Sunday, November 07, 2010

L'affaire Olbermann

UPDATED HERE: Olbermann will be back on the air on Tuesday.


I don't really have much to say about MSNBC's suspension of Keith Olbermann for contributing money to Democratic candidates. Obviously, it's ridiculous. Here are a few points:

1) As Think Progress has noted, MSNBC, as part of NBC, may soon be taken over by Comcast. The deal is currently awaiting regulatory approval from the FCC. Comcast's COO, Steve Burke, who will be in charge of MSNBC (along with other NBC companies), was a Bush fundraiser.

2) Olbermann supposed broke NBC rules in doing what he did. As Think Progress has also noted, however:

[C]onservative MSNBC host Joe Scarborough has donated to Republican candidates for Congress while promoting the same candidate on air, but has never been disciplined. Moreover, Gawker notes that MSNBC has been exempt from the formal NBC ethics rules for years. It is still a mystery why MSNBC selectively applied NBC's ethics rules to Olbermann.

3) Scarborough is hardly alone. Another major MSNBC figure, Pat Buchanan, has donated to Republican candidates -- and was, of course, a leading Republican.

4) As Politico has reported, what Olbermann did is pretty common on the cable news networks, whether it's Hannity on Fox News or Begala on CNN. And, of course, Fox News is unabashedly partisan. (Obviously, it behooves MSNBC to hold itself to higher standards than Fox News, but Olbermann is an opinion journalist, a pundit with a TV show, not an anchor or reporter, and we all know where he's coming from politically. We don't expect non-partisanship from him, we don't want non-partisanship from him, so who cares if he donates to political candidates? How does this impact his credibility? (It doesn't, at all.)

5) Suspension -- and, worse, suspension without pay -- seems awfully harsh, not least given what others at the network have done? Why is Olbermann being made an example of? Why is he being treated more harshly than others? One cannot help but suspect some ulterior political motive. As Steve Benen writes, "an indefinite suspension without pay seems way over the top under the circumstances. We are, after all, talking about three checks -- one each for three candidates. As we talked about earlier, the MSNBC host's donations were made in his personal capacity; he disclosed his contributions; and he never encouraged others to support these campaigns." Furthermore, Steve continues, MSNBC claims that such rules are necessary "because political activities may 'jeopardize [employees'] standing as an impartial journalist.' But therein lies the point -- those who watch Olbermann are well aware of his politics. Psst -- no one considers him 'impartial.'" No kidding.

6) MSNBC suspends Olbermann but has no problem putting Buchanan on the air? It's not just that the guy's a crazy pitchfork populist of the far right, it's that he's a WWII/Holocaust revisionist, a racist, a nativist, and a Hitler apologist. How is this acceptable?

7) Even Krazy Bill Kristol thinks MSNBC is in the wrong:

MSNBC's suspension of Keith Olbermann is ludicrous.

First, he donated money to candidates he liked. He didn't take money, or favors, in a way that influenced his reporting.

Second, he's not a reporter. It's an opinion show. If Olbermann wants to put his money where his mouth is, more power to him.

Third, GE, the corporate parent of MSNBC, gives money to political organizations. GE executives and, I'm sure, NBC executives give money. Why can't Olbermann?

Perhaps Olbermann violated NBC News "policy and standards." But NBC doesn't have real news standards for MSNBC -- otherwise the channel wouldn't exist. It's a little strange to get all high and mighty now.

But there's now a Republican House, and perhaps GE is trying to curry favor by dumping Olbermann?

Republicans of the world, show you believe in the free expression of opinion! Tell the crony corporatists at NBC -- keep Keith!

I can't remember the last time I agreed with Kristol -- except for his jab at MSNBC for not having "real news standards." Surely, even as a mostly opinion-oriented network, it can have "real news standards" for some of its programming/content, whatever "real" means. Besides, it is also ludicrous to suggest that there is equivalency between MSNBC and Fox News. Yes, MSNBC is generally liberal in terms of its opinion programming, but it's not nearly as partisan as Fox News, which is effectively an organ of the Republican Party.

Of course, Kristol has a partisan agenda. He always does. As Steve M. of NMMNB explains:

Yeah, right. More like: Republicans of the world, don't let MSNBC actually fire Keith -- what if that starts a media-wide craze for holding political talking heads to higher standards? How do we then keep Karl Rove, whose organization basically replaced the RNC as a fund-raising arm of the GOP, on the air at Fox, not to mention practically all the A-list Republican presidential candidates? How do we justify everything else Fox and its hosts do to enrich the GOP and Republican-linked groups, including the tea party movement (which, last time I looked, was 99% Republican, if not 100%)?

I think Kristol's worried about nothing -- no one ever holds Republicans to standards like this. But I'm sure he's doing this out of group self-interest, not out of any sense of fairness or generosity of spirit.

I agree, but that doesn't make him wrong about Olbermann.

Basically, I have no problem with Olbermann giving money to Democratic candidates, but we should also expose everything Fox News does to support Republican and conservative causes -- remember, for example, when News Corp. gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association? (As Steve Benen wrote prior to the suspension, "[t]here's a reasonable debate to be had over the propriety of media professionals donating to political candidates," just as there is, I would add, over the partisanization of journalism generally, but let's not start by making Olbermann a scapegoat while this sort of thing goes on all the time, especially at Fox News.)

Anyway, if CNN knew what was good for it, it would try to hire Olbermann and Maddow away from MSNBC as quickly as possible and reinvent itself as a reality-based alternative to Fox News. But it won't, of course, and ultimately, I suspect, Olbermann will be back on Countdown sooner rather than later. This is not just a terrible and hypocritical move, after all, but a possibly suicidal one for MSNBC. Thankfully, there are many voices of reason, including some that are usually so unreasonable, rising up in opposition to the suspension and in support of one of our mow important political commentators.

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  • Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m going to take a contrarian position here. I’ll admit up front, I have no love for Olbermann, but I want to be convinced this was a firing offense. He committed no crime, and I seriously doubt he was the only MSNBC employee to pony up some loot for lefty candidates. Nobody with an IQ above 30 thinks Olbermann is either impartial or a journalist, so it’s not like his credibility was tarnished. He has none. His on-air advocacy for candidates provided far more assistance than a couple of grand quietly donated to their coffers.
    If MSNBC has a written “ethics” policy requiring approval for donations, and he violated it, and that policy is being universally enforced, then MSNBC is fine. If they want to fire him for having lousy ratings and being one of the most hated people in broadcast television, then as long as they’ll be honest about it, that’s fine too. But if MSNBC is using this as a convenient excuse to unload him, and they’re turning blind eyes to others doing the same, then I have a problem with it.
    If we are people who favor impartial justice, even for people we despise, then this is the stand we must take. It’s what distinguishes us from the people on his side, who base their judgments on a person’s ideology.

    By Anonymous Charlie, at 8:40 PM  

  • Perhaps he should have been shown a yellow card, not a direct red.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:11 AM  

  • If Charlie's post is any indication, Keith Olbermann is the most effective personality on MSNBC today. For that reason alone he will always have a healthy, profitable audience. The only reason Keith exists is because the right wing hate merchants, the America destroyers on Faux and the hate box with sound called radio existed first. The left needed someone with balls to punch back every night. Faux and radio will never fire anyone, not for drug abuse, not for sexual harassment and definitely not for improper campaign contributions to the Tbaggers.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 10:25 AM  

  • Apparently, Charlie has confused taking a contrarian position with being a douche.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:39 AM  

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