Progressives expecting a comforting anti-Trump presence Saturday morning on MSNBC were spewing their corn flakes after finding instead conservative Hugh Hewitt in his debut as host of a weekly show on the liberal network.
Mr. Hewitt, an author, radio host and former Reagan White House official, had an impressive “get” — CIA Director Mike Pompeo in his first network interview since taking the job. But the MSNBC faithful were still furious, accusing their favorite network of betraying them by hiring a “hyperpartisan” host and providing a weekly “propaganda vehicle” for President Trump.
“Dear MSNBC: When we said ‘Who’s MSNBC going to give a show to next — Hugh Hewitt?’ we were kidding,” tweeted Lauren Baratz Logsted. “No one wants this. No one.”
Liberal Media Matters for America denounced Mr. Hewitt as “Sean Hannity in glasses” and ticked off his transgressions, including voting for President Trump and urging other conservatives to do the same despite criticizing the real-estate mogul during the campaign.
For progressives, the hire came as more evidence of what they have described as MSNBC’s alarming shift to the right. The move came on the heels of two high-profile pickups of Fox News personalities by the NBC family of networks.
In January, MSNBC brought on ex-Fox host Greta Van Susteren for a nighttime news and analysis show, “For the Record,” while NBC News nabbed former Fox star Megyn Kelly.
Last month, MSNBC unveiled “Deadline: White House” hosted by Nicolle Wallace, a GOP campaign veteran and former White House communications chief for President George W. Bush.
“MSNBC! Hugh Hewitt! Are you kidding me?” said Mary Shelley on Facebook. “Megyn Kelly, Greta Van [Susteren], too. Basically Fox News Lite. Disappointing to say the least.”
The predictable outrage may explain why MSNBC sprung Mr. Hewitt’s arrival on its viewers at the last minute and with little fanfare. Word of the show didn’t dribble out until Thursday, two days before the premiere.
Blame for the recent hires has fallen on NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, who has been accused of being a “Trump lover” and “Trump puppet.” Progressives have called for a Hewitt boycott and started a #FireAndyLack Twitter campaign.
“Andy Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, has been on a very personal crusade to turn both networks into Fox News,” said David Badash in an article on the New Civil Rights Movement blog shortly after Mr. Hewitt’s hiring was announced.
Mr. Badash pointed out that MSNBC’s ratings have risen since the election of President Trump. For the first time, MSNBC led the big three cable news networks in total viewers in Nielsen ratings, beating Fox and CNN for the week of May 15.
Credit for the jump has gone to MSNBC’s liberal stalwarts. Ranking first in their time slots were shows hosted by Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell, as reported by Variety.
Mr. Lack may be trying to achieve greater political balance in the face of the 2016 Republican sweep — MSNBC did not immediately return a request for comment — but viewers say there’s no reason to fix the network if it isn’t broken.
Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” received an earful on social media after welcoming Mr. Hewitt aboard in a tweet Saturday, as did MSNBC anchor Craig Melvin.
“No way! Love you but @hughhewitt is too Conservative for MSNBC viewership,” Sharon Edwards tweeted in a reply to Mr. Melvin. “Boycotting his show along with @greta @megynkelly — no Fox, Jr.!!!”
This isn’t the first time progressives have challenged their flagship network. A graphic making the rounds on social media called “The FOXification of MSNBC” makes the case that MSNBC’s rightward creep started long before Mr. Hewitt’s arrival.
The chart says that 12 hosts who were either liberal or “diverse” have been removed, demoted or have left on their own, while the network has added “conservatives.”
Then again, one of those alleged right-wingers is identified as MSNBC nightly news host Brian Williams, who wouldn’t be described as a conservative by conservatives themselves or by anyone outside the most left-wing of circles.
Mr. Hewitt, a frequent guest on MSNBC as well as Fox and CNN before gaining his own show, also received plenty of comments from fans praising his debut. At least one mocked MSNBC viewers over their outrage at Mr. Hewitt for invading their “safe space.”
Whether Mr. Hewitt can draw conservatives to MSNBC is another question. One of his Facebook followers, Angela Hammac Broderick, said that she wanted to watch his show, but couldn’t. “I refuse to view anything on MSNBC,” she said.