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Keith Olbermann's suspended suspension: Why did MSNBC move so fast?

Keith Keith Olbermann has just emerged from one of the shortest exiles in cable news history.

On Friday, MSNBC President Phil Griffin announced that the “Countdown” host had been suspended indefinitely for making unauthorized campaign contributions to three Democratic candidates. The move was widely criticized: Over the weekend, an advocacy group called the Progressive Change Campaign Committee delivered 300,000 online signatures directly to Griffin, demanding Olbermann’s return to the network.

By late Sunday night, Griffin was stating that Olbermann would come back to MSNBC on Tuesday. Even Olbermann’s critics wondered: If he really did violate ethical standards, why did Griffin change his mind so quickly?

MSNBC declined to comment. But Joel Meares, assistant editor for the Columbia Journalism Review, says, "I’m not particularly surprised that they reversed their decision, given the amount of blowback they’ve gotten. Most media critics have been saying that it wasn’t the wisest move because no one watches Olbermann expecting to see both sides played out."

Meares questions the timing of Olbermann’s suspension, however. “MSNBC’s midterm election coverage and Olberman’s in particular was roundly criticized for being far less balanced than Fox’s,” he says. Acknowledging that the news also came less than a week after the Rally to Restore Sanity, during which Jon Stewart blasted Olbermann and the Fox News Channel for their politically divisive commentary, Meares admits, “People might read something into that.”

Online, cynics have suggested that MSNBC might be using Olbermann’s suspension to distinguish their own standards from those of Fox, which does not prevent employees from donating to political campaigns. Just days before the suspension, Olbermann announced that he was indefinitely shelving his “Worst Persons in the World” segment, effectively distancing himself from Stewart’s critique. Now, after an outpouring of support that Olbermann described on Twitter as “a global hug,” he’s become a cause celebre for liberals and conservatives alike.

No one was particularly surprised by Olbermann’s support for liberal politicians, since he’s aired his own views frequently on “Countdown.” According to Politico, Olbermann was suspended not because he violated network policy but because he initially refused to apologize, on the grounds that he didn't know campaign contributions were forbidden. (Olbermann has not made this claim publicly.) Some predict that he will give his mea culpa on air on Tuesday night.

Commentators like the Daily Beast's Meghan McCain have suggested that the real issue behind his suspension is that the lines between entertainment, commentary and journalism have become so blurred that it's difficult to tell the difference.

Bob Steele, the journalism values scholar at Poynter Institute, believes news organizations need to have clear ethical standards that apply to all three categories. “Whether they’re news journalists or opinion journalists, they should follow the same standards,” he says. “As journalists, our real contribution is in serving the public interest, and we do that through our fair, independent reporting on the political process. When we become individual activists, it corrodes that role.”

But Jay Rosen, a professor at New York University, believes MSNBC is relying on an old code of ethics at a time when networks should be disclosing their anchors’ political biases and donations online. “The traditional way of establishing trust is by wearing a mask of impartiality. A different way of trying to be trusted is by being transparent. What MSNBC needs to do is shift from what I call the View From Nowhere to a place where they say, 'Here’s what we’re about.' ”

Despite the problems Olbermann’s suspension has created for MSNBC, Meares believes this is a winning situation for the “Countdown” host. “There was a recent study that surveyed the general population about news anchors, and only the minority of the population even knew who Keith Olbermann was,” he says. “Now he’s got the name recognition.”

Whether that higher profile will lead to higher ratings remains to be seen on Tuesday.

— Melissa Maerz

Photo: Keith Olbermann. Photo credit: Reed Saxon / Associated Press.

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Comments () | Archives (20)

Although I hardly ever agree with and often get pissed at Olbermann and his comments and views. I will stand by his "right to speak" because that is one of the basic principles this country was founded upon.

Hooray for putting Keith Olbermann back on. He is sanity and common sense in this sea of conservative misinformation. Keep challenging the lives and stupidity that is the main stay of the Fox propaganda network.

Thank You Keith, Rachel, Chris & Big Ed!!!
Thank you~!!!Thank you!!!

Keith Olbermann appears to have been suffering from male menopause since about the age of ten. It's time he has a nice long rest in a sanitorium.

Olbermann is one of the meanest, angriest, and most ill-informed man in the media; his commnents are always personal and vicious...he never simply disagrees with anyone....he simply vilifies anyone who is not a left wing socialist. He is so jealous of Fox News that it is obvious. Until he ever delivers news or information in a rational tone only the other lunatics who worship him will be watching. MSNBC makes very little money from them.

Olberman is a putz and should not be on TV at all

I'd be willing to wager that NONE of Olbermann's detractors who post here have ever watched his show. If they had they wouldn't be offering such ill-informed opinions.

I don’t understand how anyone watches that other broadcast. MSNBC produces the best news personality EVER and Keith is the best host IN THE WORLD..I love you Keith and if anyone disagrees with the way you do things then they SUCK!! and you can add them to your “worst persons list” right under Bush and Sara because it is apparent that they have a problem.... MSNBC= Keith +Rachel +Chris +Ed which in turn keeps the entire USA afloat. Keith keeps it real whereas FOX LIES does not....I feel sorry for those of you who base you way of thinking on the misconception and corruption of that network.

Glad to see Olbermann back! You are better than Fox and have more class!

Olberman, Olberman. He's back. So tell us Keith, did all those agonizing hours away from the cameras knock any sense into your head? Next time you point out the lies from Fox, I would be very interested in hearing specifics. Where are the lies? That's all that you and your cronies on the left say is "lies". Is it a lie that George Soros is intentionally devaluing the dollar, when he says it himself? Is it a lie that Obama is a socialist when he says it himself? Is it a lie that Pelosi calls for transparency and a pay as you go system, then goes on to spend 2000 percent than her counterparts? Point out one lie, please. Specifics....

As for MSNBC keeping America afloat, that make about as much sense as the iceburg keeping the Titanic afloat. The numbers do not lie Oreilly blows these out of the water. Matter of fact if I had to guess I would say he has more viewers nightly than Chris "tingly leg" Matthews, Rachael Madcow, Ed "here drink my koolaid" Schultz or Keith "I should still work at sportscenter" Olberman. Sorry I have to go now Oreilly is about to come on.

Who the hell is Keith Olbermann?

>>Now, after an outpouring of support that Olbermann described on Twitter as “a global hug,” he’s become a cause celebre for liberals and conservatives alike. <<

Yes, all conservatives LOVE Keith Olbermann now! LMAO.

This man is a hero and a great sports commentator in the past as well.

NBC loves communist...err socialist commentators

Keith injects healthy humor into criticism. He is the voice of reason,common sense and a good balance for some crazy Fox news hosts. Who wrote this piece of gabage anyway? saying no one knew who Keith was before the suspension? wake up dude, he is well known and quite popular among normal people of this country. Who are you anyway?

More power to Keith, Rachel and uncle Ed!

Yes, the entire left-wing liberal "unbiased" (LOL) media should be outed for what they are...the most biased, closed minded, falsely impartial liars around anywhere. Just look at their coverage of the Bell, California scandal. All Democrats, but you won't find that information in the coverage of any of the traditional media outlets. Anyone who claims that Fox is just lies and biased is A) stupid B) on drugs C)A&B and most definitely not someone who can think independently.

I am one who signed the petition to have Kieth Olberman reinstated and I am pleased that MSNBC has seen fit to reconsider his dismissal. Now I would like them and other organizations and employers as well to look at policies that restrict expression. We live in a democracy and that form of government is strengthened by the involvement of an educated electorate.

Government employees have the Hatch Act. Throw it out! What in the world are you afraid of? People will never all agree on issues but open and free discourse is healthy. It seems that there is always someone who wants to silence and control another group. Employers want to control the political involvement of their employees. That is UN American as well as being ridiculous.

Kieth, I think that it was your inclusion of James Thurber in your telecast that caused the hammer to fall.

Best always from David and Georgiann Kerr

Joan Walsh is Keith Olberman in drag, and when one disappears the other follows.

This guy has been angry since Bush defeated Gore {thought the fix was in}
He is truly thee altimate spin doctor and a cronic liar. Makes no difference
to me whether he's suspended or not casue i don't watch him anyway. I just
stop by MSNBC to check out the spins and lies and mabe get a few laughs on my way to the fox news channel wher i can get the facts.That's when i catch his hatred. i cuoldn't take 60 minutes of it. The guy is pethedic

Expect his ratings to go up for a week or so, just so the curiosity seekers can say they no who he is when asked. Nobody with any objectivity could watch
him or MSNBC for that matter for any lenth of time.


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