Olbermann Suspended Indefinitely for Dem Political Donations

November 5, 2010

(ChattahBox Political News)—Wow, MSNBC didn’t waste any time. Following revelations by The Politico that the popular Countdown host Keith Olbermann made three personal donations to Democratic candidates totaling $7,200, he has been suspended indefinitely without pay. Olbermann, in responding to The Politico pointed out that he “did not privately or publicly encourage anyone else to donate,” but his contributions to candidates he covered on his progressive-leaning show apparently, violated NBC corporate policy.

Olbermann made his donations of $2,400 each, all on the same day, Oct 28, to Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords and senatorial candidate Jack Conway.

NBC policy frowns on political contributions that may create an appearance of a conflict of interest and requires employees to obtain permission in advance. “You should report any such potential conflicts in advance to, and obtain prior approval of, the president of NBC News or his designee, reads the NBC policy.”

Apparently Olbermann did not obtain prior approval.

The Politico reports MSNBC president Phil Griffin did not know about Olbermann’s political contributions until last night.

MSNBC President Phil Griffin said in a statement Friday: “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.”

Olbermann’s full statement explains his reasoning for making the last-minute donations to the struggling campaigns of the three candidates.

“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,” Olbermann said. “I also donated the same amount to the campaign of Democratic Senatorial candidate Jack Conway in Kentucky.”

“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,” Olbermann added.

Although Olbermann did not engage in political fundraising, either on or off air, as many Fox hosts do, he has been, rightly so, critical of Rupert Murdoch’s million dollar contributions to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Governors Association.

Still, it’s not like Olbermann’s program is a standard impartial mainstream news show. Olbermann’s Countdown, along with Rachel Maddow’s show and Lawrence O’Donnell’s the Last Word, have been the crown jewels of the network’s more progressive evening programming and part of the new Leaning Forward campaign.

And Olbermann brings in the best ratings of the bunch. So, what’s really going on here?

Other MSNBC on air employees have made political contributions. Both Joe Scarborough and contributor Pat Buchanan are listed with Open Secrets, as making political donations.

When Scarborough made a political contribution to a Republican in 2006, NBC excused it by saying he was not a journalist. “Joe hosts an opinion program and is not a news reporter, read the NBC statement.

And of course, Fox News hosts have repeatedly made personal donations to political candidates. But MSNBC and NBC are not propaganda outlets like Fox News and News Corp.

In any event, Phil Griffin wasn’t pleased with the revelation regarding Olbermann and acted swiftly and harshly, for whatever reason.

(Update: CNBC host Larry Kudlow has also made political donations. It’s not known if he sought and was granted permission beforehand.

(Further Update: Salon’s Alex Pareene reports that additional CNBC hosts have made contributions to political campaigns and asks if CNBC employees are also held to NBC’s News policy and standards.

“As I wrote earlier, CNBC primetime host Larry Kudlow donated money to a Republican congressional campaign this cycle. Hosts Gary Kaminsky and David Faber donated to Mitt Romney’s PAC and a GOP candidate.”

“Suze Orman, financial adviser and host of CNBC’s “The Suze Orman Show,” outdid the other listed NBC Universal personalities (and made CNBC a bit more bipartisan) with two $28,500 donations to the DNC and one $10,000 donation to California’s “No on 8″ campaign for marriage equality.”

(Further Update: Gawker has a report from an NBC insider saying, MSNBC hosts are not held to the same standards as straight NBC news journalists.

“MSNBC’s increasingly left-wing programming and personalities aren’t required to abide by NBC News’ exacting rules—if they were, it would be a much less bombastic and politically charged network. So while Olbermann’s donations may have run counter to the NBC News brand and Griffin’s wishes, there doesn’t appear to be a chapter-and-verse policy applying to MSNBC employees barring them.”

“The standards department has told us that MSNBC doesn’t answer to NBC News standards,” the insider said. “They don’t have coverage over MSNBC. They used to, back before MSNBC went political, but at some point it became too hard and MSNBC was taken out of their portfolio. As far as I know, there are no ethical standards at MSNBC. And if NBC says MSNBC is supposed to be living up to the NBC News standards, that’s a preposterous lie.”

Curiouser and curiouser. So, why was Olbemann suspended for something other NBC affiliated hosts have been doing with impunity? Is there some personal animosity between Phil Griffin and Keith Olbermann? Stay tuned.


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