Keith Olbermann, longtime anchor of MSNBC’s primetime show “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” has been suspended indefinitely for violating MSNBC’s ethics, according to the New York Times. The move comes after it was discovered Olbermann made $2,400 worth of campaign contributions to each of three Democratic candidates in the general election.
In a statement released today, MSNBC TV President Phil Griffin said, “I became aware of Keith’s political contributions late last night. Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay.” The official NBC policy prohibits any form of political activism outside of work as it may cause a “conflict of interest.”
Journalistic ethics and objectivity prohibit any form of partiality, according to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Amongst other tenets, true journalists are to “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” as well as “remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.”
In the course of seeking and reporting the truth and “testing the accuracy of information from all sources,” then Olbermann is not a “real” journalist in the sense of these definitions. So why is Olbermann being suddenly treated as a journalist by NBC?
“Countdown with Keith Olbermann” is a highly one-sided show which commonly deals with Democrats and bashes Republicans and Fox News all the time. To call Olbermann a true journalist would be faulty since he is the left-wing version of Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck. Keith Olbermann would be more rightly called a “political commentator” or “analyst,” as opposed to a news anchor.
Olbermann’s official page on MSNBC says he is the “host” of a “unique newscast” which counts down the day’s top stories. The top stories on his show revolve solely around politics and not traditional news. “Countdown” has been on the air since 2003. Olbermann recently suspended his “Worst Persons in the World” segment after comedian Jon Stewart complained about it at his recent “Rally to Restore Sanity.”
The case of Keith Olbermann is a conundrum. There are several things which can be garnered from this situation. If Olbermann already knew the standards and he made the contributions anyway, did he think he wouldn’t get caught?
If Olbermann knew he would get caught, why risk punishment such as suspension or possible firing? The answer from Olbermann’s camp might be that he wants to get fired. Maybe Olbermann wants out of his contract and is testing the free agent political commentator market.
Contrarily, if MSNBC already knows his show doesn’t follow its own code of ethics and standards, why suspend Olbemann in the first place? One speculation revolves around MSNBC wanting to distance itself from Fox News, and I believe that is what drove Phil Griffin’s actions.
To say Olbermann violated impartiality when the show he hosted was already lacking partiality is absurd. There’s something else going on here, as the journalistic ethics argument doesn’t add up as to suspending Keith Olbermann.
Stelter, Brian, and Bill Carter, “Olbermann Suspended From MSNBC for Campaign Donations”, New York Times.
MSNBC, “Keith Olbermann suspended over political donations”, MSNBC.com.
MSNBC, “Keith Olberman”, MSNBC.com.
Society of Professional Journalists, “SPJ Code of Ethics”, SPJ.org.