MSNBC Suspends Keith Olbermann Indefinitely for Secret Democrat Donations

November 5th, 2010 2:10 PM

Updates abound. Check below the fold for much, much more.

MSNBC suspended Keith Olbermann indefinitely today after news broke that he had given the maximum allowable contribution to three Democrats without disclosing it to his viewers.

CBS News reported on the suspension about 20 minutes ago, with a more detailed statement from MSNBC brass:

"I became aware of Keith's political contributions late last night," Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC, said in a statement. "Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay."

Olbermann, who does not hide his liberal views, has acknowledged donations of $2,400 each to Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway and Arizona Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords during this election cycle.

NBC's ethics policy generally bars political activity, including contributions, without the approval of the president of NBC News, Steve Capus, according to a 2007 story on

"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," it says. "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."

In a statement released before the suspension as announced, Olbermann said: "I did not privately or publicly encourage anyone else to donate to these campaigns, nor to any others in this election or any previous ones, nor have I previously donated to any political campaign at any level."

As NewsBusters noted in a post on Thursday, Olbermann has often claimed that he is "not a liberal," as he once put it. Though that claim was always dubious, to say the least, it is simply laughable in light of Olbermann's political contributions, and now the news of his suspension.

His donations - undisclosed, remember - also raised the issue of a double standard, given Olbermann's criticism of Fox News parent company News Corporation's political activities. As Ed Morrissey wrote Friday morning:

I don’t think that Olbermann’s contributions mean too much on their own. We all know from watching his broadcasts that he dislikes Republicans and cheerleads for Democrats, so these contributions do nothing for his credibility in any direction. The question here is whether NBC will hold MSNBC to its ethical standards, and the hypocrisy of shrieking about Fox’s contributions while donating his own.

National Review's Jonah Goldberg offers a different take, arguging that rules against journos giving money to political campaigns actually does more to hide media bias than to prevent it.

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.

*****UPDATE: Believe it or not, a shaky consensus seems to be emerging on the right (as seen in Goldberg's statement) that Olbermann should not have been fired, or at least that MSNBC's ethics policies are unreasonable or counterproductive.

"Keep Keith!" pleads Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol:

Perhaps Olbermann violated NBC News “policy and standards.” But NBC doesn’t have real news standards for MSNBC—otherwise the channel wouldn’t exist. It’s a little strange to get all high and mighty now.

But there’s now a Republican House, and perhaps GE is trying to curry favor by dumping Olbermann?

Republicans of the world, show you believe in the free expression of opinion! Tell the crony corporatists at NBC—keep Keith!

Conservatives on Twitter, including Dan Foster and Slublog, have also chided MSNBC's ethics policies more than Olbermann's violation of them. 

*****UPDATE 2: Olbermann in 2008: "Phil [Griffin] thinks he's my boss." (h/t Treacher)

*****UPDATE 3: Organizing for America has already begun its campaign to get Olbermann back on the air.

*****UPDATE 4: Adam Bitely digs up this gem, starring Ben Affleck, from the Saturday Night Live archives:

*****UPDATE 5: Johnny Dollar brings us this hysterical segment from Fox News radio host John Gibson:

*****UPDATE 6: TV Newser's Chris Ariens writes: "Insiders we’ve talked to say Olbermann won’t be back. The question is whether he’ll leave or MSNBC keeps him off the air."

*****UPDATE 7: NB's Tim Graham digs up video of Olbermann blasting Fox for...making political donations.

*****UPDATE 8: Make sure you check out NB publisher Brent Bozell's statement as well.