile anchor blamed Griffin for the troubled state of the network during another conversation.”He was sort of trying to go to war with the army he wanted more than the army he had,” one insider told TheWrap. “He wanted this sort of millennial, whatever.”

The outlook aligns with what other insiders have previously told TheWrap about Griffin, who many within the network blame for hiring the wrong talent and putting them in the wrong time slots.

There are several on-air personalities at MSNBC and NBC who support the growing synergy between NBC and MSNBC along with an enhanced focus on news and reporting. In addition to Scarborough, who has praised Lack’s vision, Rachel Maddow came out in support of Brian Williams‘ upcoming return to MSNBC.

“Nobody at this company asked me to make this statement,” she said in June. “Despite everything that has happened and come to light in the last few months… Brian Williams has tremendous experience, and, just, sheer capability of on-air handling of breaking news. I believe in redemption. I believe in second chances.”

Maddow, the network’s biggest star, expressing public support for Williams is an important signal that she favors a more news-driven daytime lineup.  Chuck Todd, who made his name as an anchor for MSNBC and reporter for NBC News before ascending to the coveted “Meet the Press” moderator chair, will also return to the network in September to host a program in the 5 p.m. time slot.

The anchors’ frustration is rooted in the changes to daytime since MSNBC hasn’t signaled that it plans to stray far away from its liberal DNA in primetime. The network has begun running advertisements with its new capital-letters logo and “Lean Forward” slogan for talent such as Chris Matthews.

Regardless of anchor sentiment, Lack and Griffin can tout some recent ratings success from their changes so far.

Over the last few weeks, both daytime and primetime have seen boosts, in part because of the normal increase a presidential race provides cable news. MSNBC is up 9 percent in the primetime 25-54 demo and 11 percent in total viewers in August compared to June and July. During the day, the network is up 12 percent in the demo and 8 percent in viewers in August, compared to June and July.

“The Summer of Donald Trump” hasn’t hurt either, as progressive hosts like Matthews, Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell gleefully cover the Donald spectacle, drawing better ratings along the way.

MSNBC declined to comment to TheWrap for this story.