MSNBC released this notice today regarding their primetime host, Keith Olbermann:
“Msnbc TV host Keith Olbermann was suspended indefinitely on Friday for making campaign donations to three Democratic congressional candidates, apparently in violation of NBC News ethics policy. “
Upon learning of Olbermann’s contributions MSNBC took swift and decisive action to reprimand the talk show host. Some people may argue about whether the punishment is too severe, but I have to commend the network for maintaining a strict policy of ethical conduct. If Olbermann worked for Fox News he would be getting a bonus for this.
No matter what your political leanings (forward or otherwise), you must be accountable for your actions and you must adhere to the standards established by your employer and the journalism community. For the record, here is the policy MSNBC has for its staff:
“Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Such activities may include participation in or contributions to political campaigns or groups that espouse controversial positions. You should report any such potential conflicts in advance to, and obtain prior approval of, the president of NBC News or his designee.”
Olbermann apparently did not obtain the required approval for his contributions. Of course, it is difficult to see how his donations would have “jeopardize[d] his…standing as an impartial journalist,” in as much as he has never portrayed himself as either impartial or a journalist. What’s more, MSNBC has not been consistent in the execution of their policy as they have permitted Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan to continue working despite having made numerous political contributions.
Nevertheless, MSNBC chief Phil Griffin suddenly feels compelled to make an example of Olbermann. MSNBC personnel simply cannot be allowed to behave as if they were on Fox News. Unless, that is, they actually ought to be on Fox News like Scarborough and Buchanan. If you are contributing to Republicans, Griffin has no problem with it. Perhaps he is kissing up to his new bosses at Comcast in advance. For the record, here is the policy Fox has for its staff:
“The prohibitions and limitations on political contributions outlined above relate only to the use of corporate funds and services and are not intended to discourage employees from making personal contributions to candidates or political parties of their choice. Personal involvement in political activity is permitted as long as the activity does not interfere with or impair the performance of the employee’s duties for the Company. In addition, any employee who becomes involved with a political group must make it clear that his or her activities are being conducted purely in a personal capacity and not on behalf of or in connection with the Company.”
So at Fox there is virtually no barrier for employees who wish to donate time or money to political concerns. And dozens of them take advantage of that freedom every day. Even worse, Fox personnel from Sean Hannity to Dick Morris to Greta Van Susteren and more actively solicited donations for their pet GOP candidates and causes. Glenn Beck came right out and asked his viewers to donate so much to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that it would become their biggest fundraising day ever. And we know that the corporation has no barriers either as News Corp was caught making multimillion donations to GOP organizations. The last thing we need now is for other media figures to adopt the standards (or lack thereof) of Fox News.
For that reason it is important to insure compliance with strict standards for ethical behavior. Olbermann is being held to those standards even if other MSNBC personnel are not. Such inconsistency would make Phil Griffin a candidate for Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World.” Lucky for him that Olbermann has been suspended (and Olbermann also recently suspended that segment).
There is no indication from MSNBC how long the suspension will remain in effect. It could, however, be a thorny issue for them. Olbermann’s Countdown is the number one show on the network. He has almost single-handedly thrust MSNBC into the number two slot ahead of CNN. It would be in the interest of the network to keep the suspension short. They may also run the risk of alienating Olbermann who may find greener pastures elsewhere. CNN would very likely give him anything he wanted, including his present time slot that CNN is wasting with Parker/Spitzer. And can you imagine the success that MSNBC would have if they moved Scarborough into the 8:00pm slot?
The reactions to Olbermann’s suspension are already reverberating throughout the blogosphere. Some are calling for boycotts of NBC/MSNBC. That would be stupid. Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, and Lawrence O’Donnell had nothing to do with this.
The most likely reason for Olbermann’s suspension probably has nothing to do with ethics or political contributions. It is almost certainly related to Phil Griffin’s lust for power. With Jeff Zucker out as network CEO and Comcast looming on the horizon, Griffin sees this as an opportunity to elevate his status. Olbermann represents the 800 pound gorilla at MSNBC and Griffin gets to knock him down a peg by exerting this show of authority. That would explain why Griffin never demonstrated any concern for other MSNBC personalities who did the same thing Olbermann did. They didn’t have any of the heft that Olbermann has and thus it would serve no purpose to bother with them.
While Olbermann may have made a mistake by contributing to candidates when it is against company policy to do so, the punishment is far in excess of the crime, and it has been wielded in a grossly unfair manner. Griffin is revealing himself to be unethical and power mad (or at best a sycophant to his incoming masters).
NBC/MSNBC needs to set aside this unnecessary controversy that only benefits their competition. Fox, and their cultist followers, are reveling in this soap opera. They will get significant mileage out of asserting that MSNBC is unethical while remaining oblivious to their own infractions. That’s what makes this such a idiotic play even if there is some technical justification for it.
In the end it is terrible for business and the executives at NBC/MSNBC have a fiduciary duty to advance the interests of shareholders. So have your little suspension, get it over with, and put Olbermann back on the air by Tuesday.
You can help to resolve this mess by expressing yourselves to Phil Griffin and Co. here:
[Update:] Nice work, people. MSNBC/Griffin fold. Olbermann will be back on the air Tuesday, just as I demanded. Wow…I have more clout than I thought.