MSNBC announced Friday that it is suspending "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough for two days due to eight previously-undisclosed $500 political contributions, a violation of NBC Universal policy. That is the same policy that got prime time talker Keith Olbermann suspended early this month.
“I recognize that I have a responsibility to honor the guidelines and conditions of my employment, and I regret that I failed to do so in this matter,” Scarborough said in a statement. “I apologize to MSNBC and to anyone who has been negatively affected by my actions,” said, adding that after he was made aware of some of the contributions, he called MSNBC president Phil Griffin “and agreed with Phil's immediate demand of a two-day suspension without pay.”
POLITICO had sought comment from the network after finding evidence that Scarborough gave at least five separate previously unknown $500 contributions while serving as an MNBC host – all to Republican candidates to whom he was close who were running for state legislative seats in or near Scarborough’s hometown of Pensacola, Fla. After being contacted by POLITICO about the donations, Scarborough voluntarily disclosed three other $500 contributions to a friend running for county office in Florida.
Scarborough’s suspension, during which he will not be paid, will end Wednesday, Griffin said in a statement, adding “As Joe recognizes, it is critical that we enforce our standards and policies."
After Olbermann's suspension, even conservatives decried NBC's policy, some saying it was completely useless, given the clear, unmistakable political leanings of most of MSNBC's on-air talent. Others, such as Jonah Goldberg, argued that the policy actually makes it more difficult to expose political biases.
Jonah Goldberg channeled both arguments:
So Olbermann gave money to some Democratic candidates. Ostensibly the rules against this are intended to prevent journalists from giving the appearance of bias. Whether or not such rules make sense for actual reporters, such rules are silly for someone like Olbermann. Does anybody, and I mean anybody, suddenly trust Olbermann’s opinion less because of this news? I’m waiting. Does anyone think he’s less biased? More biased? Un-biased?
Second, the larger problem with these kinds of rules is that they do little to prevent media bias and a great deal to hide an important form of evidence of it. Banning liberal journalists from giving money doesn’t prevent them from being liberal, it just gives them a bit more plausibility when they deny it. Now, I can see the argument that someone who makes a donation would be more interested in protecting their investment, as it were. So I don’t think the policy is completely misguided. But at a certain level banning donations is like NPR barring staff from attending the Jon Stewart rally. It doesn’t fool anyone, but gives the accused a lawyerly rebuttal to accurate accusations.
Certainly Scarborough's political leanings are no secret: he was a Republican congressman, and still indentifies himself openly as a conservative - indeed, often as a rare breed of conservative that did not mind criticizing the George W. Bush administration for perceived profligacy.
Though Scarborough, a frequent critic of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement, toes the party line less than Olbermann does, his political contributions do belie any insistence that he is completely above partisan politics.
In any case, MSNBC brass had no choice but to suspend Scarborough after these contributions came to light. Some on the left cried "double standard" after Olbermann's suspension, citing thousands in contributions reportedly made by the "Morning Joe" host to various political campaigns:
After Olbermann’s donations were reported by POLITICO, a search of campaign finance records also showed Scarborough had made a $4,200 contribution to the Oregon congressional race of close friend Derrick Kitts in 2006, when Scarborough was host of the evening show "Scarborough Country," which launched in 2003. Records showed that he had also apparently made a contribution to another old friend, Alabama legislative candidate John Merrill.
An MSNBC spokesman said at the time that the first donation complied with network policy because “Joe sought permission in advance.” And Scarborough’s co-host on “Morning Joe,” Mika Brzezinski said the other contribution — a $5,000 April check — should have been recorded in the name of Scarborough’s wife, Susan Scarborough. POLITICO was provided a copy of the bank transfer, which was dated April 9 and signed by Susan Scarborough.
So while those contributions seem permissible under the network's policies, these eight additional contributions are clearly violations. And though the policies may be dated, unneccesary, or counterproductive, MSNBC brass certainly needed to preserve the appearance of political balance.