Not many outside of cable news commentary are familiar with MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann who hosts the “Countdown” segment 5 days a week in prime time on the cable channel. So it may be inconsequential to the average person that Keith was “suspended indefinitely without pay” by MSNBC President Phil Griffin after it was revealed that he violated an NBC policy that says news personnel cannot donate to political candidates without “prior approval” from the cable executives.
In a Politico report that revealed the faux pas, Olbermann confessed to the donations but pointed out that he “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 has he previously donated to any political campaign at any level.” Yet MSNBC President Phil Griffin seems to have singled Olbermann out for this violation while others on the cable channel have received a pass for similar violations. This has sparked a response to MSNBC officials from loyal Olbermann fans to re-instate Olbermann immediately. One site, BoldProgressive .org, has already received roughly 175,000 signatures on a petition calling for the Countdown commentator’s return.
The conflict here with Olbermann stems from the fact that both MSNBC commentators Pat Buchannan and Joe Scarborough have previously donated to Republican candidates but were forgiven by NBC since they were viewed as hosts of opinion programs and are not news reporters. Olbermann’s program does center on news worthy topics but he expresses his liberal views as he reports these and even has a “Special Comment” section that routinely supports Progressive points.
If there is a positive side to this whole affair it is that NBC at least has a code of ethics it expects from its reporters. Other news agencies do too. The clear exception to this is FOX cable news where commentators, executives and owners routinely make it public their associations with the Republican Party in the form of donations as well as personal appearances at fund raisers. Following Olbermann’s suspension Dan Gainor’s FOX report extrapolated every caricature and trait on Olbermann that many on FOX are guilty of, but apparently the belief that somehow FOX is “fair and balanced” has drained any objective analysis from Gainor.
It can also be said now that Olbermann has some journalistic credits with this action by his bosses at MSNBC. Most people would not have made that connection and rightfully so. Walter Cronkite and Peter Jennings he isn’t. But to dismiss him for violating a journalistic policy is to say that he was at some level worthy of this acknowledgement.
I find the action that MSNBC took acceptable and I’m sure Olbermann would too. His suspension seems appropriate but its indefinite status seems overboard in light of the double standard NBC apparently is guilty of. The NBC executives have made their point. Any further consequences that Olbermann is forced to endure from NBC for his mistake would be out of line and would call into question the cable network’s “Lean Forward” promotion that distances them from the unethical practices of their FOX counterparts.