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Nexstar’s NewsNation accused by former staffers of right-wing tilt

The news set for WGN America's prime-time news program "News Nation."
The news set for WGN America’s prime-time news program “News Nation.” (Photo: Handout, Graphic: The Desk)

Current and former employees of the Nexstar Media Group have accused the company’s flagship cable news product NewsNation of catering to conservative viewpoints.

The accusations were detailed in a lengthy profile on the media brand by the New York Times on Sunday that painted an environment of conflict between executives who are trying to establish a neutral cable news brand and front-line journalists who believe the result of their efforts is anything but.

Launched last year, NewsNation was billed as an attempt to bring a straightforward, no-nonsense prime-time national news block at a time when political opinion and debates dominated cable news. Armed with a team of national reporters and backed by over 100 local newsrooms spread out across the country, Nexstar promised quality broadcast journalism free from opinion or bias, setting aside three hours on its only cable news channel WGN America for NewsNation.

Despite strong-arming traditional pay TV companies and forging new agreements with streaming services, Nexstar has yet to see a return on that investment — even after it reduced NewsNation’s news hours from three to two and launched two new current affairs programs in their place.

Low ratings are only part of NewsNation’s problem: The brand is also suffering from internal dissent from new and long-time Nexstar employees who believe NewsNation isn’t living up to its promise to deliver straightforward news.

That dissent started after NewsNation acknowledged hiring William “Bill” Shine, a former White House official under former President Donald Trump who was tapped to provide consulting services to the news product. The news came in early February one day after NewsNation’s news director, Sandy Pudar, resigned.

Nexstar staffers also felt NewsNation did not go far enough in challenging Trump during a one-on-one interview last September that was largely regarded as a softball Q&A and an embarrassment to television journalism.

The interview came at a time when Trump was running for re-election, and several Nexstar employees said they felt the interview didn’t go far enough to challenge numerous false claims that the former president made during his campaign.

Trump lost the race, and he and his supporters have been crying about “election fraud” that has been proven to be a wholesale product of his imagination. To no one’s surprise, these false claims were widely discussed and debated on conservative-leaning news channels, including the Fox Business Network, One America News Network and Newsmax.

But they were also discussed as recently as last week — on NewsNation.

Last week, a lawyer who is known to promote Trump’s election conspiracy theory appeared on “The Donlon Report” where she once again repeated the falsehood.

“President Trump is absolutely correct that the election results are in doubt,” the lawyer, Jenna Ellis, said on the program, which is pre-recorded and had aired just one episode prior to that evening’s show. The program bears the name of Joe Donlon, the broadcast journalist who just a few months earlier had been accused of the cringe worthy interview with Trump.

For its part, NewsNation’s top executives refute any claims of bias, sticking to its talking point that the cable news block offers middle-of-the-road news and debate.

Behind the scenes, executives are scrambling to figure out how to draw more viewers into NewsNation: When it launched last year, around 133,000 households tuned in, according to data released by Nielsen. Last week, when Nexstar relaunched WGN America under the NewsNation brand, the news block brought in just 37,000 viewers.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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