Keith Olbermann, host of the MSNBC show “Countdown,” has been suspended until Tuesday without pay for violating NBC policy and standards. He contributed to campaigns of three Democratic candidates without obtaining prior approval from the president of NBC, which goes against the network’s guidelines. The donations were to Democratic senatorial candidate Jack Conway of Kentucky, who lost to Rand Paul, and to two Democratic Representatives of Arizona, Gabrielle Giffords and Raul Grijalva. The donation to Grijalva was given the same day that he was a guest on Olbermann’s show. Each received $2,400, which is the contribution maximum allowed under law.
NBC is fully within its rights to suspend or even fire Olbermann for his misconduct, but it shouldn’t do either. If the purpose of NBC’s policy in regards to political donations is to keep its newsroom objective, then it shouldn’t be a matter of receiving permission from the NBC president but rather a matter of disclosure to the public. The best way to show journalistic objectivity is to be open about what political activity a person is engaging in. But Olbermann is not a reporter, journalist, or newscaster; he’s an opinion commentator, so the rules of journalistic objectivity shouldn’t have to apply to him. It should be noted that Olbermann has not been reprimanded for making these campaign donations, but rather for not receiving pre-approval for them.
People on both sides of the political spectrum have come out in support of Olbermann’s return to MSNBC. The socialist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said about Olbermann, “It is absolutely unacceptable that MSNBC suspended one of the most popular progressive commentators in the country.”
William Kristol of “The Weekly Standard,” and a Fox News contributor, supported Olbermann, saying, “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.” He added, “He donated money to candidates he liked. He didn’t take money, or favors, in a way that influenced his reporting.”
As a conservative, I disagree with Olbermann on most of his views. However, I vehemently defend his freedom of speech as a fellow US citizen, especially his political speech, which is what a campaign contribution is at its core. Olbermann is very open on his show about his leftist politics, and his views are anything other than unbiased. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to regular viewers (which I am) that he would choose to donate to Democratic campaigns. Nor do I think that somehow taints his program with a twinge of bias. Olbermann’s show is an opinion-based show and his viewership comes from those who are interested in his opinion. The fact that he backed up his opinion with his own money doesn’t change the show.
However, even though I support Olbermann’s return to the air, his hypocrisy should be noted. A month ago, Olbermann suggested to Democratic Senator James Clyburn of South Carolina that Congress should take action against Fox News for political contributions to Republicans:
“Is there a legislative response to the idea that there is a national cable-news outlet that goes beyond having a point of view and actually starts to shill for partisan causes and actually starts to donate to partisan groups of one party?”
If Olbermann is intellectually honest and not just a shill himself, he needs to address why he did not disclose his political contributions upfront and acknowledge his hypocritical stance toward contributions to Republicans. I support Olbermann’s right to political speech, even if he does not support the same for Fox News.