How MSNBC’s Leftward Tilt Delivers Ratings, and Complications

MSNBC placed a big bet on becoming comfort TV for liberals. Then it doubled down.

Time slots on the cable network once devoted to news programming are now occupied by Trump-bashing opinion hosts. The channel has become a landing spot for high-profile alumni of President Biden’s administration like Jen Psaki, who went from hosting White House press briefings to hosting her own show. On Super Tuesday, when producers aired a portion of a live speech by former President Donald J. Trump, Rachel Maddow chastised her bosses on the air.

The moves have been a hit with viewers. MSNBC has leapfrogged past its erstwhile rival CNN in the ratings and has seen viewership rise over the past year, securing second place in cable news behind the perennial leader, Fox News.

But MSNBC’s success has had unintended consequences for its parent company, NBC, an original Big Three broadcaster that still strives to appeal to a mass American audience.

NBC’s traditional political journalists have cycled between rancor and resignation that the cable network’s partisanship — a regular target of Mr. Trump — will color perceptions of their straight news reporting. Local NBC stations between the coasts have demanded, again and again, that executives in New York do more to preserve NBC’s nonpartisan brand, lest MSNBC’s blue-state bent alienate their red-state viewers.

Even Comcast, NBC’s corporate owner, which is loath to intervene in news coverage, took the rare step of conveying its concern to MSNBC’s leaders when some hosts and guests criticized Israel as the Hamas attack was unfolding on Oct. 7, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions. An abrupt course correction to that coverage followed.

This account of the tensions roiling NBC and its corporate overseers is based on interviews with more than two dozen people with knowledge of the company’s inner workings, almost all of whom insisted on anonymity to share details of internal discussions.

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