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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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On Keith Olbermann's suspension: Don't cover the candidates you contribute to

Keith_olbermann I heard the news about Keith Olbermann getting suspended from MSNBC for contributing to three Democratic candidates as I was driving back from lunch with the Israeli TV newsman Shlomi Eldar, who's made a new documentary called "Precious Life." I'll have more to say about "Precious Life" next week, but at one point during our interview, Eldar made a compelling point about the 2008-09 Israeli military blockade of Gaza. He's a big critic of the Israeli military for not doing more to ensure the safety of Palestinian civilians, many of whom were killed in Israeli bombing raids. When fellow Israelis said to him, "So what? Hamas was shooting off hundreds of rockets, often killing our civilians," Eldar's answer was always the same: We don't have to be like them.

I think the same logic applies in the case of MSNBC suspending Olbermann. His defenders, sounding an awful lot like Eldar's Israeli critics, point out that Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Neil Cavuto have contributed to Republicans in the past. And of course Fox News' parent company, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., recently gave $1 million each to a pair of organizations trying to defeat Democratic candidates during the midterm elections.

So why should MSNBC hold Olbermann to such a high standard, especially when he's clearly a commentator, not a newsman? Because MSNBC doesn't have to be like them -- them being Fox News. If liberals want to brand Fox News as a propaganda wing of the Republican Party, which it surely looks like 90% of the time, then they need to cling to some moral high ground, starting with not opening themselves up for charges, as Olbermann has, that they are doing the same thing themselves.

As Politico, which broke the story, reported Friday, Olbermann gave $2,400, the maximum legal donation, to Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva on Oct. 28, the same day Grijalva appeared as a guest on Olbermann's "Countdown" show. There's no way that should happen, for the very reasons stated in NBC's rules against employees contributing to political campaigns--it's a breach of journalistic independence to contribute to the candidates that you're covering.

Not objectivity, since no one is arguing that Olbermann is objective, but independence. How can we, the viewers, possibly expect Olbermann to ask a candidate the toughest possible questions if he's giving him money at the same time? Or even worse, it could be perceived as pay-to-play: I give you money, you appear on my show. The same goes for Fox News, which now has a host of leading 2012 GOP presidential hopefuls all serving as paid on-air contributors. When I see them being interviewed by Fox newsmen, that exchange looks a lot more like media back-scratching and self-promotion than journalism.

The Olbermann mess simply highlights the dilemma MSNBC faces as it plays second fiddle to the Fox News juggernaut. If it wants to be a liberal advocacy network, fine, then it can reinstate Olbermann and start shaping the news to benefit liberal causes, the way Fox does on the right. But if it wants to be taken seriously as a real news network, then it should make Olbermann serve a suspension, make sure its other anchors understand the rulebook and, most important, say loud and clear: Unlike our competition, when we say we practice independent journalism, we really mean it. 

Photo: Keith Olbermann offering an opinion during the "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" show Oct. 27 on MSNBC. Credit: Associated Press/MSNBC

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Just let me know where Keith Olberman goes because i prefer him over the rest and if he leaves MSNBC then i'll follow him to where ever he goes.

Nuts to MSNBC/NBC for suspending Keith Olbermann-a tell it like it is guy with heart. I think they should've fired Chuck Todd for being so very boring-blah blah blah. I will miss Keith's personal touch and intelligence. It is the viewers who have lost a friend. You should've given Keith a mild suspension if any. No nice guys at NBC. You are all the losers.

It should be a permanent suspension...this guy is scary and the reason I don't watch MSNBC at all anymore. It used to be my favorite place for news, but Keith Olbermann is a wacko and I have control over my television.

Okay, this is beyond ridiculous. I mean, really. Obviously, millions of people with questionable intelligence take "pay to play" Fox News quite seriously. Why should MSNBC hold themselves to some 'pie in the sky' higher standard than Fox. For what possible reason. Oh I even fewer people will tune in. That is so short sighted and dare I say, stupid. I say, fight fire with fire. And by the way, there are no "real" news networks anymore, anyway. It's all B.S. now, so what the hell. Let Keith be Keith. At least he gives a damn.

Impartiality? Where? I don’t see any; anywhere. Yall live in la la land. Oh..and you thought this was America? Like that's supposed to mean something? Next the corporations are going to be able to fire you for voting for a Democrat, opps they are ready are....

Please, we live in the Divides States of Glenbeckistan Inc.

What planet does MSNBC live on? What! Is no one aloud to have an opinion? I've seen this guy on the news and he doesn't hide his leaning in any way. Right off the bat I knew this Olberman was a liberal type. Firing Keith for donating to the DNC or whatever is crazy!! It's like firing someone for donating to a church or any cause they believe in. Hell, when any of us buy products we fund corporations that run huge public policy related PR campaigns.

MSNBC is shifting to the right because plain and simple it's more profitable. The elderly are the ones watching the tube and they lean hard to the Republicans side so ditching Keith is simply a way to bring more right-wing viewers.

Oh…and as far as I’m concerned, the media is only as “liberal” as the giant corporations that own it.

Profit makes perfect.


It does not seem that Keith violated the specific wording in the policy. Anyone that has ever watched Keith knows he is not close to being an "impartial" journalist.

A blog at crooksandliars:

"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."

That language clearly says "should" and not "must". Further, anyone who thinks Keith Olbermann is an impartial journalist should have their head examined. He's not, never has been, never will be, and is not presented as one."


Personally, I don't watch Olbermann's show, and don't feel passionate about him one way or the other. I also don't care that much if individual employees at Fox (or News Corp) want to contribute donations to their candidates of choice as long as it stays within the maximum legal donation limit, and as long as their employers aren't pressuring them to fall into step with their political ideology. If News Corp donates a couple million dollars to the GOP, I do think that violates journalistic integrity, and proves that Fox is indeed a mouthpiece for the Republican Party. News Corp's "Standards of Business Conduct" specifies that "No payment shall be made to, or for the benefit of, any public official in order to induce or entice such official to: enact, defeat or violate any law or regulation for the Company’s benefit; influence any official act; or obtain any favorable action by a governmental agency or official on behalf of the Company." While I appreciate the parallel you're trying to draw between this instance and the infinitely more complicated Israeli/Palestinian morass, I don't think it's entirely apt. This is media politics in our relatively cushy American environment, and not the life-and-death situation that exists in Palestine.

I'm deeply saddened by the suspension of Keith Olberman. I haven't had cable for months and was just getting ready to reinstate it tomorrow precisely so that I could watch his show. Now there doesn't seem to be a reason to reconnect.

Keith has always been outspoken and at least during his show a liberal's liberal. Channel surfing at times, and running into Bill O'Reilly or Glen Beck, it was always a relief to go back to MSNBC and tune back into Keith.

MSNBC, it seems to me, is walking a spurious line here. MSNBC will lose me as a viewer, asa well.

Kristen Esbensen

Fox is a false propaganda machinery, on and off the air.
What Keith did was in private even though he might have broken the contract he did not go overboard with the donation like the Fox commentators.

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