Monday, November 8, 2010

Keith Olbermann: Putting His Money Where His Mouth Is

As Keith Olbermann would say, "Now for a quick comment..."

The whole weekend news cycle was wasted on the Friday announcement that Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's flagship Countdown, was suspended 'indefinitely' for his personal political contributions. Network chief-executive, Phil (not Peter) Griffin, suspended Olbermann when he discovered (by reading a story containing completely not secret information) that Olbermann contributed $2,400 to each of three Democratic candidates running in this year's election.

According to first published reports, Griffin suspended Olbermann because MSNBC is apparently supposed to be viewed as impartial and a network personality 'jeopardizes objectivity' by contributing to political campaigns. Actually, that turned out to not be so important since it was clear that other on-air personalities at MSNBC, namely Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan, had donated to campaigns in the past. The 'real' reason then appeared to be that Olbermann was suspended for failing to 'ask for permission' before donating. Countdown went on the air Friday night with fill-in host, Thomas Roberts (who is bound to get his own show now) after normal fill-in, Chris Hayes from The Nation (also show host bound), was first announced to appear then apparently declined.

By Saturday, others in the media stood up for Olbermann and dozens of online and Facebook petitions popped up. Liberals and progressives rallied together to protest in outrage. Then some time was spent by pundits and bloggers to point out that Fox News is a Republican political tool and money-making machine and question why MSNBC couldn't be the same for Democrats. This is where the merger of Comcast and NBC comes in.

Back in July, Olbermann 'tweeted' an answer to a question regarding MSNBC's direction after the merger saying, "Yeah, they want to go more liberal." But after Olbermann's suspension, rumors started flying that Comcast's conservative leaning executives weren't happy with that position after all. It seemed that Griffin and the other suits must have been confused about which network they were running because it's no secret which side Olbermann leans and MSNBC's prime time is built around him with Maddow and O'Donnell, who both got shows thanks to stints filling in on Countdown. In fact, MSNBC even changed it's slogan to "Lean Forward" as they meant to embrace their position as the alternative to Fox News.

By Sunday, the reasoning for Olbermann's suspension changed to: 'Olbermann refused to apologize on-air for contributing to campaigns without asking for his boss's permission,' which just sounded like the big-bad corporate conservatives demanding the voice of the people to kneel before Zod. The bigger picture was that MSNBC sought to make a point that, unlike Fox News who is a corrupt political wing of the GOP, MSNBC is not and will not be a political tool for the Democratic party.

Monday morning's news that Keith Olbermann 'indefinite' suspension lasted all of two unpaid days and his return to Tuesday's Countdown is being called the 'shortest suspension ever,' but what if anything can be made from this? Any individual (or now, corporation) can donate to political campaigns and Olbermann's contributions were made privately without suggesting his audience do the same. In a statement, Olbermann explains: "I did not privately or publicly encourage anyone 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." He also insists that he was not aware of the clause requiring him to seek pre-approval.

I understand rules are rules, but this 'offense of ethics' reasoning is ridiculous, especially if others on MSNBC, though, more blatantly on Fox News, are guilty of the same and go unpunished. The 'impartiality in journalism' line just doesn't carry much weight. While I agree this whole episode can stand to make a point that no one at Fox News has integrity or credibility, what difference does that make? We already know what Fox News is and the Fox News audience, who gladly takes their propaganda as gospel, can't be swayed by reason, fact, or ethics.

Maybe pundits and bloggers will now say that Keith Olbermann got a slap on the wrist, but what did he really do that was so wrong? Maybe some will even make comparisons to the firings of Rick Sanchez and Juan Williams, but that's nothing close to what has happened in this case. Olbermann's personal contributions to political campaigns cannot be compared to the Sanchez or Williams episodes because they were fired for their big mouthed bigoted views. Keith Olbermann is simply getting slammed by the conservative head honchos in corporate for literally putting his money where his mouth is, standing his ground on the side of right, and refusing to apologize. If only other liberals were as proud as he.

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