MSNBC has quietly taken three of its Muslim broadcasters out of the anchor’s chair since Hamas’s attack on Israel last Saturday amid America’s wave of sympathy for Israeli terror victims.
The network did not air a scheduled Thursday night episode of The Mehdi Hasan Show on the streaming platform Peacock. MSNBC also reversed a plan for Ayman Mohyeldin to fill in this week on the network for host Joy Reid’s 7 p.m. show on Thursday and Friday. Mohyeldin, an Egyptian-American journalist and veteran NBC News correspondent covered the conflict from Gaza for two years. In 2021, he aggressively questioned Israeli leaders on strikes on the territory. Two network sources with knowledge of the plans told Semafor that the network also plans to have Alicia Menendez fill in this upcoming weekend for Ali Velshi, a third Muslim-American host who on Sunday interviewed a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority.
Some staff at MSNBC have been concerned by the moves, feeling all three hosts have some of the deepest knowledge of the conflict. NBC says the shifts are coincidental, and the three continue to appear on air to report and provide analysis.
A company official vehemently pushed back against any notion that either Hasan or Mohyeldin were being sidelined in any way. Over the past several days, Mohyeldin has appeared on several programs on MSNBC as a guest including shows hosted by Reid and Chris Hayes. While he did not host Reid’s show, a network official said that the cable channel opted to stick with its more recognizable weekday hosts rather than hand over the reins to weekend anchors. Hasan’s Peacock show is taped, and the network official said his show was shelved in favor of keeping coverage on the NBC streaming service more up-to-date.
“We have and will continue to cover the barbaric terrorist attacks on defenseless civilians in Israel last weekend and the tragic war it has provoked thoroughly and in all their dimensions,” NBCUniversal Executive Vice President of Communications Stephen Labaton said in a statement.
The moves come as MSNBC — like the Democratic Party with which it’s often aligned — has swung into intense solidarity with the Jewish state after the murderous Hamas attacks. That shift has come with heated internal and external objections to anything that breaks with that solidarity, and has come with social media criticism of Hasan, Mohyeldin, and Velshi. Hasan has also been vocal on X, formerly known as Twitter, condemning the Hamas attack and calling attention to the plight of civilians in Gaza.
Middle East divisions have also spilled into the company’s internal politics. On Wednesday, an NBCU engineer organized a network-wide support event for staff who felt grief over the conflict. But a Slack channel dedicated to the event devolved into fighting after the engineer rebuked a producer for Velshi’s show who asked why there were no Palestinians speaking at the event.
“I’m creating an event for those interested in hearing updates about the situation in Israel and a place to share family/friend stories from on the ground,” the NBC event organizer said, noting that there would be a rabbi in attendance.
“There’s no Palestinian representation at this?” Velshi’s producer asked.
“This is not about Palestinians and Jews/Israelis,” the organizer said, tagging NBC’s HR director. “This is about terrorists and Jews/Israelis. Anyone entering this group needs to denounce terror and what happened on Saturday. Claims of ‘freedom fighting,’ rationalizations, really, anything not explicitly and unequivocally about being supportive during this difficult time; these do NOT belong here.”
Velshi’s producer said that the employee had sent them a private message including some “incredibly offensive things.”
“You’re on here equating the loss of Palestinian civilian life with terrorism and saying that I have no right to grieve, as you do. You’re putting words in my mouth, demanding that I denounce terror as if I had anything to do with it. Not sure how you have managed to twist all this from a simple question asking, where can I, as someone with friends who are currently trapped in both Gaza and Israel, go to grieve?” the producer responded.
An NBC HR representative then stepped in and pleaded with staff to “maintain decorum,” sharing the company’s employee conduct handbook, and advising them to attend a company diversity, equity, and inclusion meeting.
But the meeting was similarly derailed. After an NBC editorial employee asked about whether the network should discuss the historical context of the conflict, a colleague from the company’s tech team jumped into the comments.
“Context? For burning babies in their beds? This is just about evil acts done by evil people for evil reasons,” the NBCU tech employee said. “Moral clarity.”
Labaton noted that NBCU is not unique in its struggle to cope with the fallout of last Sunday’s attack.
“Many people, not only here, but across the country and the world, have understandably been struggling to comprehend the horrors that occurred last weekend and the ensuing war,” he said in a statement. “We are giving our team members the support and space that they need during this time.”
During many domestic news events, the ideological distance between MSNBC hosts is relatively narrow.
But over the past decade, NBC and MSNBC have struggled to cover the flare ups of violence in the Middle East without internal controversy, which has largely centered around three of the network’s Muslim anchors, who are among the highest profile Muslim voices in American journalism: Mohyeldin, Hasan, and Velshi.
In 2014, Mohyeldin, the network’s most experienced reporter in Gaza, was abruptly pulled from NBC’s coverage of the region and replaced by Richard Engel for several days. CNN reported at the time that NBC executives did not give him a concrete explanation beyond citing vague “security reasons.” Semafor reported that when violence erupted in Gaza in 2021, MSNBC executives had privately expressed discomfort with hosts Hasan and Mohyeldin for their coverage.
Other decisions about coverage of the conflict in recent years have caused division among network employees. One person with knowledge said that NBC News standards asked shows in 2021 to refer to “Israel and the Palestinians” instead of “Israel and Palestine” because the U.S. government does not officially recognize Palestine.
During the flare up in 2021, Mohyeldin and Hasan both covered the conflict with an emphasis on the impact of violence on Palestinian civilians, and with a strong skepticism of the use of Israeli military force. This prompted criticism from some American political pundits. A Washington Examiner editor at the time accused Mohyeldin in a tweet of “denying Israel’s existence” following the anchor’s aggressive questioning of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman.
Conservative media has put pressure on MSNBC to shift further toward Israel in its coverage. National Review said MSNBC spent the week “justifying Hamas violence as the inevitable result of Israeli aggression,” citing Mohyeldin’s analysis that the attacks were the “very deadly consequences of failed policies” by Netanyahu’s administration. The New York Post writer Jon Levine has repeatedly pointed out that the three hosts spent parts of their careers at Al Jazeera, the Qatari state run television network. NewsNation host Dan Abrams said the three were attempting to “pander to the far left.”
“That ridiculous commentary set the tone for much of MSNBC’s coverage throughout the weekend, where many hosts seemed determined to say, ‘Well, what about the Palestinians?’” Abrams said, pointing to Velshi’s comment that American politicians had released “boilerplate” statements in response to the attacks with “no nuance, no recognition of anything that has been going on.”
The criticism of the three MSNBC hosts — three of the most high-profile Muslim on-air personalities on the network— seems vastly disproportionate to anything they’ve said on air. Their comments are far from the seemingly somewhat fringe but highly publicized American pro-Hamas apologia that has been expressed in some corners of social media and on some college campuses, and have more to do with long-running debates between Hasan, in particular, and pro-Israel writers than anything that happened this week.
The concern for Palestinian civilians did not, as NewsNation host Dan Abrams claimed, “set the tone” for the network’s coverage throughout the weekend. (Abrams also mocked MSNBC for referring to Hamas “militants” despite the fact that NewsNation has also used the same label, and MSNBC has called them terrorists). MSNBC has hosted figures across the political spectrum who support robust Israeli military action in Gaza.
Morning Joe contributor Donny Deutsch condemned Hollywood for what he said was its silence on the attack. The network even brought on critics of its weekend coverage. During a Monday panel on Morning Joe, Anti-Defamation League president Jonathan Greenblatt alluded to clips of MSNBC he’d watched over the weekend, saying the network was too sympathetic to Hamas.
“I must say, I love this show, and I love this network, but I’ve got to ask, who’s writing the scripts? Hamas?” he asked.
The reality is that the tone on American cable news over the past several days has been similar across the networks and across the American conversation. Journalists have delivered news about the brutality of the attacks, while dozens of commentators and pundits have condemned Hamas’ violence and expressed varying degrees of support for the ongoing aggressive Israeli military response.
NBC did not release a statement about why it pulled Mohyeldin in 2014. And when I wrote an article about Hasan and Mohyeldin’s coverage of the flare-up in 2021, MSNBC did not make either host available for comment. MSNBC appears to be avoiding any suggestion that it could be aligned with a view that’s more centered on Palestinian civilians, and trying to protect itself and its Muslim stars by putting them in the roles of correspondents and analysts, not at the center of its programming.
- The BBC is refusing to describe the Hamas attackers as “terrorists,” a decision which the news organization said was rooted in the belief that it was a loaded label “which people use about an outfit they disapprove of morally.” “It’s simply not the BBC’s job to tell people who to support and who to condemn — who are the good guys and who are the bad guys,” BBC world affairs editor John Simpson wrote.
- The attack on Israelis last week has the potential to split the left, which in recent years had successfully eroded some of the support for the Israeli government among American liberals.