A former producer with MSNBC has revealed that the network deliberately chose to decline an interview with Andrew Yang ahead of the Democratic presidential debates.
The first debates, which took place from June 26 – 27, 2019 in Miami, triggered the earliest speculations of a “#YangMediaBlackout” after the candidate’s mic temporarily failed to function.
“There were also a few times, FYI, where I just started talking, being like, ‘Hey, I’d like to add something there,’ and my mic was not on. It’s not like if you start talking it all of a sudden takes over the convo. It’s like I was talking and nothing was happening,” Yang told his supporters, the #YangGang.
MSNBC, along with NBC News and Telemundo, sponsored those debates.
At the fifth debate on Nov. 20, 2019, Yang, of all 10 candidates present, had the least amount of speaking time after moderators practically ignored him for more than 30 minutes. That’s 6.9 minutes, barely over half of Elizabeth Warren’s 13.4.
That debate, which was held in Atlanta, was again sponsored by MSNBC, along with The Washington Post. By this time, the “silencing” had become more apparent.
“So much for the promise of equal time for all candidates, @AndrewYang got half the time as the usual media favorites. Typical,” fellow Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard wrote on Twitter.
This week, Ariana Pekary, who quit her job as a producer at MSNBC, admitted that the network never wanted Yang for an interview. Specific reasons for this policy remain unclear.
“Actually, I just reviewed my journal. On 4/25/19, I was told that we were never to pursue Andrew for an interview on our show (along with several others). The list of candidates was dictated, but the reasons for allowing them or not were not explained,” Pekary wrote on Twitter.
The former employee was responding to universal basic income (UBI) advocate Scott Santens, who created a “Visual History of the #YangMediaBlackout.” Santens pointed out MSNBC’s problematic coverage of Yang after the former presidential candidate announced an interview with Pekary.
While Pekary does not cite reasons why MSNBC chose to decline Yang, she exposes the network — and the mainstream cable media, by extension — for their obsession with ratings. She says they drive editorial decisions.
“I knew that ratings played a part in our daily lives, [but] I didn’t understand the extent of it,” Pekary tells Yang. “I thought [that] coming in [to MSNBC], I could bring my skills that I had in public radio — and part of that is really trying to find new, interesting and compelling stories, angles and voices — and they would want it. They would welcome that, because in my mind, one of my big criticisms of cable news was the repetition. … I thought that that was an opportunity for me to come in and make things better.”
Pekary says she struggled pitching her ideas for years, until she achieved a degree of seniority that required her to participate in planning meetings.
“At that point I realized that the ratings really drove all of the decisions,” she recalls. “It’s the first thing out of their mouths as soon as you throw out an idea. They don’t necessarily talk that way in the wider editorial meetings with the full staff. It really was in the smaller planning meetings.”
Pekary shares that she had private conversations with other employees who had similar concerns, believing that they were “making things worse.” Some, she says, thought that their work ultimately benefited Trump, one person who has kept ratings in their favor.
Pekary adds that some decisions are made based on ideology, but they also drive the division and polarization in the country.
“They might be pumping up ideas that are exciting to some people, but they don’t get excited about someone with a more nuanced or moderate take on things. That just kind of keeps driving everybody apart.”
“When you stand back and look at the totality of all the different ways that the financial incentives affect the content, it’s just driving us down the wrong path. And it’s only getting worse, the way that I see it,” she tells Yang.
Pekary’s revelation quickly sparked reactions on social media.
“This woman is a hero,” one YouTube user declared. “It’s crazy that there’s just one activist that’s trying to tackle something so important. Let’s help her!”
Another commented, “She’s the one that just revealed the Yang media blackout was REAL. Hopefully she goes into more detail about it!”
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