MSNBC Cans Olbermann. His Crime? Donated to Dems
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…
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