Poor message sent in lifting Olbermann suspension

The host of an MSNBC political talk show was wrong in making donations to three Democratic candidates for Congress.


MSNBC host Keith Olbermann should have been suspended longer for donating to the political campaigns of Democrats running for Congress.

Olbermann is host of a news program on the NBC-owned cable network and therefore should not be actively involved in political campaigns. That's the way it is in newsrooms -- broadcast and print -- across the nation. It's simply wrong for employees of news organizations to advocate for specific candidates.

At the Union-Bulletin, for example, employees are not allowed to contribute to or be actively involved in political campaigns. Even the act of putting up a yard sign is prohibited. And, of course, employees -- particularly news employees -- are to keep their political opinions to themselves.

U-B news reporters are not supposed to express their views in news stories. The aim is to provide accurate, balanced reporting.

But U-B employees do voice political opinions on the Viewpoints page and in personal columns, but that is done from the perspective of commentator, not advocate. When the U-B uses this column to make endorsements it is clearly commentary and aimed at fueling discussion and debate about the various campaigns.

Olbermann's MSNBC show, "Countdown," aims to fuel discussion and debate. It's a political talk show that leans to the left, as does Olbermann. It's no secret Olbermann is liberal and tends to favor Democrats over Republicans.

Still, he should not be a partisan. It's the same over at Fox News where the political shows lean to the right, as do the hosts. It's clear after watching 30 seconds of Sean Hannity's show that he embraces Republican views.

But should Fox News commentators be donating to the campaigns of Republicans running for Congress (or anything else)? Absolutely not. That crosses the line from commentator to advocate.

Olbermann, a smart guy with years of broadcast experience, should know that.

Yet, he feigns ignorance as his defense. The "Countdown" host complained that he was being punished for mistakenly violating an inconsistently applied rule that he had known nothing about.

Olbermann was suspended without pay by MSNBC on Friday. Two days later it was announced the suspension was lifted. It appears NBC caved on the suspension because his cause was taken up by a liberal group that gathered 300,000 names in an online petition calling for his reinstatement.

"Your efforts have been integral to the remedying of these recent events, and the results should remind us of the power of individuals spontaneously acting together to correct injustices great or small," he said.

Or, in this case, pressuring NBC to put ratings and revenue -- those 300,000 viewers -- ahead of journalism. Apparently it doesn't matter to NBC if one of its hosts is an unabashed, unapologetic advocate for Democratic candidates for Congress.


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