In Defense of Keith Olbermann


According to a report in Politico, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann gave money to the campaign of three Democrats—Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway and Arizona and Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords—in violation of the company's policy regarding political donations. According to this tweet from NPR's David Folkenflik, Olbermann has been suspended by management, though no further details are provided. Sure, it's pretty stupid to make campaign donations when your employer expressly forbids it. But I can't help but wondering why MSNBC has a one-size-fits-all policy on such issues. Isn't it unfair to hold Olbermann, who is one of the most partisan people on television (if not of Earth), to the same standards as, say, Brian Williams? Countdown exists to promote Democratic candidates and liberal policies, which is just fine by me. So why shouldn't Olbermann, as a private citizen, be allowed to donate money to those candidates he plumps for on television?

The Washington Post has more details:

In a statement to Politico, Olbermann said, "One week ago, on the night of Thursday October 28 2010, after a discussion with a friend about the state of politics in Arizona, I donated $2,400 each to the reelection campaigns of Democratic Representatives Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords. I also donated the same amount to the campaign of Democratic Senatorial candidate Jack Conway in Kentucky." Olbermann went on to say he "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."

The news comes in the wake of Olbermann's harsh criticism of Fox News parent company News Corp., which donated to Republican-leaning groups. MSNBC president Phil Griffin also issued an open challenge in light of the News Corp. donations, saying to The New York Times in October, "Show me an example of us fundraising."

In MSNBC's defense, it should be pointed out that the News Corp donation (which I am also fine with) is slightly different from the Olbermann donation—one hosts a lefty opinion show, the other is the parent company of both opinion and straight news outlets. Nevertheless, I think it's fair to say that Griffin's sniffy riposte ("Show me an example of us fundraising") to Fox News was a bit premature and just maybe contributed to the decision to suspend Olbermann.

Update: Mediaite has Griffin's statement: "I became aware of Keith's political contributions late last night. Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay." Indefinitely, eh?