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MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann suspended indefinitely without pay after donating to Dems

5

November

keith-olbermann-and-globe.jpgThe blogosphere is buzzing after MSNBC released a statement today announcing that liberal lion Keith Olbermann has been suspended from the cable channel for giving money to three Democratic candidates without approval from the channel's management.

"I became aware of Keith's political contributions late last night," MSNBC president Phil Griffin said in a statement. "Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay."

Griffin was made aware by Politico, which published a story saying Olbermann had given the maximum $2,400 to three candidates, including an Arizona hopeful who appeared on his show Countdown the same night the donation was made.

Politico also published a statement from Olbermann in the story, which read: "“One week ago, on the night of Thursday October 28 2010, after a discussion with a friend about the state of politics in Arizona, I donated $2,400 each to the reelection campaigns of Democratic Representatives Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords. I also donated the same amount to the campaign of Democratic Senatorial candidate Jack Conway in Kentucky. 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."

Back in 2007, MSNBC.com reported the news department's ethics policy generally prohibits political donations and activity, unless authorized by NBC News president Steve Capus. Of course, liberal media watchdog Media Matters has a list of Fox News personalities who donated to GOP candidates or organizations. Where does this all end?

I think the biggest issue here is the question of how political contributions may intertwine with the show's guest selection. We already know Olbermann is a liberal, but within that context, a quality news organization should expect fairness. That means making sure to avoid even the appearance that certain candidates who received money from Olbermann were not featured more often or featured better on his show. And that can only happen if the contribution is disclosed -- at least to his employer, but ideally to the public as well.

Analyst Andrew Tyndall makes two great points: Olbermann had to be disciplined for such a blatant, possibly self-destructive violation of NBC News policies (regarding self-destructive tendencies; even Olbermann himself has admitted he can be most dangerous to himself when he's successful). Also, the success of Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. makes MSNBC less of a one-man show than it once was.

The incident raises further questions about how distorted liberal-oriented MSNBC's news process may be by such donations. Though Fox News Channel parent company News Corp. donated at least $2-million to two Republican-friendly organizations, such a scenario is different from an individual anchor donating to politicians also featured on his or her show.

Given that Olbermann is MSNBC's biggest star, it's hard to imagine them doing more than slapping his wrist for this infraction. But it also re-raises questions about the separation from NBC News that anchor Tom Brokaw insisted was the case to me Wednesday; if MSNBC is bound by NBC News standards, then  shouldn't NBC News be judged by its connection to MSNBC?

All questions I'm sure Fox News will enjoy chewing over for the next few weeks.

[Last modified: Friday, November 5, 2010 4:53pm]

    

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