By now, everyone should know that Keith Olbermann was suspended and now is back on the air because of political contributions that he made a couple weeks ago. What happened and why? It appears that MSNBC has a policy on political contributions by their on-air commentators. Cool. Their policy states that all political donations need to be approved prior to making the donations. Why? I don’t understand how prior approval will make any donation any more or any less ethical. Now, if you inform MSNBC about political donations, certain interviews and certain stories could and should be reported differently. It should be clear to the viewer that the commentator is specifically biased (yes, I know that many on MSNBC are liberals. Liberal does not equal bias. Endorsements do equal bias.)
If this is an important rule, should it be written into one’s contract? For the most part, these commentators are commenting on politics. It seems to me that that MSNBC would want to make sure that every commentator knows what the rules are and would therefore specifically write those rules into the contract.
There is a larger context. What is the role of journalism in the year 2010? How should journalists differentiate themselves from commentators? Shouldn’t this delineation be crystal clear to the viewer?
Matt Taibbi has more:
We had a whole generation of journalists who sat by and did nothing while, for instance, George Bush led us into an idiotic war on a lie, plus thousands more who spent day after day collecting checks by covering Britney’s hair and Tiger’s text messages and other stupidities while the economy blew up and two bloody wars went on mostly unexamined… and it’s Keith Olbermann who should “pay the price” for being unethical? Because, and let me get this straight, he donated money, privately, to politicians?
This is absurd even by GE’s standards. There is no reason, not even a theoretical one, why any journalist should be prevented from having political opinions and participating in election campaigns in his spare time. The policy would be ridiculous even if we were talking about an evening news anchor — because the only “ethical” question here is the issue of NBC wanting to preserve the appearance of impartiality and being unable to do so, because political contributions happen to be public record and impossible to hide from viewers.
Again, that would be true even if we were talking about Brian Williams or Tom Brokaw, someone from whom viewers expect a certain level of impartiality. But what Olbermann does is advocacy journalism and it’s not exactly a secret. NBC punishing Olbermann for donating to Democratic candidates is like Hugh Hefner fining the Playmate of the Year for showing ankle. It’s completely and utterly retarded.