Meghan McCain has always been destined for greatness. Being born to one of the most powerful politicians in the country will have that effect on your career trajectory.
Less than three months removed from her four-year stint as co-host of ABC’s The View, McCain is making the media rounds to support the release of her new audiobook, Bad Republican. The newly minted Daily Mail columnist and world’s foremost expert on being John McCain’s daughter has a lot to say about how hard it is to be a conservative woman in media—though evidence of this is severely lacking.
Variety posted an excerpt from her new book and ran a softball interview conducted by Ramin Setoodeh, who notes that McCain is a personal friend of his; Sean Hannity gave her similarly kid-glove treatment on Fox News; Meet the Press host Chuck Todd gushed over how nice it was “to have a McCain back on Meet the Press”; and S.E. Cupp, another friend of McCain’s, interviewed her for Rolling Stone, where she asked hard-hitting questions such as, “Did you ever worry about getting canceled while you were on The View?” and “Why do people have this princess impression of you?” Her book tour’s media strategy has been so gentle that the most pushback she’s gotten along the way was a question from Andy Cohen (another good pal) on Watch What Happens Live about whether or not it was hypocritical of her to write a tell-all “after prefacing every tell-all interview on The View with ‘I hate tell-alls?’”
That’s it? Not much pushback on McCain’s repeated claims that she was bullied out of The View because she’s a conservative, that’s for sure. At the moment, it seems like TMZ is the only outlet that’s followed up on those accusations, painting a completely different picture of what led to McCain’s departure from the show less than three months ago:
Our sources say new ABC chief Kim Godwin did a thorough investigation—meeting with key stakeholders of the show, like talent and producers—and in the end, we’re told she found Meghan was the source of a lot of the in-fighting that ultimately played out on the show… something Godwin had to address head-on in an emergency Zoom meeting.
Those on-camera blow-ups are well-documented, and even though a lot of the hosts are often seen bickering we’re told many at ABC feel Meghan was, more often than not, the instigator of these arguments—or she was the one who kept them going.
This seems to back up reporting by Us Weekly in 2020 that McCain—who once called co-host Joy Behar a “bitch” during a 2019 episode of the show and once falsely accused co-host Sunny Hostin of defending “infanticide”—was a near-constant source of on-set consternation who made the show “difficult to produce because of the tensions and division.” The outlet earlier reported that producers treated McCain “with kid gloves—partly out of respect for who her father is, partly because she can be a difficult talent to manage and it’s not worth the drama.”
TMZ also added that “many at ABC apparently felt the old boss, James Goldston, didn’t have the stones to give MM the boot earlier, because he allegedly feared a conservative backlash.” It’s that line about fear of conservative backlash that stands out to me as a media and cultural critic who spent the better part of the past three years working at a progressive media watchdog organization. Fear of backlash, from both right-wing media and GOP politicians themselves, has been a powerful and extremely effective tool in the conservative playbook, itself the result of decades of efforts to “work the refs” in their favor.
Fearing conservative backlash, Facebook responded to a questionable 2016 Gizmodo article with a sensationalized headline about the supposed suppression of conservative news on the platform by inviting a host of right-wing media figures (including the aforementioned S.E. Cupp) in for a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg. Within months, the site would descend into the cesspool of right-wing propaganda that it remains today. Fearing conservative backlash, then-FBI Director James Comey released a letter days before the 2016 election announcing that the agency was effectively re-opening its investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. It’s impossible to know how much of an effect Comey’s last-minute intervention had on the election results, but it certainly didn’t help the Clinton campaign.
Her father’s name helped her get started in media, and fear of angering right-wing media will ensure that she’ll always have safe havens in mainstream media. While she now bristles at the suggestion that her success can be chalked up to nepotism, there’s little doubt that had she been Meghan Smith, your average everyday Arizona girl, she wouldn’t have enjoyed such a continuous presence in the world of media this past decade-plus.
Early in McCain’s media career, there seemed to be an effort to justify the career opportunities that were afforded to her. Mentions of her internships at Saturday Night Live and Newsweek were commonplace but rarely explained, though she would occasionally let it slip how much of that was directly related to her father’s influence.
“How did you get the internship on SNL?” Joan Rivers asked McCain during a June 2014 edition of Rivers’ In Bed With Joan web series.
“Obviously, through my father,” responded McCain, matter-of-factly, explaining that her father, Senator John McCain, was both a 2002 host of the show and a personal friend of Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels. “When I went to college, [Michaels] said, ‘Does your daughter want to intern?’ and I did, and I did it for the ’05-’06 season.”
Not everyone has an internship at a place like Saturday Night Live handed to them because their father was offered it unsolicited. In 2009, it was reported that McCain landed a book deal in the “high six figures,” which is pretty impressive for someone whose writing to that point was mostly limited to a blog related to her father’s run for president, a children’s book titled, My Dad, John McCain, and a recently launched column at The Daily Beast (yes, this The Daily Beast) that was set up by Nicolle Wallace, one of the advisers to her father’s campaign. Oh, and it just so happened that literary agent was the same as her father’s. Go figure.
Every step along the way, it was her father who directly or indirectly opened these doors for her. And while it may be easy to dismiss that as just getting a foot in the door, that’s often the hardest part of finding success in the world of media. Little things like an internship at SNL snowball into bigger opportunities. The Daily Beast column was followed by her book deal, which was followed by a contributor contract with MSNBC, which was followed by an offer to co-host Outnumbered on Fox News, which was followed by her recent four-year stint at The View. None of these things happen without getting a foot in the door, and that foot doesn’t get in the door without her dad being John McCain.
“Every single door I’ve ever walked in my entire life, people automatically assume you’re going to be a lazy, spoiled brat that won’t contribute anything because you have famous parents, and it’s something I have dealt with my entire life,” she said during a July episode of The View. “I no longer care. I think my work and my work ethic speaks for itself, but I think people think when you have a famous family or a famous parent, everything is just given to you and things are really easy.”
If her work and work ethic actually spoke for themselves, she probably wouldn’t face questions about nepotism so often. It is possible to break free from that by truly becoming a master of your craft. It’s easy to catch the fourth hour of NBC’s Today show without lamenting that Jenna Bush Hager is the daughter of former President George W. Bush. It was easy to watch McCain’s former co-host on The View, Abby Huntsman, comment on the day’s events without thinking, “Oh, right, that’s former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman’s daughter!” The reason nepotism charges haunt McCain is precisely that her work doesn’t speak for itself.
McCain will continue to insist that she left The View because it was hostile to conservatives, but the truth is that her replacement will almost certainly be someone with equally conservative views. I’m sure she’ll continue to have a long, successful career—and it will continue to be thanks to her famous last name.