Ariana Pekary, who worked up until last week as a producer for MSNBC and the network’s primetime show, “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” quit unceremoniously last week with little idea of what she might do next. That might seem an unwise move for anyone with a successful job, be it in the media or anywhere else, during a period of economic strife in America. But as she explained in an open letter on Monday, Pekary felt she had no other choice. When the job you’re in turns into an ugly monster eating away at your values and your very soul, you’ve simply got to walk away.
In the letter, Pekary slammed MSNBC and the rest of the modern mainstream news industry, declaring it little more than a “cancer” that is doing nothing more than “stoking national division.”
“July 24th was my last day at MSNBC. I don’t know what I’m going to do next exactly but I simply couldn’t stay there anymore,” Pekary wrote. “My colleagues are very smart people with good intentions. The problem is the job itself. It forces skilled journalists to make bad decisions on a daily basis.”
Pekary said that few people at MSNBC even see the channel as a news network at all. Instead, they make decisions based solely on which guests and topics will draw in the biggest ratings – a decision-making rubric she said is “practically baked into the editorial process.”
“We are a cancer and there is no cure. But if you could find a cure, it would change the world,” Pekary said, recalling what a colleague once told her. “As it is, this cancer stokes national division, even in the middle of a civil rights crisis. 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,” Pekary continued. “There may be some truth to that (our education system really should improve the critical thinking skills of Americans) – but another hard truth is that it is the job of journalists to teach and inform, which means they might need to figure out a better way to do that. They could contemplate more creative methods for captivating an audience. Just about anything would improve the current process, which can be pretty rudimentary (think basing today’s content on whatever rated well yesterday, or look to see what’s trending online today).”
When we criticize the mainstream media these days, we usually focus on its insufferable bias against conservatives. But Pekary brings up the other side of the media’s problems – that being that they are endlessly obsessed with the bottom line. When your “news” is focused only on what will draw in the most eyeballs, you’re sacrificing content for fleeting popularity. And when every major news organization is chasing the same ad dollars, you get the unending circus we see today.
Good for Pekary for hanging up her top hat.