Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Olbermann Thing

Well, the blogosphere on both sides of the ring went into near-meltdown yesterday, with the pundit class swiftly following suit, over Keith Olbermann's indefinite suspension (without pay) after the "revelation" that the MSNBC host had donated to several Democratic candidates without clearing it with the news net's honchos (I put "revelation" in quotes, by the way, because the real revelation would have been if he'd donated to Republicans).  Anyway, it seems like everyone and their cousin has already chimed in with an opinion, so I'm not sure one more -- especially from me -- really means much, but I've devoted enough posts to various Olbermann commentaries over the years that I thought it was at least worth a mention.

Do I agree with the decision?  Frankly, yes.  In the end, this really isn't about the fact that he made the contributions, per se.  MSNBC's policy isn't that their anchors can't donate, but that they have to notify their higher-ups first.  I'm assuming this is at least partially for oversight purposes so that management can be aware of when one of their hosts might potentially stray into "conflict of interest" territory with their stories (which, with Olbermann's donation to Raul Grijalva's campaign following the congressman's Countdown interview, there's at least potential for the appearance of).  Thus, it was his failure to clear the donations rather than the donations themselves that Olbermann got penalized for.  He knew the rules going in, or at least he should have.

Beyond that, the issue is also whether MSNBC wants to be considered a news organization or not.  I've heard lots of folks defending Keith by saying that the entirety of Fox News essentially amounts to an in-kind contribution to the GOP (remember when Christine O'Donnell said she had Sean Hannity in her "back pocket"?), but that doesn't change the calculus for MSNBC one iota.  If you're going to protest (as Olbermann did, following Jon Stewart's equivalence between Fox and MSNBC) that those guys are shills but you're not, then you have to hold yourself to a higher standard.  Will the suspension last?  Nah.  I give it a week, tops, and I look forward to his return.  But by not following the rules in place for his own protection, Olbermann forced MSNBC's hand. They had to do it.  And they were right.

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