MSNBC Cans Olbermann. His Crime? Donated to Dems

  • Published on November 5th, 2010

(Tell MSNBC how you feel about this! Contact info at the end of the article)

Kieth Olbermann, MSNBC’s top-rated talking head, has been suspended indefinitely.

Politico broke the story today that Olbermann had donated to three Democratic Congressional candidates

“I became aware of Keith’s political contributions late last night,” said MSNBC president Phil Griffin. “Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay.”

What standard? Joe Scarborough, MSNBC’s conservative morning host, has also made political contributions. So have MSNBC contributors like Pat Buchanan. CNBC host Larry Kudlow headlined a fundraiser for GOP candidates last year.

Olbermann’s response: “I did not privately or publicly encourage anyone else to donate to these campaigns nor to any others in this election or any previous ones, nor have I previously donated to any political campaign at any level.”

John Cook at Gawker got an interesting comment from an NBC insider, who said the standards don’t even apply to MSNBC:

“The standards department has told us that MSNBC doesn’t answer to NBC News standards,” the insider said. “They don’t have coverage over MSNBC. They used to, back before MSNBC went political, but at some point it became too hard and MSNBC was taken out of their portfolio. As far as I know, there are no ethical standards at MSNBC. And if NBC says MSNBC is supposed to be living up to the NBC News standards, that’s a preposterous lie.”

Commentator Jeff Jarvis says it’s ridiculous to expect journalists to be utterly devoid of opinions:

We have the relationship of the journalist to the community also inside-out: They should see themselves as members of their communities like anyone else but with the special privilege of being able to ask questions and get answers on everyone’s behalf.

…[Journalists] do this because they want to stand above Fox News as objective. What they do instead is stand apart from their communities as — what? — sterile, gutless, distant. Fox News comes off as caring to its audience (“Fox News speaks for us,” say the tea drinkers. “Fox News understands”). MSNBC comes off as … what?

Olbermann has been a rare friend of progressive and environmental causes in a cable news climate dominated by conservatives and large corporations. As Politico noted,

Olbermann is one of MSNBC’s most recognizable faces, and has emerged as one of the country’s most prominent liberal commentators. A former ESPN star, Olbermann’s “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” started in 2003 as a traditional news show but evolved into a left-leaning opinion program – and in some ways, led the network into its new identity as the cable-news voice of the left and an attempt to be a counterweight to Fox News.

Griffin, a conservative, has had a combatative relationship with his top-rated star. As Danny Shea noted at the Huffington Post,

The move is doubly significant in that it represents a major development in the relationship between Griffin and Olbermann, who once told the New Yorker, “Phil thinks he’s my boss.”

“Keith doesn’t run the show,” Griffin told New York Magazine recently. “I do a lot of things he doesn’t like. I do a lot of things he does.”

Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Progressive website DailyKos, has been critical of Griffin for banning him from Olbermann’s show, while tolerating far-right voices like Buchannan at the network.

It’s particularly ironic, considering that Fox News parent company donated millions to Republican causes. As Steve Bennen notes at Washington Monthly,

At the same time, News Corp made multiple undisclosed donations to the Republican Governors Association, totaling at least $1.25 million, in addition to a $1 million contribution to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for its pro-Republican election-year activities. Fox News has helped GOP candidates raise money on the air; Fox News personalities are featured guests at Republican fundraisers; while other Fox News personalities continue to help generate financial support for Republican candidates now, even after the elections.

Now even conservative icons like the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol are coming to Olbermann’s defense:

MSNBC’s suspension of Keith Olbermann is ludicrous.

First, he donated money to candidates he liked. He didn’t take money, or favors, in a way that influenced his reporting.

Second, he’s not a reporter. It’s an opinion show. If Olbermann wants to put his money where his mouth is, more power to him.

Third, GE, the corporate parent of MSNBC, gives money to political organizations. GE executives and, I’m sure, NBC executives give money. Why can’t Olbermann?

Perhaps Olbermann violated NBC News “policy and standards.” But NBC doesn’t have real news standards for MSNBC—otherwise the channel wouldn’t exist. It’s a little strange to get all high and mighty now.

I’m guessing a lot of people will have Griffin at the top of their list for “Worst Person of the World” this week…

Want to give MSNBC a piece of your mind?

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.


  • its about time msnbc got rid of olgermann and i hope maddow and the rest of the msnbc commentators that only produce one side to there commentaries will be next….lookout you commentators that are falling in the atlantic ocean comcast is going to bring a new light to msnbc….you will have to follow obama and move to the middle…..

  • Does anyone know who owns MSNBC? Who hired Phil Griffin?

    Isn’t it about time we started boycotting the company (ies) that own MSNBC?

    We have had enough of this domination of the airwaves by the right wing!

  • YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING!!!??? If you have a rule that says someone can’t make a contribution to a party or an individual, THAT IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL!!!!!!! If he had made it on behalf of MSNBC, Or tried to BUY SOMEONE, that would be different, but NO! EVERYONE, I DON’T CARE WHO THEY ARE, HAS A RIGHT TO A PRIVATE LIFE!!!!!!! I work for one of the largest insurance companies in America!!! Do you think they have the right to keep me from making a campaign contribution??? NO!! Go ahead and be stupid!! Keith can GO ANYWHERE HE WANTS AND WE WILL FOLLOW!!! I hope Rachael walks off and goes with him. THEN YOU WILL HAVE NO AUDIENCE!!!!!!!!!!! KEITH AND RACHAEL ARE THE ONLY REASONS I EVEN WATCH YOUR STUPID STATION. And TRUST, I AM NOT ALONE!!!!! IF YOU DON’T BRING HIM BACK, AND HE OWES NO APOLOGY BY THE WAY, I HOPE YOU GO OFF THE AIR.

    • That’s actually a common practice at news organizations in the name of staying neutral. NBC isn’t the only one that has this policy. I worked for a 24 hour news company and also could not make campaign contributions.

      • As we noted in the story, 1) This was a policy of NBC news but not of MSNBC, and certainly not their opinion shows, which are not neutral in any form, and 2) other MSNBC hosts have made contributions without repercussions.

  • We watch MSNBC for most of our news and commentaries because you are fair and tell the news honestly. Keith Olbermann is probably one of your best commentators and you do the public a great diservice by suspending him. You are joining the ranks of the unfair, biased media. What adisapointment!!!!

  • I agree 100 % with the article about the absurdity of suspending Keith Olberman. Olberman is a voice of reason and a major reason I tune in. A question though, I believe the number at the end of the article to contact MSNBC is incorrect. Should it be 212-664-4444?

  • Your headline wd leave one thinking Olbermann had been fired (“canned”). I’d change it to “suspended” or “suspended indefinitely.”

    • It was initially characterized as an “indefinite suspension”, and insiders said that network honcho Griffin, no fan of Olbermann, was going to take the opportunity to get rid of him. It was only after the outpouring of outrage (as seen here in the comments) that MSNBC backed down and made it a weekend-only suspension.

  • Olbermann is one of few a on your station with conviction and sincerity. I watch your channel daily on TV and over the internet as well. The fact that you suspended him and not Scarborough and Buchanan demonstrates the Stations unfair leaning towards the Right. Shame on you!

    Stepping on Liberals is no longer okay, if Keith’s gone, well so am I and my viewing group as well.

    Please sign the petetion to right this wrong.

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