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Keith Olbermann: Did He Deserve His Suspension?

November 6, 2010

Great… just as I’m heading out the door with my son for a peaceful weekend in New York City comes the news that MSNBC has suspended prime-time pundit Keith Olbermann. His crime: contributing to three Democratic candidates in the recent midterm elections.

Big surprise there, right? Well, his actual crime was making those contributions without prior approval from his bosses. (That’s the in-house rule at MSNBC.) So you could say that Olbermann is the victim of PC — procedural correctness.

Numerous fellow-pundits, right and left alike, have defended Olbermann against his home network. Others have cited his hypocrisy in making those contributions after knocking Fox News, Rupert Murdoch & Co. for making huge contributions to Republicans and shilling for their agenda.

Granted, the often-pompous Olbermann needs to look in the mirror at times… but there’s a big difference between an individual pundit coughing up a few thousand dollars for three obscure candidates… and a “fair and balanced” news organization making huge donations to one political party.

With the recent wave of firings and suspensions that have roiled the mainstream media, I have to conclude that these folks are running scared… and that they’re terrified of the most minor improprieties on the part of their high-profile employees. Their response: avoid negative fallout at any cost. In the case of MSNBC, they’ll even go as far as to risk losing their number one on-air personality.

What do you think?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2010 12:19 pm

    Certainly no Olbermann fan am I. Goes without saying that he’s just the liberal clone of O’Reilly/Hannity/Beck. Now, was MSNBC overreacting? I’m not so sure. They didn’t actually FIRE him, after all. But the controversy will likely center around his integrity.

    One of the great misconceptions about the media, though, is that its inception was in the “fair and balanced” relation of facts, that “journalistic integrity” has always been it’s mantra. This is false. Media is made of private corporations. Paul Starr’s terrific book THE CREATION OF THE MEDIA confirms what I’ve surmised for a long time: that the provenance of the media was in politics, and not objectivity.

    Political conflict arises from an individual or group attempting to protect its own interests. The first journalists had no intention of giving a “fair and balanced” report on the state of things. They only wanted to relate THEIR side. The media isn’t a singular omniscient bastion of infallible information—it’s a hodgepodge of people putting their two cents in. Don’t get me wrong, this shouldn’t (and doesn’t) preclude an objective endeavor, but we shouldn’t be so quick to blame the media’s AT LEAST occasional misinformation and slight-of-hand for society’s problems. We are the consumers, after all, and we choose to believe what we’re told. It’s up to us to educate ourselves and apply personal judgment to any report that comes our way.

    • November 8, 2010 12:34 pm

      greyfoot: Agreed that we viewers have to formulate our own opinions based on what we see in the media, but so many viewers simply want to have their prejudices confirmed. I’m fine with opinionated media outlets (this is one, after all) as long as they identify their bias in an up-front manner.

      I don’t think NEWS should be slanted to conform to political biases, though inevitably it is. Even a worthy newspaper like the New York Times reflects its owners’ liberal-establishment worldview.

  2. R.H. permalink
    November 6, 2010 2:24 pm

    Rules are rules. Tell your boss.

    • November 8, 2010 12:36 pm

      R. H. : I suppose it was arrogant of the arrogan Olbermann to flout his company’s rules on political contributions — though he claims ignorance. Still, it was a pretty minor infraction, and I guess his two-day suspension reflects the trivial nature of his offense. (Plus the fact that the network didn’t want to lose it’s number one on-air personality.)

  3. Priscilla permalink
    November 6, 2010 5:33 pm

    I agree with R.H. Apparently the policy at NBC, unlike at Fox and CBS and others, clearly prohibits political contributions. It strikes me as sort of stupid, frankly, as does Olbermann’s indefinite suspension….I mean, was there anyone out there that thought that Olbermann was an “impartial journalist”?

    Murdoch is not a journalist and he is free to donate as much as he wants to whomever he wants. If Olbermann worked for Fox, he would be free to do so as well. But, rules are rules, and I have no doubt that he knew what those rules were. I’m guessing he was arrogant enough to believe that the rules did not apply to him. I guess he was wrong………

    • November 8, 2010 12:52 pm

      Priscilla: See my response to R. H. What bothered me most about the suspension was that a network like Fox News can openly support conservative candidates to the tune of millions, while an individual pundit like Olbermann got punished for making three piddling contributions of $800.

      I’d think a news network, as an organization that supposedly disseminates objective information (that’s a laugh, I know) should be bound to follow stricter rules about contributions than its employees. It’s not as if MSNBC makes any pretense of avoiding political bias in the first place, so it seems disingenuous of them to be so strict in monitoring their employees’ contributions. (Maybe they’re afraid that some of them will donate to Republicans!)

      If MSNBC were a more impartial news organization like CNN, I could see why they might be more concerned about their employees revealing their political leanings.

  4. Priscilla permalink
    November 7, 2010 8:25 pm

    Interesting thought from Tommy Christopher of Mediaite:

    • November 8, 2010 12:59 pm

      In my update to the Olbermann story, I suggested that the suspension would be great publicity for Olbermann… but this article is even more cynical. The author claims it might have been an inside job to tout MSNBC’s higher standards vis-a-vis its conservative rival Fox News. Verrrry interesting…

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