By now I’m sure everyone has heard that Keith Olbermann has been suspended indefinitely from MSNBC for contributing to political campaigns without disclosing those contributions to his superiors at MSNBC.
There has been a lot of back and forth over this decision in the blogosphere and twitterverse today. I have mixed feelings on the story.
In Defense Of MSNBC
MSNBC does have a policy in place:
NBC and MSNBC TV require permission of the president of NBC News. (MSNBC.com is a joint venture of NBC Universal and Microsoft.)
“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.”
Now there could be (and already is) a lot of argument over the wording there, especially the use of the word “should”. While that is a legitimate argument, I feel it’s always best to err on the side of caution, especially in issues that can effect ones employment.
There’s also a some double standard issue coming into play here. Keith Olbermann, along with other MSNBC personalities, have been blasting FOX for their political contributions over the past several months. It reeks of hypocrisy when they are doing that, yet their number one personality is doing the same thing. For that I can’t blame Phil Griffin or the higher-ups at MSNBC for making this decision.
We also need to examine this from a management point of view. It’s no secret that Keith Olbermann has a history of being a rogue on the network and that they have given him a lot of wiggle room over the years, due in a large part to his ratings. But showing favorites is never a best practice when you are management. Perhaps this was a way for Griffin to send a message to the entire team at MSNBC that violating the rules will be tolerated by no one.
In Defense Of Olbermann
Olbermann did give to the candidates, but he didn’t use his show as a platform for their campaigns. That is a stark contrast to what FOX does. I feel that people should be able to exercise their constitutional rights and that employers shouldn’t be able to trump those rights with corporate policy. I would have no problem with Sean Hannity donating thousands to people like Michele Bachmann, if Hannity didn’t also use his show as a soap box for her.
But while Keith shouldn’t be punished for exercising this right, one has to wonder what he was thinking. We are talking about a seasoned political media personality. He knows that all campaign contributions are disclosed, as well as the climate we live in. Keith should have known this was a political/media time bomb waiting to explode. Why didn’t he just go ahead and disclose the donations to his bosses and be done with it? Was it a pure oversight on his part, or was it something more cynical like his ego? That’s something we may never know the true answer to.
I had noticed this story late last night and expected a fire storm from it. Sadly I was right, but given the fact that the story was out for almost 12 hours before word came down of Olbermann’s suspension is also telling. I’m sure Phil Griffin just didn’t instantly say “screw it – he’s gone for now”. We are talking about the top personality on MSNBC. For a network that has finally climbed out of the cellar, making such a harsh decision had to come with a lot of contemplation and arguments.
The interesting thing now is going to be the “wait and see” game. Will Olbermann’s “indefinite suspension” be one like David Shuster’s, or will he be back on the air in a week or two? Only time will tell. I do sincerely hope for the latter, but I can also see the former being a possibility.