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Keith Olbermann suspended
November 5, 2010 11:19 AM   Subscribe

MSNBC reports: Msnbc TV host Keith Olbermann was suspended indefinitely on Friday for making campaign donations to three Democratic congressional candidates, apparently in violation of NBC News ethics policy.

The Atlantic notes: Sean Hannity donated $5,000 to Rep. Michelle Bachmann's campaign, and he has not been suspended.
posted by Joe Beese (224 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
But, but, but... Olbermann and Hannity are two sides of the same coin and MSNBC is just as biased as Fox News!
posted by entropicamericana at 11:21 AM on November 5, 2010 [14 favorites]


I still don't get why American media don't just drop all pretense and just come out and say which side they're on. I mean everyone already knows, so why pretend like we're all children?
posted by reformedjerk at 11:21 AM on November 5, 2010 [18 favorites]


As a non-American, can I ask which one of the shouty guys he is again?
posted by KokuRyu at 11:22 AM on November 5, 2010 [21 favorites]


Related stories in the Google News cloud.
posted by ao4047 at 11:22 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


And for what it's worth, I think the key is that bias is okay so long as it is clearly stated and up front; if Olbermann were in the habit of proclaiming his utter impartiality it would be more unseemly- like "independent" Bill O'Reilly, etc.

That said, good on MSNBC for showing some element of journalistic integrity- I don't think it's a necessary move, but I'd rather our news sources err on the side of too much concern for bias than too little.
posted by hincandenza at 11:22 AM on November 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


Worst Person in the World.
posted by box at 11:23 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


His wasn't an editorial show?
posted by lumensimus at 11:23 AM on November 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


As a non-American, can I ask which one of the shouty guys he is again?

Stern center-left Murrow groupie.
posted by theodolite at 11:23 AM on November 5, 2010 [25 favorites]


Does Sean Hannity work for anyone besides Fox? Everyone know Fox wears it's bias on it's sleeve, mumbles it in newscasts and shouts it in the "entertainment" shows.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:24 AM on November 5, 2010


I still don't get why American media don't just drop all pretense and just come out and say which side they're on.

I am not sure where this starts or ends being wrong.
posted by griphus at 11:24 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is seems like a case of "Yeah, and...?" From the link, NBC spelled out its policy. He ostensibly knew about it and violated it anyway. Sucks, but the rules were there from the beginning. This doesn't really seem like anything other than shrug-worthy.
posted by sonika at 11:25 AM on November 5, 2010 [7 favorites]




"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 reads.

Impartial journalist? I wonder if we've been watching the same shows....
posted by samsara at 11:27 AM on November 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


So, is 'suspended without pay' equivalent to 'fired', or will he be back next week/month?
posted by dirtdirt at 11:27 AM on November 5, 2010


Oldermann is just flat out awesome. This is really a shame to hear, but it's completely and totally unsurprising.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:27 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I liked his special comments he did during the bush administration, but after a while those got...well...old. Now Rachael Maddow is the one I follow, since she's not as overbearing and heavy handed. Plus, she has a fact-checkers.

Olbermann was a pretty good orator, an excellent voice for radio. But after a while it felt like he was trying to, unironically, become a Howard Beale figure.
posted by hellojed at 11:28 AM on November 5, 2010 [10 favorites]


which one of the shouty guys he is again?

This one.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:28 AM on November 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


1. News Corp, the parent of Fox News, has given millions to Republican candidates.

2. Pat Buchanan, who is another paid MSNBC contributor, has made multiple donations over the last few years.

This is moronic. Do the NBC execs think they're going to pull in Fox viewers now? Or does Joe Scarborough think he's getting a prime time slot now?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:29 AM on November 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


Did he think that management there (who have already shown themselves to not be terribly happy when he does controversial shit that could bring unwanted attention to their dealings) would just ignore it? He knew the policy, is knowledgeable enough to know those donations are public, yet chose to violate it. Idiot.
posted by zarq at 11:29 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


In other news, Fox continues to hand shopping bags full of cash to the RNC, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Archie Bunker, Grand Moff Tarkin, Skeletor and that mean dog down the street.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:31 AM on November 5, 2010 [80 favorites]


The policy was in place and he knew about it. However, plying devil's advocate here - being a journalist doesn't take away your identity as private citizen with the rights that come with that. So perhaps it's the policy in question that deserves another look.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:32 AM on November 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


You keep Ah-chee outta this, chowderhead.
posted by griphus at 11:32 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Journalists dole out cash to politicians (quietly) Updated 6/25/2007
MSNBC.com identified 143 journalists who made political contributions from 2004 through the start of the 2008 campaign, according to the public records of the Federal Election Commission. Most of the newsroom checkbooks leaned to the left: 125 journalists gave to Democrats and liberal causes. Only 16 gave to Republicans. Two gave to both parties.
Journalists have and support their political bias. Is this strictly verboten across the board, or something to be a quiet, personal issue? Considering he wasn't repremanded following his 20 minute "special comment" on the Tea Party (deleted thread), I'm surprised this would be seen as "too much." Perhaps it was the straw?

Olbermann has been seen as outspoken before: Olbermann and Matthews demoted (MetaFilter, Sept. 8, 2008)
posted by filthy light thief at 11:32 AM on November 5, 2010


As a non-American, can I ask which one of the shouty guys he is again?

The one who used to be on ESPN.
posted by morganannie at 11:33 AM on November 5, 2010


So the latest round of purges begin. God this shit is getting ugly. People aren't allowed to make political contributions if they have a job that is in anyway politically sensitive now? Olbermann runs a liberal commentary show! What the hell job isn't politically sensitive in some sense these days?

So the corporation that pays his salary can make unlimited contributions to whatever political cause it likes, and we're not even allowed to know about it, but he can't make perfectly legal, publicly reported political contributions?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:34 AM on November 5, 2010 [30 favorites]


I generally agree with what Olbermann has to say, but this is a pretty serious violation of journalism ethics. As a formerly starry-eyed journalism student, I'm sad to hear it.
posted by backwards compatible at 11:34 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fox continues to hand shopping bags full of cash to...Skeletor...
posted by TheWhiteSkull

eponysterical
posted by briank at 11:34 AM on November 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


is it just me or is this about something other than contributions?
posted by victors at 11:35 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, is 'suspended without pay' equivalent to 'fired', or will he be back next week/month?

Just got off the phone with a friend who is a producer at a different MSNBC show, who said it's most likely a symbolic slap on the wrist which will be followed by an admonition to go forth and sin no more. Olbermann heads one of their (often the) top rated shows and has more than tripled their ratings in the 8pm slot, so it's highly doubtful he's going anywhere.

Frankly, the person they need to boot is Buchanan. He's been donating to candidates for years.
posted by zarq at 11:35 AM on November 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


Joe Scarborough, host of the "Morning Joe" talk show and the evening newscast "Scarborough Country," $4,200 in March 2006 to Derrick Kitts, Republican candidate for the House from Oregon. ... A spokesperson for NBC, Jeremy Gaines, replied to questions sent to Scarborough. "Yes, he did make a donation to Derrick Kitts. Kitts is an old friend of Joe's. Joe hosts an opinion program and is not a news reporter."
posted by Joe Beese at 11:35 AM on November 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


However, plying devil's advocate here - being a journalist doesn't take away your identity as private citizen with the rights that come with that. So perhaps it's the policy in question that deserves another look.

I know other private citizens who are in positions where their jobs do not allow them to "influence" elections, including giving money to campaigns. It's not just journalists - various charities/non-profits hold their employees up to a certain standard of impartiality and it's just one of the things that you have to suck up and deal with if you want to have the job. The policy is not unique to MSNBC or even the journalism profession.
posted by sonika at 11:35 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Journalists have and support their political bias. Is this strictly verboten across the board, or something to be a quiet, personal issue?

Edward R. Murrow once famously remarked something to the effect of its okay to be biased as a journalist as long as you don't hide your bias. Guess he wouldn't survive today either.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:35 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait...... NBC pays a certain pundit to have a daily biased show about politics. Then they fire him for being biased? How does that fly logically, even if there is a contract clause? They explicitly paid him to be biased. Right?

I think there is more here than a contribution. They *wanted* him biased. Clearly.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:36 AM on November 5, 2010


In other news, Fox continues to hand shopping bags full of cash to the RNC, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Archie Bunker, Grand Moff Tarkin, Skeletor and that mean dog down the street.

This is why everybody likes the bad guys in movies and cartoons. The good guys get saddled with bureaucracy and the tedium of rules. The bad guys just rip shit up and get their way.
posted by cashman at 11:36 AM on November 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


People aren't allowed to make political contributions if they have a job that is in anyway politically sensitive now?

Uh, I have a friend who works for a science-related non-profit whose organization also prevents political contributions. It's not that her job is politically sensitive, it's that in order to maintain their funding, they need to be totally above board impartial and not seen to sway or be swayed by any political parties or candidates. Again, she works in science, but this is - from what I gather - pretty standard policy for a number of professions with certain ethical guidelines.
posted by sonika at 11:38 AM on November 5, 2010


He also changed his sign off last night.
posted by zarq at 11:38 AM on November 5, 2010


Keith Olbermann's Suspended for Donating to Democrats, But Why?

Because MSNBC and Fox are separate businesses with different policies. The Atlantic is raising a bogus question.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:38 AM on November 5, 2010 [10 favorites]


There is this difference: Keith and his station have a standard, an ethical one...he seems to have violated that standard and is now in hot water. Fox, without standards, and equally biased, give massive money to GOP from its owner and all their anchors of course support Tea Party people and push for their elections. Had they an ethical standard, would they close down because the owner is known to contribute huge sums to GOP?
posted by Postroad at 11:38 AM on November 5, 2010


What is a "Murrow groupie"? Is that someone who believes that journalists should actually be journalists?

Now Rachael Maddow is the one I follow, since she's not as overbearing and heavy handed. Plus, she has a fact-checkers.

She was pretty loud and overbearing on election night. She had to be, what with Chris Matthews and Lawrence O'Donnell trying to shout her down every 10 seconds, but it was still irritating.

Anyway, as much as Chris Matthews irritates me, I totally disagree with this lame assertion. Michele Bachmann was, is, and always will be in a trance.

Keith Olbermann needs a time out in more ways than one.
posted by blucevalo at 11:40 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


So now where the hell am I gonna get my James Thurber fix on Friday nights?
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:40 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think it's good that MSNBC has a policy like this and is sticking to it, but I'm going to go ahead and verbalize the though I'm having here: Considering the direct material support given to the GOP, Fox doesn't have any kind of similar clause right?

Or is the issue here that it's the contributions of an employee directly to a specific candidate and not the entire network funneling money into the campaigns? Because while I'm not to keen on the former, I'm sick to death of the latter.

[on read failure: didn't notice the below the fold, so Fox has no clause or doesn't enforce it. I see.]
posted by quin at 11:41 AM on November 5, 2010


I kind of hope he does get fired, because I'd like to see him go back to ESPN. I can't handle watching shouty partisan political commentary on either side of the aisle, but I always loved him on SportsCenter.
posted by something something at 11:41 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Uh, I have a friend who works for a science-related non-profit whose organization also prevents political contributions. It's not that her job is politically sensitive, it's that in order to maintain their funding, they need to be totally above board impartial and not seen to sway or be swayed by any political parties or candidates.

Yeah, and I know people in similar situations, too. In fact, more and more, everyone who makes more than $8.00 an hour finds themselves either explicitly or implicitly in this situation because the political right is nasty and vindictive and won't hesitate to punish disloyalty or other perceived sleights and that makes the political environment trickier for everyone.

If the result is to disenfranchise significant numbers of Americans from their own political process, can we really tolerate that? Especially in light of the fact that there are now no constraints on the political activities of the companies that are imposing limits on our own abilities to be politically engaged?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:42 AM on November 5, 2010 [11 favorites]


Everyone know Fox wears it's bias on it's sleeve

I thought it wore "Fair & Balanced" on its' sleeve. Its bias is a tattoo that can be concealed underneath so it can keep a respectable appearance on the job. Like when Glenn Beck puts on glasses and uses a chalkboard to keep up the appearance he's informed and has some knowledge to impart to his viewers.
posted by Hoopo at 11:43 AM on November 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Again, it's perfectly fine if a network wants a rule that says their employees can't make political contributions. They're obligated to explain their hypocrisy. In less than ten minutes, people on this site found instances of two other MSNBC employees making political donations. MSNBC owes an explanation. If there isn't one then they're lying about what's going on here.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:44 AM on November 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


This is a sensible policy, but if it's not applied evenly it's worse than no policy at all. Presumably Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough's jobs are safe.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:44 AM on November 5, 2010


The Myth of Objectivity is the horse American liberalism will ride into the valley of death.
posted by clarknova at 11:44 AM on November 5, 2010 [31 favorites]


If the result is to disenfranchise significant numbers of Americans from their own political process, can we really tolerate that? Especially in light of the fact that there are now no constraints on the political activities of the companies that are imposing limits on our own abilities to be politically engaged?

To be clear, I was talking about non-profit organizations, not corporations who are themselves donating money to political causes.
posted by sonika at 11:45 AM on November 5, 2010


is it just me or is this about something other than contributions?

FWIW, at that Scarborough link, Markos Koulitsas places this in the context of, as he puts it, how MSNBC President Phil Griffin has "done everything possible to keep MSNBC from going the full liberal".
posted by Joe Beese at 11:47 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am now setting the timer for when NPR decides to hire Olbermann. Any wagers?
posted by not_on_display at 11:47 AM on November 5, 2010


I suspect Fox News also would suspend a reported who donated to Democrats.
posted by ubernostrum at 11:48 AM on November 5, 2010 [10 favorites]


The announcement came in a one-sentence statement from msnbc TV President Phil Griffin: “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.”

That's TWO sentences. Two.
posted by Dasein at 11:48 AM on November 5, 2010 [21 favorites]


Joe Beese: "MSNBC President Phil Griffin has "done everything possible to keep MSNBC from going the full liberal"."

Obligatory reminder that MSNBC canceled Phil Donahue's show three weeks before the start of the war because he invited war opponents on.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 11:49 AM on November 5, 2010 [21 favorites]


However, plying devil's advocate here - being a journalist doesn't take away your identity as private citizen with the rights that come with that. So perhaps it's the policy in question that deserves another look.

Sure it does. Caesar's wife must be above reproach.

As sonika said, journalists are required to varying degrees by the news organizations that employ them to be free of potential or perceived bias. Some organizations ban their reporters, producers and other employees from making donations, or from receiving gifts, meals, and other graft from companies or publicists whose clients might be the subjects of articles.

As a publicist, I generally can't be interviewed by members of the media, just in case I may turn around and pitch them a story one day. I have been quoted by reporters anonymously in various stories, but that's been a rare occurrence.

Journalists are supposed to remain objective. Losing that objectivity, whether it is perceived or actual, causes serious problems when determining the accuracy of their reporting.

Fox News has thrown objectivity out the window, which is one of the reasons why they're not sourced here as a valid news org very much.
posted by zarq at 11:49 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


MSNBC President Phil Griffin has "done everything possible to keep MSNBC from going the full liberal".

let me count the "ship has sailed" metaphors
posted by victors at 11:51 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is a "Murrow groupie"? Is that someone who believes that journalists should actually be journalists?

No, it's someone who habitually ends his show with Murrow's tagline, "Good night, and good luck."

As a non-American, can I ask which one of the shouty guys he is again?

Really?
posted by coolguymichael at 11:51 AM on November 5, 2010


this is a stunt.
posted by empath at 11:51 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The idea of a liberal equivalent to Bill O'Reilly has always struck me as a little dumb. It's like if the North tried to win the Civil war by switching to a plantation slave economy. You're never going to be as good at it as they are, and you're sort of defeating the purpose.
posted by condour75 at 11:51 AM on November 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


Fox continues to hand shopping bags full of cash to...Skeletor...
posted by TheWhiteSkull

eponysterical


Skeletor is more grey-green. And he's kind of a dick. I mean, he keeps going on and on about He-Man in this totally Jocko Homo kind of way. Talk about the lady doth protest too much.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:52 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Obligatory reminder that MSNBC canceled Phil Donahue's show three weeks before the start of the war because he invited war opponents on.

You mean to say that General Electric has some kind of financial interest in war??
posted by theodolite at 11:53 AM on November 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


I don't even know why this has to be said, but: There is a world of difference between an individual contributing a legally-limited and disclosed amount and a corporation contributing a
(now legally) unlimited, non-disclosed amount.

If we want a country where corporate rules trump constitutional rights then, by all means, we need to support MSNBC here.

it's perfectly fine if a network wants a rule that says their employees can't make political contributions.

No, it's not.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:54 AM on November 5, 2010 [14 favorites]


not_on_display: "I am now setting the timer for when NPR decides to hire Olbermann."

Nope.

theodolite: "financial interest in war??"

That's why. (General Dynamics is an underwriter).
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 11:57 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


From DailyKos:
Update: Here's how NBC explained Scarborough's donation to Kitts:

Joe Scarborough, host of the "Morning Joe" talk show and the evening newscast "Scarborough Country," $4,200 in March 2006 to Derrick Kitts, Republican candidate for the House from Oregon. ... A spokesperson for NBC, Jeremy Gaines, replied to questions sent to Scarborough. "Yes, he did make a donation to Derrick Kitts. Kitts is an old friend of Joe's. Joe hosts an opinion program and is not a news reporter."
posted by saulgoodman at 11:59 AM on November 5, 2010


Olbermann aligned with Dems? (Insert shocked face here)
posted by VicNebulous at 12:01 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


HO hum - GE was still getting those military contracts either way.
posted by symbioid at 12:01 PM on November 5, 2010


In this week's issue of Newsweek, Olbermann is ranked #5 in Newsweek's Power 50. Basically, he is the 9th highest paid journalist in the country.

Final lines of the write-up in the magazine: "His tenure at Fox as host of baseball's Game of the Week ended with Rupert Murdoch declaring, "I fired him ... He's crazy."

Also from the article: "Most of his previous career stints have ended bitterly."
posted by morganannie at 12:02 PM on November 5, 2010


Oh, Upon preview what all y'all were saying upthread! (slaps head - stop commenting until after reading all the comments!)
posted by symbioid at 12:02 PM on November 5, 2010


Losing that objectivity, whether it is perceived or actual, causes serious problems when determining the accuracy of their reporting.

Fox News has thrown objectivity out the window, which is one of the reasons why they're not sourced here as a valid news org very much.


Not here, sure, but what serious problems is Fox News having with the public at large? I mean it blows my mind and the minds of some people I know, but there are folks who aren't Gumps who are sopping Fox News up with a biscuit every day.
posted by cashman at 12:02 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wasn't aware Olbermann was actually on any of the news programs claiming impartiality. I thought his show was entirely an opinion show.

Well, whichever. If NBC has an ironclad no donations rule, then as long as they enforce it equally across the board, that's fine. I look forward to seeing Buchanan get his ass booted any day now.
posted by kafziel at 12:04 PM on November 5, 2010


I feel conflicted about this. On one hand, I'm sure there is good reasoning behind the policy, but on the other, I don't see what it is.

I think that most people would agree that no matter how impartial someone must be on the job, they're allowed to have political opinions. We'd have a fit if someone told a journalist that they're not allowed to vote.

As soon as Olbermann walked into the polls, people would know that, hey, Olbermann prefers one of the candidates. And since it's Olbermann, we'd probably be able to guess which one.

Why is donating to a candidate different? What does forbidding it prevent? Is it just that "Olbermann donated $5,000 to blah" seems dirtier because it involves money, and makes a better talking point for people who want to attack the network?

Thoughts, please?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:05 PM on November 5, 2010


I don't even know why this has to be said, but: There is a world of difference between an individual contributing a legally-limited and disclosed amount and a corporation contributing a
(now legally) unlimited, non-disclosed amount.


it's perfectly fine if a network wants a rule that says their employees can't make political contributions.

No, it's not.


This is a subject that has been debated in J-schools for decades. Whether you agree with it or not, the consensus in the industry is that a journalist should maintain ethical standards and not be perceived as biased. Sometimes, those standards need to be codified by the organization that employs the reporters, in order to make sure they are followed.

It is virtually impossible for a journalist to remain 100% objective. However, they are usually trained to believe that one should make an effort to remain as objective as possible in order to maintain at least the appearance of propriety.
posted by zarq at 12:08 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Kutsuwamushi: "As soon as Olbermann walked into the polls, people would know that, hey, Olbermann prefers one of the candidates. And since it's Olbermann, we'd probably be able to guess which one. "

Plausible deniability. There are all sorts of things even someone who's obviously liberal can do in a polling booth: they can vote for a Democrat, they can vote for a Green, they can vote for a Republican for some idiosyncratic reason, they can write in themselves, they can not vote at all. A public political donation says to the entire world "I, news anchor, support Candidate X in his race against candidate Y."
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 12:10 PM on November 5, 2010


My understanding is you are allowed to donate if cleared ahead of time. He didn't do that. So they're suspending him. He'll be off air for 3 days, I predict
posted by Ironmouth at 12:11 PM on November 5, 2010


I feel conflicted about this. On one hand, I'm sure there is good reasoning behind the policy, but on the other, I don't see what it is.

That's the third hand -- the unseen hand of the Free Market.

I think I'll watch sports, now. *sigh*
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:11 PM on November 5, 2010


Boy, it gets harder and harder everyday to express your political opinions if you plan to have a job earning more than $8.00 an hour, dunnit?
posted by saulgoodman at 12:13 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why is donating to a candidate different? What does forbidding it prevent? Is it just that "Olbermann donated $5,000 to blah" seems dirtier because it involves money, and makes a better talking point for people who want to attack the network?

Because you can't know whether subsequent news reports conducted by that journalist were unbiased.

If he likes a candidate, does he ask them leading questions in interviews? Does he gloss over information that the public has a right to be made aware of? If he discovers that say, Joe Shmoe the Mayoral Candidate has been stealing taxpayer funds, will he choose not to report it because he wants Shmoe to win the election? Or, is he being paid to say nice things about the Candidate?

Bias destroys credibility. Worse, it cheats the public. If you say you're going to report the news, then do it. If you say you're going to be fair and balanced, and aren't, then you're doing harm to your viewers by misinforming them.
posted by zarq at 12:14 PM on November 5, 2010


This is why this site needs Drudge sirens.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:14 PM on November 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


"journalists are required to varying degrees by the news organizations that employ them to be free of potential or perceived bias"

Olbermann was never required to avoid bias. That's just silly, and anyone claiming otherwise is being willfully disingenuous. He was, overly, an attack dog for the left.

Seriously? Are you going to claim that *anyone* in MSNBC management thought Olbermann was free of potentially biased reporting?
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:14 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I generally agree with what Olbermann has to say, but this is a pretty serious violation of journalism ethics.

Why? I'm serious. What's the problem?

I agree that it is a serious violation of MSNBC's rules and regulations and he was disciplined for that, but why is it a problem that he has a political opinion? Or a bias? Okay, I can see why a bias might be a problem, but why does contributing money to a political candidate show a bias rather than a preference? Why is contributing money different from voting?

I guess I still have a vaguely British view of journalism (or what I perceive as a British view) in which newspapers say "We are conservative as hell and proud of it!" or "So liberal we are actually embarassed to be profitable" or whatever.

I think that people should be upfront about their biases, but anyone who couldn't tell that Olbermann is probably slightly more to the left than to the right would probably suffocate if people didn't regularly remind them to breath ("aaaaaaaaand inhale").
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 12:17 PM on November 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


Journalistic "objectivity" is a bit of a canard; much like the false equivalence that both sides of an argument are always equally valid.

Did Edward R. Murrow not have a demonstrable viewpoint? Did Walter Cronkite? Does the New York Times, or the Washington Post, or the Wall Street Journal?

A journalist has a duty to present facts, with as equal weight and openness as possible. That doesn't mean that, once presented, conclusions can't be drawn. Especially if they affect basic human and civic rights.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:21 PM on November 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


To be clear, Olbermann has not been "fired" for "making political donations." He has been suspended for failing to notify NBC News of those donations ahead of time, as per company policy.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:21 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, wait, wait. So the supreme court allows corporations to donate to political campaigns because to block them would block the first amendment rights of the individual people making up that corporation?

So has General Electric, who owns NBC eschewed all political donations? Because if not, it seems to me that the NBC policy is un-constitutional.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:25 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


To be clear, Olbermann has not been "fired" for "making political donations." He has been suspended for failing to notify NBC News of those donations ahead of time, as per company policy.

Meaning that MSNBC misleadingly reported the actions of their own company in that first link.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:25 PM on November 5, 2010


Boy, it gets harder and harder everyday to express your political opinions if you plan to have a job earning more than $8.00 an hour, dunnit?

You've said this several times and so far, you're the only one saying it. What's your plan here, to just keep saying it until someone agrees?
posted by sonika at 12:27 PM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I kind of hope he does get fired, because I'd like to see him go back to ESPN. I can't handle watching shouty partisan political commentary on either side of the aisle, but I always loved him on SportsCenter.

I wouldn't mind seeing him on SportsCenter again, but my understanding was that he had an extremely severe falling out with ESPN management, and that to this day he's not welcome back in any capacity.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:29 PM on November 5, 2010


I agree that it is a serious violation of MSNBC's rules and regulations and he was disciplined for that, but why is it a problem that he has a political opinion? Or a bias? Okay, I can see why a bias might be a problem, but why does contributing money to a political candidate show a bias rather than a preference? Why is contributing money different from voting?

It's not a problem that he has a political opinion. That's his job. The people in charge just like to make sure he's not saying one thing and paying another, so they have him clear all his donations with them.

Hypothetical scenario: Newsman rants and raves about the evils of a certain political party, to the point that it reflects badly on the side he is ostensibly cheering for. Unbeknownst to his employers, he is in fact a supporter of an opposing party. That would be incredibly fucked up, but I really wouldn't put it past an Olbermann or a Beck.

Olbermann didn't let NBC know about the contributions beforehand. Despite the donations being totally non-fishy, they called him on it, lest he or someone else try something fishy in the future.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:33 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


"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."

This is an asinine position. By this logic, journalists should not be allowed to vote.
posted by jbickers at 12:34 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, to be clear, is the distinction between Olbermann and Scarborough that Scarborough/Buchanan notified MSNBC of their donations and Olbermann didn't, or that Olbermann is a journalist and the other two are considered opinion commentators? It never really occurred to me that what Olbermann's show wasn't considered an opinion program, but maybe I don't understand the difference? His suspension doesn't seem entirely fair, but it seems sort of dumb to break the rules, assuming he understood them better than I do.
posted by naoko at 12:35 PM on November 5, 2010


I wasn't aware Olbermann was actually on any of the news programs claiming impartiality. I thought his show was entirely an opinion show.

I imagine in a company like MSNBC with rules like this, a show is either / or on this kind of thing. Maybe his show started as news, and slowly turned into opinion with his screeds, and never got reclassified. Would not shock me.
posted by smackfu at 12:35 PM on November 5, 2010


You've said this several times and so far, you're the only one saying it. What's your plan here, to just keep saying it until someone agrees?

Yeah, umkay. Thanks. Bye.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:36 PM on November 5, 2010


So has General Electric, who owns NBC eschewed all political donations? Because if not, it seems to me that the NBC policy is un-constitutional.

NBC is not the government. Free speech protections apply to government restriction, not private entities.

Now, if we have Olbermann being fired for making donations to liberal candidates, and Robertson not being fired for making donations to conservative candidates, then we have a case that someone is being fired for their political beliefs. And that is against the law.
posted by kafziel at 12:36 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


>>To be clear, Olbermann has not been "fired" for "making political donations." He has been suspended for failing to notify NBC News of those donations ahead of time, as per company policy.

>Meaning that MSNBC misleadingly reported the actions of their own company in that first link.


Not at all. It's just buried under the sensationalism:
"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 reads. “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."
posted by Sys Rq at 12:37 PM on November 5, 2010


I guess I still have a vaguely British view of journalism (or what I perceive as a British view) in which newspapers say "We are conservative as hell and proud of it!" or "So liberal we are actually embarassed to be profitable" or whatever.

The roles of print and broadcast journalism are more or less reversed between the US and UK. British papers are openly and proudly partisan, while news broadcasters aim for uncontroversial objectivity (for the most part - Rupert has been slowly transforming Sky News into Fox for years now).
posted by influx at 12:42 PM on November 5, 2010


>The idea of a liberal equivalent to Bill O'Reilly has always struck me as a little dumb... You're never going to be as good at it as they are, and you're sort of defeating the purpose.

O'Reilly and Co. are tribal cheerleaders.

And politics is tribalism.

The political faction without sustained cheerleading-- that does not deign to indulge its members' and potential members' need for blame, anger, simple causes and specific enemies (whether they be Elitist Eggheads or Malefactors of Great Wealth)-- is the faction that gets beaten routinely... and must depend on massive, obvious screwups, e.g., the performance of GW Bush, in order to attain power.

What the Right has internalized, and the (quasi-) Left has not, are three important truths:

a) The public doesn't know or care about details-- it just needs a emotionally intense narrative with an enemy to blame.

b) The public does not have a fixed opinion; its opinions are swayed through the repetition of intense emotional narratives.

c) Therefore, to control the debate, you just need to offer invective-filled emotional narratives on an ongoing and relentless schedule, facts be damned.

Olbermann seemed to get this; as well he should have, because muckracking journalism has the same wellspring as politics.

If the Dem strategists could disentangle themselves from the Beltway machinery, perhaps they'd realize they'd be better off buying up Pacifica or ramping up Air America than trying to secure pats on the head from traditional media.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:44 PM on November 5, 2010 [11 favorites]


So has General Electric, who owns NBC eschewed all political donations? Because if not, it seems to me that the NBC policy is un-constitutional.

NBC is not the government. Free speech protections apply to government restriction, not private entities.

Now, if we have Olbermann being fired for making donations to liberal candidates, and Robertson not being fired for making donations to conservative candidates, then we have a case that someone is being fired for their political beliefs. And that is against the law.


No, its not against the law to do that. It is morally wrong, but not illegal.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:47 PM on November 5, 2010


I'm surprised some talking head on Fox isn't yet shouting "Liberal Censorship!"
posted by peeedro at 12:48 PM on November 5, 2010


Tarkin / Skeletor 2012!
posted by shen1138 at 12:48 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


What the Right has internalized, and the (quasi-) Left has not, are three important truths:

a) A lie told often enough becomes the truth.

b) A lie told often enough becomes the truth.

c) A lie told often enough becomes the truth.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:51 PM on November 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


"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."

By this logic, journalists should not be allowed to vote.

Well, no, because we have secret ballots and thus the act of voting itself can't appear to cause any conflict of interest. Discussing how you voted or plan to vote might appear to cause a conflict of interest and I'm guessing if Olbermann had done that, he would also have found himself in trouble with the network.

That said, I don't think this is a good policy and I'm not going to defend it for itself.
posted by Copronymus at 1:00 PM on November 5, 2010


How is this not a freedom of speech issue? If I recall, this was the argument for allowing corporations donate politically. Why can't individuals do this?

I guess if the corporations can't directly control the vote, they can control the money getting to the candidates?
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 1:00 PM on November 5, 2010


This is not a purge. This is not censorship. This is not a restriction on political donations. This is not even a double standard. This is a restriction on political donations without telling your boss about it first, which is hardly the same thing and makes plenty of sense for a media outlet.

Dozens of journalists at MSNBC made political donations, mostly to Democratic candidates, and no one said "Boo," because they filed their paperwork first. The only reason Olbermann is in trouble here is because he didn't give proper notice.

I would have thought that MeFites would be astute enough to RTFA, but apparently not.
posted by valkyryn at 1:02 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


How is this not a freedom of speech issue?

The First Amendment does not restrict private actors. The state can't tell you not to make a political donation, but your boss sure can.
posted by valkyryn at 1:03 PM on November 5, 2010


I'm really not sure alot of ye olde journalism standards apply to our world anymore. There's too much spectacle, too many eyes on journalists doing their jobs, etcetera. Bias, perceived or not, has always been inevitable, and raw objectivity, impossible. It was always the job of journalists to constantly strive for objectivity, with the understanding that we only achieve a complete and utter lack of opinion when we're cold on the slab. No one expected them to be perfect.

Olbermann is less a journalist, more a pundit. It's important to NBC that the public knows his underlying beliefs in order to continue to draw a strong Democratic demographic.

This in particular reeks of a stunt: a chance for Olbermann to show off his beliefs for his audience; That he practices what he preaches even in the face of adversity. It also allows NBC to paint itself as a bastion of aforementioned ye olde journalism standards. I imagine the decision to do this was done in a beautiful window view boardroom, with smiles and handshakes see-you-soon pats on the back.
posted by krysalist at 1:08 PM on November 5, 2010


How is this not a freedom of speech issue?

Exactly. The supreme court only recently ruled in Citizens United that corporations are engaging in protected political speech when they donate to candidates or political causes.

In that case, they overturned laws that had been lawfully enacted by congress in defense of Free Speech. In this case, many commenting here have concluded it's a foregone conclusion that Olbermann has no free speech claim in this case because corporate policies--unlike duly enacted laws--trump that right.

So do private corporate policies now effectively have more legal weight than lawful acts of congress? It sure seems like it, if it is a given as has been suggested here that free speech protections don't extend to private corporate policy.

Our laws increasingly make no sense.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:09 PM on November 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


All I know is that I'm not watching MSNBC anymore until Keith Olbermann is back.
posted by MegoSteve at 1:10 PM on November 5, 2010


I still don't get why American media don't just drop all pretense and just come out and say which side they're on. I mean everyone already knows, so why pretend like we're all children?

So, should we be allowed to not be neutral in a FPP? How about whether we use the term "theft" rather than "infringement?"
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:10 PM on November 5, 2010


As soon as Olbermann walked into the polls, people would know that, hey, Olbermann prefers one of the candidates. And since it's Olbermann, we'd probably be able to guess which one.

Voting involves almost no personal cost and is a civic duty as well. But donating to a candidate suggests something more. It indicates that you so strongly prefer one outcome that you are willing to spend your own money so that it comes to pass. Merely voting doesn’t suggest a personal bias strong enough to affect newsgathering, but diverting money from the mouths of your children to the campaign coffers of Jones for Dogcatcher does. Donating money to a campaign also means you are, literally, invested in that candidate -- and if he wins, invested in that public official. That's bias.
posted by hhc5 at 1:10 PM on November 5, 2010


The First Amendment does not restrict private actors. The state can't tell you not to make a political donation, but your boss sure can.

So your boss has more legal authority--even to the point of trumping the constitution--than congress has? That's effectively the state of the law now and you think that's cool?
posted by saulgoodman at 1:11 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


But donating to a candidate suggests something more.

Why does that matter? The supremes ruled that political contributions are a matter of protected political speech. It's protected political speech under the constitution whether it reveals bias or not.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:13 PM on November 5, 2010


The state can't tell you not to make a political donation, but your boss sure can.

No, your boss cannot. He can tell you to do it, and you can quit.
posted by smackfu at 1:16 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Let's try that again.

Your boss can tell you to do almost anything, and you can always quit if you don't agree.
posted by smackfu at 1:17 PM on November 5, 2010


Without needing to debate the legitimacy of the policy that Olbermann infracted, I think the evidence is clear that this is selective enforcement.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:20 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Olbermann's going to get some sweet vacation time and finally get to really spend some of his $8 million-a-year salary.
posted by krysalist at 1:23 PM on November 5, 2010


No, your boss cannot. He can tell you to do it, and you can quit.

So your boss can deprive you of personal property (your future income, potentially your assets) in order to force you to comply with a company policy that violates an enumerated, constitutionally protected right of citizenship, but congress can't do the same thing to a corporation?

Spoken like someone who's a lot more financially secure than the average joe.

(Unless that Joe is Scarborough. Who did the exact same thing when he donated to a Republican candidate, and wasn't suspended, despite hosting a show ("Morning Joe") that portrays itself as far more objective and newsy than Obermann's.)

It turns out that in 2006, Joe Scarborough on MSNBC not only gave a donation to a Republican candidate, but then had that candidate on his show less than a week later without disclosing the conflict of interest.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:24 PM on November 5, 2010 [9 favorites]


The First Amendment does not restrict private actors. The state can't tell you not to make a political donation, but your boss sure can.

So your boss has more legal authority--even to the point of trumping the constitution--than congress has? That's effectively the state of the law now and you think that's cool?


Yes, both statements are correct. For example, if the government charges you with a crime you have a constitutional right not to testify against yourself. But an employer can legally make you piss in a bottle - and fire you if you don't.

The right loves the system set up this way. But there is really no rhyme or reason behind any justification of running the system this way. There are labor laws that dictate what employers can and can't do. I believe that curtailing private political activity outside of work is not a justifiable corporate behavior.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:24 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maddow's show to be canceled for "low ratings" in 3, 2, ...
posted by dirigibleman at 1:26 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Have you no __[something]__, sir?
posted by Eideteker at 1:26 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Your boss can tell you to do almost anything

If he tells you to go down on him, your only option is to quit?

No, you have legal recourse because your boss violated your constitutionally protected rights.

The work place was not historically viewed as some kind of magical "rights free" zone where the sovereignty of the constitution suddenly just stops. But yes, I guess that's almost where things stand now, since nobody seems to give a damn.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:30 PM on November 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


How is this not a freedom of speech issue?

Because he was free to make the donation. Freedom of Speech does not equal Freedom of Consequences. His boss was also free to suspend him for doing so, as was stated in his contract.
posted by sonika at 1:30 PM on November 5, 2010


After Olbermann tweeted his disapproval with Jon Stewart's "False Dichotomy", I FINALLY unfollowed him on Twitter after replying "I liked you better when you tried to be as funny as Jon Stewart."

But MSNBC has a problem. It is 50% owned by NBC* which has a Broadcast Network News organization that follows all the old rules (so Huntley and Brinkley never would have made contributions to anybody) and which provides much of the content for the channel. Fox News is free of any such restraints (and the one show it provides to the Fox Broadcast Network is a Sunday Show with Chris Wallace with less than HALF the audience of the ABC/CBS/NBC shows, btw). If there's going to be a true "Liberal Anti-Fox Network", it shouldn't be owned by NBC, no matter who owns NBC.

That said, considering the bridges Olbermann has burned elsewhere, it almost seems as if the one place he could turn up besides back at MSNBC is... don't laugh... CNN or its secondary channel HLN (which occasionally gets better ratings with its Liberal Joy Behar Show than CNN's retiring Larry King). I mean, Parker/Olbermann doesn't sound as bad as Parker/Spitzer (although you KNOW Keith would demand top billing).


*also 50% owned by Microsoft which is not actively involved with the channel but is with the MSNBC.com website, where I occasionally write fluffy entertainment content, he disclaimered.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:33 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Your boss can tell you to do almost anything

If he tells you to go down on him, your only option is to quit?


Hey, I said "almost".
posted by smackfu at 1:35 PM on November 5, 2010


The state can't tell you not to make a political donation, but your boss sure can.

So your boss has more legal authority--even to the point of trumping the constitution--than congress has? That's effectively the state of the law now and you think that's cool?


That was the state of the law in 1993 when I worked for a company which Richard Riordan owned 5% of while he was running for mayor of L.A. and even though the company was located outside the L.A. City Limits, you weren't allowed to put another candidate's bumper sticker on your car if you wanted to park in the company lot. Employers can clamp down on employees' Free speech like crazy, but they can't order you how to vote (the infamous McDonalds case was just "advising" - besides, if all their employees had voted Republican and the Democrats won, it would not save anybody's job, but that's an old discussion, I digress)
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:39 PM on November 5, 2010


But there is really no rhyme or reason behind any justification of running the system this way.

You may not agree with the reason, but they certainly have one. You can quit your job, but you can't quit your congress.
posted by Jahaza at 1:43 PM on November 5, 2010


let's be honest only Keith Olbermann has the nerve to start reading us James Thurber in a cable news show.
posted by the mad poster! at 1:44 PM on November 5, 2010


This guy thinks that Olbermann's suspension is driven by the impending sale of MSNBC to Comcast.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:44 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


If he tells you to go down on him, your only option is to quit?

No, but ONLY because there are specifically written sexual harassment laws, which have survived judicial challenge on various basis, including "free speech".
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:45 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


From The Week:
NBC is milking this for P.R. value: The suspension is partly a publicity move, say Brian Stelter and Bill Carter in The New York Times, Privately, NBC execs have said that they don't intend to fire Olbermann, and that they see this as "a chance to draw a distinction between the journalistic standards of their news division and the standards of Fox."

posted by zarq at 1:46 PM on November 5, 2010


Pickle, "that guy" is ill-informed; Olbermann's not a loss-leader; his show makes NBCU plenty o'money (or else they'd have dumped his $8million salary as fast as they dumped Conan).
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:48 PM on November 5, 2010


If he tells you to go down on him, your only option is to quit?

No, you have legal recourse because your boss violated your constitutionally protected rights.


No, your right to be free in the workplace from requests for sexual favors is ensured by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There is no constitutional right not to be sexually propositioned or not to be treated badly based on your political donations. I get that you are outraged and I think this is unfair too, but the words "constitutionally protected rights" mean something objectively which does not include the type of thing that you are mad about.
posted by ND¢ at 1:49 PM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


(Unless that Joe is Scarborough. Who did the exact same thing when he donated to a Republican candidate, and wasn't suspended, despite hosting a show ("Morning Joe") that portrays itself as far more objective and newsy than Obermann's.)

Do you watch the show? I do. At least twice a week. They've never portrayed themselves as anything but an opinionated morning talk show, full of guests that have a specific perspective. Sometimes they put on people who take opposing views, but more often than not, it's filled with people who agree with Joe Scarborough. Pat Buchanan has been the long voice of opposition on many mornings, and even his views on various topics are often (shockingly) in sync with the other guests.

And no, they're really not more newsy than Olbermann, who almost exclusively focuses on politics and other news stories. They have non-news-oriented guests, including authors on who don't have a political issue to hawk. Elvis Costello performed a couple of days ago.
posted by zarq at 1:51 PM on November 5, 2010


Hey, I said "almost."

Fair enough, so okay, we've established the principle: We do enjoy some protected rights, even in the workplace. Now convince me that employers should have the right to arbitrarily constrain lawful--indeed, vital--political rights outside of the workplace.

If you accept this kind of policy on principle, then what legal protection do any of us have from the possibility that our employers might prevent us from engaging in unapproved political activity?

As outlandish as it might seem now, history actually has seen active collusion among large populations of the wealthy to deny private citizens their political rights. (Feudal systems weren't just the stuff of fairy tails, and there are still such systems in the world today.)

Without some legal principle to prevent it, every major employer in the US could force its employees to renounce their political speech rights as a condition of employment, and then where would we as a nation be? Corporations would be the only legal entities to enjoy any degree of political freedom. Is that where we want to go?
posted by saulgoodman at 1:52 PM on November 5, 2010 [11 favorites]


I get that you are outraged and I think this is unfair too, but the words "constitutionally protected rights" mean something objectively which does not include the type of thing that you are mad about.

I'm not outraged. I'm just fascinated. And I'd point out that the only underlying principles all of the specific laws you cite are based on are our constitutional freedoms. Otherwise, they wouldn't stand up to judicial scrutiny. You wouldn't have standing to complain about something that happened in the workplace at all if it didn't violate some law that ultimated squared with the current legal understanding of what rights we enjoy under the constitution.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:55 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


"ultimate squared" --> "ultimately squared"

and okay, maybe a little "befuddled" but not "outraged"

posted by saulgoodman at 1:57 PM on November 5, 2010


Just a (conspiratorial) thought: Olbermann went ballistic over Jon Stewart's Civility Speech making a "False Dichotomy" between his show and FoxNews. MSNBC is reportedly seeing this as "a chance to draw a distinction between the journalistic standards of their news division and the standards of Fox." MAYBE ol' Keith set himself up this bomb, told his bosses "I need a couple weeks off, suspend me to make yourselves look good, OK?" and now gets to go "neener neener neener" at Stewart. (Is it worth a dock in pay? For KO, maybe.)
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:02 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am not sure I am following you. Obviously statutes which protect employees have not been found unconstitutional, or they would have been overturned, but I don't see how you couldn't complain about something in the workplace, which has been made illegal by statute, unless the statute can somehow be traced to a constitutional right. I mean, pursuant to OSHA regulations you can make a valid complaint to the federal government if your workplace doesn't have a toilet (something I wholeheartedly support by the way) that doesn't mean you can point to a constitutional right to poop at work.
posted by ND¢ at 2:06 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]



I know other private citizens who are in positions where their jobs do not allow them to "influence" elections, including giving money to campaigns. It's not just journalists - various charities/non-profits hold their employees up to a certain standard of impartiality and it's just one of the things that you have to suck up and deal with if you want to have the job. The policy is not unique to MSNBC or even the journalism profession.


See this actually might be an interesting court case, given that now political contributions are see as "free speech" would companies that restrict political donations be in effect limiting free speech?

I do think MSNBC is being a bit disingenuous in classifying KO as a "journalist" and Joe Scar as a "commentator", but I can't muster up the requisite graaarr right now.
posted by edgeways at 2:07 PM on November 5, 2010


...what legal protection do any of us have from the possibility that our employers might prevent us from engaging in unapproved political activity?

If it is materially connected to the job you do, they've always been able to do it. See the memos from NPR and other newsmedia companies prohibiting employees from attending the Stewart/Colbert rally, except to report on it, even though it was 'officially' non-political.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:13 PM on November 5, 2010


I'm going to hit every man woman and child, in the USofA, on the head with a tiny clown hammer. Problem solved.
posted by nola at 2:18 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Obviously statutes which protect employees have not been found unconstitutional, or they would have been overturned,

Consider the negative case. Implicitly, if a statute isn't found to be unconstitutional, what is it found to be? It's found to be constitutional--meaning, it's solidly based in the constitutional principles that enumerate our legal rights and provide the only definitive authority that exists for any laws congress may or may not enact. All specific laws are implicitly derived from constitutional principle. And the constitution trumps that derived law. So even if something hasn't been explicitly defined as illegal, if it violates a basic constitutional principle, shouldn't it be viewed as illegal?

Putting the legal argument aside, it's still an incredibly dangerous idea: that private employers should enjoy an unqualified right to impose conditions on lawful civic participation outside the workplace.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:22 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Skeletor is more grey-green. And he's kind of a dick. I mean, he keeps going on and on about He-Man in this totally Jocko Homo kind of way. Talk about the lady doth protest too much.

Much like recent politicians and members of the clergy. So Skeletor fits right in with fox news I would say.
posted by dibblda at 2:30 PM on November 5, 2010


If it is materially connected to the job you do, they've always been able to do it. See the memos from NPR and other newsmedia companies prohibiting employees from attending the Stewart/Colbert rally, except to report on it, even though it was 'officially' non-political.

This is different. The Supreme Court ruled that political contributions are one of the most sacrosanct forms of protected political speech--immune even to duly enacted Federal law. They haven't yet ruled on whether or not going to a political rally is protected speech (but, yeah, IMO, it should be, as long as the rally doesn't involve illegal activity like setting SUVs on fire).

As for there being a material connection to the job, what are the boundaries there? Almost every company depends on some outside revenue source. Should the grocery store be allowed to fire a clerk because a customer complained about the clerk's Obama bumper sticker? What political activity can't be construed through some interpretative lens as materially connected to whatever job you do?
posted by saulgoodman at 2:32 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Plausible deniability.

In other words, voting is different because although we know that the person has an opinion, that opinion is secret? I don't see the logic, sorry -- a secret opinion can cause bias in reporting just as easily as a public one. In fact, I would be more worried about secret opinions.

Because you can't know whether subsequent news reports conducted by that journalist were unbiased. If he likes a candidate, does he ask them leading questions in interviews?...

Zarq, your arguments apply equally well to not allowing a journalist to vote. You seem to be saying that liking a candidate is a bad thing, but that's generally why people vote - they like a candidate more than the other one.

What is the difference between "I like candidate X so I'll vote for him" and "I like candidate X so I'll donate to his campaign"that makes the latter a source of potential bias that needs to be prevented, and the former ... not?

Well, no, because we have secret ballots and thus the act of voting itself can't appear to cause any conflict of interest.

But if you vote, you've picked one candidate over the others. You have a preference. Your preference can be secret as long as you don't tell anybody who you voted for, but how does secrecy make it less of a conflict of interest?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:49 PM on November 5, 2010


What is the difference between "I like candidate X so I'll vote for him" and "I like candidate X so I'll donate to his campaign"that makes the latter a source of potential bias that needs to be prevented, and the former ... not?

Because voting is a private act, and campaign donations are not.
posted by hippybear at 2:59 PM on November 5, 2010


No, it's someone who habitually ends his show with Murrow's tagline, "Good night, and good luck."

So ..... big friggin' deal. Is that a crime?

I find that a lot less annoying than the sonorous intonations ("Well, there you have it") of the tedious Brian Williams (who always reminds me of Ted Baxter, though that's aging me) or the "I'll see you tomorrow. Good night." that Katie Couric chirps every night.
posted by blucevalo at 3:02 PM on November 5, 2010


Because voting is a private act, and campaign donations are not.

By this logic, it's not actual bias that's the problem, but rather the appearance of bias.

Which if that's their rule, sure, but then say so. People pretending this is about maintaining impartiality are lying.
posted by kafziel at 3:08 PM on November 5, 2010


that private employers should enjoy an unqualified right to impose conditions on lawful civic participation outside the workplace.

It's plenty qualified. They can only do that which an employer could lawfully do anyway. For example: your boss can't say "vote Republican or I'll beat you up."

And of course if you have an employment contract I suspect not being politically active in the preferred way probably wouldn't qualify as a valid cause for termination.

But consider the alternative: should employees of a solar energy company be protected from being fired when they show up to work in a Hummer covered in 'drill, baby, drill' bumperstickers? What if you're being paid by the local oil company to do it? How much sabotage or just general pot-stirring should employers be required to tolerate?

Are there countries that make political affiliation a protected status? The German Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz protects on the basis of (among other things) Weltanschauung, but I can't tell if that's only meant to encompass 'world view' in the sense of belief system or if it also includes political views. It's listed alongside religion in the law, so I think it's only meant to include the former.
posted by jedicus at 3:19 PM on November 5, 2010


backwards compatible: "I generally agree with what Olbermann has to say, but this is a pretty serious violation of journalism ethics. As a formerly starry-eyed journalism student, I'm sad to hear it."

I agree with most of his politics, too, but I think he's a tedious blowhard and I can't stand to watch his show; just like I can't stand to watch any show that just spins any topic into simplified binaries.

But this whole thing seems pretty asinine to me. How, in any estimation, is Keith Olbermann a journalist? He is a commentator; he has an opinion-based show. What in god's name could they be hoping to accomplish with this? Is this supposed to make us believe that he is a journalist? Maybe it's just some HR requisite at NBC because officially he works in the news division. Couldn't NBC just re-title his position with the same bennies and leave it at that?
Personally, I don't mind the company's policy for actual journalists, though I'd bet it would be an interesting lawsuit if anyone ever wanted to challenge it. But if I was a real journalist, I think I'd be more interested in reporting the truth than giving money out to campaigns. I sometimes think if real quality reporting were more widespread people wouldn't vote so ignorantly, so that would probably be a better way of influencing politics, anyway.

Aw, who am I kidding.
posted by Red Loop at 3:19 PM on November 5, 2010


By this logic, it's not actual bias that's the problem, but rather the appearance of bias.

Yes. I mentioned this upthread.
posted by zarq at 3:21 PM on November 5, 2010




How'd that ironic rally turn out for you, assholes?
posted by mobunited at 3:52 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Joe Scarborough attended a Bush rally in 2004. As Scarborough's campaign contribution, MSNBC defended him, and in fact praised him for attending. In this article, they also claim that Olbermann and Chris Matthews are "news anchors", while the conservative Scarborough is an "opinion anchor."
posted by dirigibleman at 3:54 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey, when times get shitty, throw an ironic party.
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:55 PM on November 5, 2010


How, in any estimation, is Keith Olbermann a journalist?

He performs for a television camera.

Objecting to his politics is like objecting to Vanna White's.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:01 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


How'd that ironic rally turn out for you, assholes?

If that's got anything to to with Olbermann's current situation, it turned out swell, thanks.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:01 PM on November 5, 2010


The Myth of Objectivity is the horse American liberalism will ride into the valley of death.

Liberals are most often confused for post-modernists, where objectivity is a sticking point; called a myth, etc. The real problem with American politics regarding objectivity is the fake objectivity, called the middle way, which is a fallacy that is perfectly expressed in the phrase "fair and balanced." Neutrality is something else.
posted by Brian B. at 4:06 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Better hope all these CNBC anchors properly disclosed to their boss.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:14 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]






"Did Saturday's Rally Unfairly Slam All Cable News" from Countdown, Monday, Nov. 1st, 2010.
Embedded in that message is an equivocation of the right-wing cable news network Fox and the one that's on the left, this one [MSNBC], as if we're each equidistant from sanity. Each equally to blame for the division Stewart talks about.

What are the odds of two cable channels on opposite sides of the opposite sides of the political spectrum being exactly the same in every other respect? Exactly as bad in dividing the country? Exactly as bad in twisting facts? Exactly as bad in demonizing religious minorities? Exactly as bad in defending the corporatization of the country?

What are the odds that a network, this one, which acquired a progressive bent essentially by inadvertence after I took a stand against the Iraq war that is now the definition of mainstream, would be exactly as bad as a network founded by a conservative billionaire who hired a former Nixon campaign man to run it for the express purpose of espousing the same right-wing view of the world that the same company loses millions of dollars a year pushing a failed newspaper with and which then gave millions of dollars to the Republican party apparatus this year?

Sticking up for the powerless is not the moral equivalent of sticking up for the powerful.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:47 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


As much as KO annoys me...that quotation above is kinda awesome.
posted by naoko at 5:10 PM on November 5, 2010


Some of the folks at National Review think this shouldn't have happened.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:18 PM on November 5, 2010


Joe Beese, I don't quite understand what you're saying.

They're performers. She turns rectangles with letters on them. He recites news to a television camera and then yaks about it.

I could recite news to a television camera and yak about it - albeit not as telegenically. That wouldn't make me a "journalist".

So I'm dismissing any argument for the justice of this action based on a claimed need that journalists can't be seen to have political convictions - because that's a class Olbermann does not belong to.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:23 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sticking up for the powerless is not the moral equivalent of sticking up for the powerful.

That's true enough. However, when a person sticks up for the powerless in an obnoxious manner that causes many who would agree with to be put off, practically speaking, it absolutely is equivalent.

In short: You're not helping, Olbermann.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:30 PM on November 5, 2010


...agree with to...
posted by Sys Rq at 5:31 PM on November 5, 2010


It always seemed to me that Jon Stewart doesn't equate the position, viewpoints, and activism of Fox News with that of MSNBC as though they are, to use Olbermann's term, "equidistant from sanity". Rather, it seems to me that Stewart's point is that noise obscures signal, and perceptual bias (as opposed to political leaning) diminishes the ability to communicate.

Stewart has always taken journalists to task for not examining critically the opinions of pundits and politicians, and he frequently praises those who challenge faulty logic or premises. So to say that he slams cable news for having a viewpoint seems incorrect to me. But it doesn't help the discourse to have Chris Matthews ask Michelle Bachmann if she's in a hypnotic trance, funny as that is. It doesn't help the discourse to have Ed Schultz screaming liberal platitudes while staring directly into the camera. It certainly doesn't help the discourse to have McConnell's soundbite from yesterday's Heritage Foundation speech played twice an hour for four hours, by four different anchors, each asking their individual guests the same questions and getting the same answers. That's the way the 24-hour news cycle becomes filled with noise, on all sides, and it diminishes the ability of passionate people to have a public conversation.

Yesterday, I switched from Olbermann snickering at Bush's quote about how Kanye West's insult of him was the lowest point in his presidency to CNN, where Anderson Cooper was interrogating spokesmen from the right and left about what it means that Sarah Palin favorited a retweet from Ann Coulter in reply to a inside joke from a NYC professor about a crazy pastor and his crazy church sign. He broke away from the story to report, solemnly, that a plane carrying 58 passengers had crashed in Cuba, then it was back to the headline of the day. Sarah Palin favorited a tweet, you guys: what does this mean for America?

For fuck's sake. That's not a conversation. It's not sticking up for the powerless, and it's not speaking truth to power. It's just empty voices yelling infinitely.
posted by Errant at 5:32 PM on November 5, 2010 [20 favorites]


It is my conclusion, based on what has come out about this story so far, that they wanted to get rid of Olbermann and the donations were just a good excuse. He violated a rule, but only in a nitpicky, technicality sort of way.

They don't mind their business reporters at CNBC donating. Either they approved the donations, or they were undisclosed but NBC still didn't care. No matter which case, we know NBC doesn't care about donations actually signalling bias.

Same thing goes for Scarborough, who went as far as to actively campaign for Republican politicians in addition to giving them money. If that level of direct action towards one political side was not enough to make NBC disapprove, what actions could they possibility consider taking it too far?

There is no reason to disclose, because there is nothing they won't allow anyway. Hell, maybe they are worried one of their journalists is a closet Nazi or something, but donations are public anyway so they can just fire someone when it comes out.

The rule KO broke is pointless and toothless, there was another reason for the suspension/firing.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:34 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


It is my conclusion, based on what has come out about this story so far, that they wanted to get rid of Olbermann and the donations were just a good excuse.

They can't possibly want to get rid of Olbermann unless they're trying to get rid of the network. Don't get me wrong, that might be something Kabletown actually does want to do now that they're buying NBC Universal. But Olbermann is easily MSNBCs biggest draw so there is absolutely no way they want to get rid of him short of killing the network.
posted by Justinian at 5:39 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are a lot of reports that he is feuding with his boss. Sometimes when two egos collide nothing else matters.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:47 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is not a purge. This is not censorship. This is not a restriction on political donations. This is not even a double standard. This is a restriction on political donations without telling your boss about it first, which is hardly the same thing and makes plenty of sense for a media outlet.

Nice argument, except that MSNBC has never once said that was the reason for the suspension. They defend Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan by saying theyre just pundits - not "at least they notified us first" which they didn't. I say double standard.
posted by fungible at 5:59 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm wondering if Rachel Maddow is going to crucify MSNBC on her show or not. She owes it lock, stock, and barrel to Olbermann, after all.
posted by Justinian at 6:01 PM on November 5, 2010


So your boss has more legal authority--even to the point of trumping the constitution--than congress has? That's effectively the state of the law now and you think that's cool?

That is and has always been the state of the law. The First Amendment has never, ever, applied to the actions of private citizens. In other words, it is completely impossible for a private citizen, whether a legal or natural person, to infringe your constitutionally protected rights, because the Constitution does not apply to them. Citizens United has absolutely, positively, nothing whatsoever to do with this.

You keep talking about the Constitution. I do not think it does what you think it does. No, scratch that. It absolutely does not do what you think it does. This is Con Law 101 stuff, and the first step in any constitutional rights analysis is always the question "Is there state action here?" If the answer is "No," the analysis is over, because the Constitution does not bind individuals. Full stop. End of story.

And yes, I am okay with this. I'm also okay with the fact that Congress cannot choose to privilege some individuals speech over others, because that would be an incredibly dangerous abridgment of free speech. Your argument would be something along the lines of "But corporations are different than people!" which is an idea you've got deep down in your heart despite the fact that there's absolutely no way of administering that concept without massively infringing the rights of natural persons too.

This may not be the ideal way of doing things, but it is, as far as anyone can tell, the least bad way of doing things.
posted by valkyryn at 6:03 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Scarborough donated $5,000 to a GOP candidate back in April AND he headlined a GOP fundraiser. Again, that's perfectly OK, because unlike the liberal Olbermann, the conservative Scarborough is an "opinion anchor."
posted by dirigibleman at 6:04 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Something doesn't pass the smell test. It takes about 5 seconds to see that several other MSNBC / NBC / CNBC tv people donated money to republican candidates but are not suspended.
posted by jefbla at 6:07 PM on November 5, 2010



Something doesn't pass the smell test. It takes about 5 seconds to see that several other MSNBC / NBC / CNBC tv people donated money to republican candidates but are not suspended.


Exactly, they may have notified ahead of time and not broken the policy BUT if the policy is so toothless that none of those donations or Joe's active campaigning are an ethics or bias problem...what possibly could be? What is the notification policy there for?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:12 PM on November 5, 2010


What is the notification policy there for?

Donating to the DNC or GOP isn't an embarrassment, even if it is arguably ethically interesting. But donating to a white supremacist group? Embarrassing. The policy is there so that the employer is advised of its employees' political activities and can take action to prevent donating to causes which would bring the employer into disrepute.
posted by valkyryn at 6:19 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Keith Olbermann: Potential Nazi.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:21 PM on November 5, 2010


Seriously though, since he didn't do anything Naziesque this didn't require a public suspension, just an internal scolding and maybe a public statement to explain that he had been reprimanded.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:23 PM on November 5, 2010


To add something to this, if Congress wants to restrict the ability of employers from implementing that kind of rule, any such statute would need to pass strict scrutiny because Congress would be abridging the employer's freedom of speech.

As a result, unless an employer is acting egregiously, e.g. requiring the surrender of all political speech as a condition of employment in a job that has nothing whatsoever to do with the political process, I can't think of a statute that would survive that analysis.
posted by valkyryn at 6:25 PM on November 5, 2010


Seriously though, since he didn't do anything Naziesque this didn't require a public suspension, just an internal scolding and maybe a public statement to explain that he had been reprimanded.

Which makes me think, as has been suggested above, that he's tangling with his boss for reasons completely unrelated to this issue. Just because MSNBC is within its legal rights to do this doesn't mean it isn't kind of a dick move.
posted by valkyryn at 6:26 PM on November 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think the Democrats need to remind these corporations that they still control the Senate and the White House. Time to teach Comcast/GE a little something about Hardball.
posted by humanfont at 7:12 PM on November 5, 2010


I'm wondering if Rachel Maddow is going to crucify MSNBC on her show or not. She owes it lock, stock, and barrel to Olbermann, after all.
posted by Justinian at 9:01 PM on November 5 [+] [!]


She didn't go after MSNBC, although she pointed out the complete and total hypocrisy of the rightwingers who are celebrating over this. Basically, she said, in her oh-so-polite-and-reasonable way, take your false equivalency and shove it, because WE have standards and they don't.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:12 PM on November 5, 2010


But it was bullshit. NBC has no problem letting journalists donate and campaign just like Fox, they just want a pointless disclosure ahead of time. If Fox News was letting O'Reilly donate to Stormfront there might be something to complain about. The words Fox News never should have come out of her mouth.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:33 PM on November 5, 2010




The media takeover continues. What will we call OUR Iron Curtain?
posted by Max Power at 9:08 PM on November 5, 2010


I mean, pursuant to OSHA regulations you can make a valid complaint to the federal government if your workplace doesn't have a toilet (something I wholeheartedly support by the way) that doesn't mean you can point to a constitutional right to poop at work.

The Poo Process Clause?
posted by chinston at 10:18 PM on November 5, 2010


they just want a pointless disclosure ahead of time

Again, just because you don't see the point here doesn't mean that there isn't one. As a lawyer, I can see exactly why they have such a rule. Then again, that holds true for a lot of things that laymen find frustrating about the law. You may call it pointless, but lemme tell you, those kinds of "pointless" things prevent far more misery and unpleasantness than they cause.
posted by valkyryn at 2:55 AM on November 6, 2010


In this article, they also claim that Olbermann and Chris Matthews are "news anchors", while the conservative Scarborough is an "opinion anchor."

It's a little difficult to claim a show called "Hardball" hosted by a guy who used to be a speechwriter for Carter is hard news rather than political commentary. Besides, Chris is always telling people exactly how he feels (usually over and over) before allowing them to answer the question he's pummeling them with. I tend to agree with him politically in a general sense, although as a political commentator he's triumphantly inane and cloying at the same time. As an anchor he's terrible, if there is supposed to be any pretense he's an actual broadcast news anchor. I don't think anyone believes that to be the case.

It's a very old American journalistic standard that journalists are supposed to appear impartial, and many news organizations have clauses in their employment contracts to enforce such a standard. I see nothing wrong with that, certainly not un-Constitutional (I'm a card-carrying member of the ACLU), even for opinionbots. But for MSNBC to claim that Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann are news anchors strains credibility and weakens their implicit request to be taken seriously as a news organization. I like Keith but he's too bombastic and can't watch his show much anymore, although he's not a news anchor. Chris Matthews? He's your crazy uncle you see once a year around the holidays who always loudly asks everyone the same slightly relevant, highly barbed political questions to get a rise out of someone, and is far too busy giving his own answer to give anyone else a chance to talk. News anchor? Ha!

Honestly, if they really want to be taken seriously as a news organization and not simply "different" than Fox, they should move Chris Jansing to anchor (who is actually a serious journalist) and do a full hour every weeknight at 5, complete with interviews and world news. No other cable news channel is doing a nightly news show, and we need more of that thing by people who are credible.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:37 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


They don't mind their business reporters at CNBC donating.

They do not have the same restrictions, but this is understood by everyone who works at either organization. However, nobody who works at CNBC is allowed to own stock. They can own mutual funds, but not stock directly. That's the bias that matters to their viewers.

Either they approved the donations, or they were undisclosed but NBC still didn't care. No matter which case, we know NBC doesn't care about donations actually signalling bias.

I believe they do, because plenty of people work there who take this stuff seriously. But MSNBC is notoriously ham-fisted with their public floggings ever since they fired Donahue, and they do not appear to be internally consistent in their application of ethics.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:56 AM on November 6, 2010


Sticking up for the powerless is not the moral equivalent of sticking up for the powerful.

Is that what's going on? OK, I agree Olbermann is a muckraker, which is an old and necessary function. Do you think MSNBC was "sticking up for the powerless" by putting him on the air? Maybe they were trying to sell advertising?
posted by krinklyfig at 5:13 AM on November 6, 2010


The First Amendment has never, ever, applied to the actions of private citizens. In other words, it is completely impossible for a private citizen, whether a legal or natural person, to infringe your constitutionally protected rights, because the Constitution does not apply to them. Citizens United has absolutely, positively, nothing whatsoever to do with this.You keep talking about the Constitution. I do not think it does what you think it does. No, scratch that. It absolutely does not do what you think it does. This is Con Law 101 stuff, and the first step in any constitutional rights analysis is always the question "Is there state action here?" If the answer is "No," the analysis is over, because the Constitution does not bind individuals. Full stop. End of story.

Agreed.. a lot of this conversation shows a clear lack of understanding the US Constitution by people who will nonetheless proffer it out as an almost biblical document. I don't know if this just means there needs to better civics education in American schools or what, but I'm starting understanding the incoherence represented by the Tea Party has its roots in problems that transcend the political divide. How can people reasonably disagree with each other about public policy choices when they don't even really understand the basic principles governing their country? (And I say this not as claiming an exclsuively American phenomenon; we get people in Canada saying the exact same nonsense about their Charter rights).
posted by modernnomad at 6:04 AM on November 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Speaking of firing Donohue... that was another intriguing example of MSNBC shooting itself in the foot. As I recall, Donohue was doing pretty good (relatively) ratingswise back then. He just said the wrong thing.

Yeah, I get that there's rules, but there's an old French strike tactic that simply consists of the strikers following every single rule to the letter - which has the same effect as an organized work slowdown. A lot of rules in life are specifically designed to be applied in cases that are convenient for the rule-maker - they're not all meant to be followed as though they were brought down from Mt. Sinai.

There's something else going on here, and it's not just Mr. Griffin's pettiness. There's this bizarre cowardice among the American media of being branded "liberal", and they'll do anything to prove they're not. It's yet another example of the mythical "center" being moved ever-farther rightward because only one side is trying to move things - the left wrings its hands over objectivity and "sanity", never noticing that the ground they're standing on keeps getting pulled in the other direction.
posted by jhandey at 6:43 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Again, just because you don't see the point here doesn't mean that there isn't one. As a lawyer, I can see exactly why they have such a rule.

I understand the CYA nature of it, I mean pointless in the context of what Keith actually did which was a donation they would have said, "Sure, go ahead!" to.

They do not have the same restrictions, but this is understood by everyone who works at either organization. However, nobody who works at CNBC is allowed to own stock. They can own mutual funds, but not stock directly. That's the bias that matters to their viewers.

To pretend they are strictly a business network is willfully obtuse, they talk politics and they were an integral part of launching the tea party movement. Business and political reporting are linked at the hip.

I believe they do.

So explain why they have no problem with what Joe did? It's not the donations they care about, it's the violation of the process which is in place apparently to prevent something KO didn't actually do with his donations.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:01 AM on November 6, 2010


So explain why they have no problem with what Joe did? It's not the donations they care about, it's the violation of the process which is in place apparently to prevent something KO didn't actually do with his donations.

So, I think it's wrong to claim MSNBC doesn't care about the appearance of impartiality. They aren't exactly a great news organization, but they do employ quite a number of actual journalists who report news, not just opinion spigots. But I also think they're inconsistent about ethics when it comes to politically sensitive internal issues that end up in the public realm, and sometimes seem to be driven far more by appearances as far as how the political wind is blowing than by some clearly defined ethical standard and the appearance of impropriety. Even so, you can't fault them for applying their own rule to someone who should have known better, but I don't think they're firing him. As has been suggested in this thread, I do think this little dust-up is a little superficial and something of a stunt, and is intended to serve as the contrast between them and Fox, and still allow them to continue along just as they have been doing.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:57 AM on November 6, 2010


To pretend they are strictly a business network is willfully obtuse, they talk politics and they were an integral part of launching the tea party movement. Business and political reporting are linked at the hip.

Of course. I'm not saying it's right. It is what it is. Frankly, I'm amazed any media outlet can continue to employ a market reporter who, on the floor of the CBOT in the midst of one of the worst financial crises in many generations, gets the traders riled up in the name of the "losers" who are going into foreclosure, vowing not to spend one thin dime of their precious lucre to help anyone else in need if there is the slightest possibility they might not be pure enough in their heart to deserve it. But they don't seem bothered in the slightest that they aren't even pretending to separate commentary from reporting anymore, because to go against Wall St. would mean they would loose access, which is what's really important to that network, not journalistic ethics in any traditionally understood sense.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:11 AM on November 6, 2010


Hmm. So they fired Kenneth Olbermann. What a tragedy. We'll probably have to wait all of five minutes for another hand-wringing pundit.
posted by koeselitz at 10:09 AM on November 6, 2010


Speaking of firing Donohue... that was another intriguing example of MSNBC shooting itself in the foot. As I recall, Donohue was doing pretty good (relatively) ratingswise back then.

Donahue was literally the highest rated show on MSNBC when they canceled him.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:28 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hmm. So they fired Kenneth Olbermann.

Hmm a little bit harder, koeselitz.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:30 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


So I'm supposed to be surprised that MSNBC's editorial policies are shit? Is that what I'm supposed to contemplate? That I can't trust network news? Gee. I'll be hmming all day over that one.
posted by koeselitz at 10:41 AM on November 6, 2010


No, koeselitz, contemplate that he wasn't fired, and that his name isn't Kenneth. Contemplate how you could read the links and the thread and still not understand that.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:49 AM on November 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Agreed.. a lot of this conversation shows a clear lack of understanding the US Constitution by people who will nonetheless proffer it out as an almost biblical document.

What a nice perch to be sitting on. I suppose you'll be the one to write the curriculum for re-educating us?

My AP civics teacher would laugh in your face. You're taking a particular conservative, revisionist construction of the intent and meaning of the US Constitution as your starting point, when in fact, those particular assumptions about interpreting and applying the constitution in law are not settled, but have been argued and re-argued in jurisprudence since the founding.

You're taking one out of a number of competing interpretations of constitutional law--specifically, the view preferred by conservatives--and holding it up as a gold standard, when a more realistic and honest debate would acknowledge that your claims are far from certain and the real history of constitutional law is much more nuanced and complex. Then when others point out that your claims are not as definitively supported in history as you assert, you wave away those arguments as a product of popular misconception. Could you be any more of a mandarin?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:06 AM on November 6, 2010


Hee. Yep.
posted by koeselitz at 11:36 AM on November 6, 2010


Stupid policy. That's really all I have to say. What happened to "private citizen"
posted by tehloki at 12:25 PM on November 6, 2010


My AP civics teacher would laugh in your face. You're taking a particular conservative, revisionist construction of the intent and meaning of the US Constitution as your starting point, when in fact, those particular assumptions about interpreting and applying the constitution in law are not settled, but have been argued and re-argued in jurisprudence since the founding.


You must be joking. You are seriously suggesting that the statement that the bill of rights (ie first amendment protection of freedom of speech) applies only to state action vis a vis individuals and not to actions between private individuals is a "conservative, revisionist construction" of the Constitution? Correct me if I'm wrong, but "AP civics" means 'high school teacher', right? As a former constitutional lawyer and current legal academic, I in some ways want to laugh in your face, but instead am actually just shaking my head slowly and cringing for the future of your youth. If you are genuinely unaware of what the bill of rights in your constitution is intended to protect, colour me stunned.
posted by modernnomad at 1:39 PM on November 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


This is Con Law 101 stuff, and the first step in any constitutional rights analysis is always the question "Is there state action here?" If the answer is "No," the analysis is over, because the Constitution does not bind individuals. Full stop. End of story.

Well, not quiiite. The 13th Amendment constrains the actions of private individuals.
posted by jedicus at 3:10 PM on November 6, 2010


My work requires me to quarter private mercenaries in my house. :(
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:24 PM on November 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


The 13th Amendment constrains the actions of private individuals.

Exception duly noted. Here's your cookie. Doesn't have anything to do with the point I was trying to make.

You're taking one out of a number of competing interpretations of constitutional law--specifically, the view preferred by conservatives--and holding it up as a gold standard, when a more realistic and honest debate would acknowledge that your claims are far from certain and the real history of constitutional law is much more nuanced and complex.

Okay, stop. Just stop. This isn't controversial. You're just making it up. Seriously, you're just pulling this out of your ass. There is no serious debate about this in constitutional legal scholarship. As far as I can tell, there hasn't been for decades at the very least. To make things worse for you, it was the Warren Court, one of the most liberal in this country's history, that was the most adamant about the state-actor requirement.

What I and others have been saying about the limitations of the constitution is the constitutional doctrine taught at every damn law school in the country. Every single justice on the Supreme Court would, if asked, tell you exactly what I and others have told you here. If you're seriously going to hold up your AP Civics teacher from god-only-knows-when up against my law professors and the entire legal community, I don't know that there's anything I or anyone else can say to you other than that we hope you enjoy the world you live in, because it's obviously one of your own imagining.

You aren't a lawyer. I don't presume to tell you how to program. You would do well to show others the same courtesy about their areas of expertise, because if there's one thing that's damn obvious from your activity in this thread and elsewhere, your understanding of the law needs some serious improvement.
posted by valkyryn at 4:28 PM on November 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I haven't personally said a damn thing about what the bill of rights says--except to note in passing the practical consequences of what the supreme court has recently ruled on speech. My own argument pertains to the scope and intent of the constitution as an organizational document, and the various ways in which the rights implicitly enshrined in the constitution have been understood and applied in law over time.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:03 PM on November 6, 2010


And if the US constitution only belongs to lawyers now, you can have it, because it isn't worth wiping your ass on in that case.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:05 PM on November 6, 2010




My own argument pertains to the scope and intent of the constitution as an organizational document, and the various ways in which the rights implicitly enshrined in the constitution have been understood and applied in law over time.

Yes. And you're wrong. You misunderstand both the "practical consequences" of Citizens United and the constitutional history of the state action requirement. The former simply does not mean what you think it means, and the latter has always been part of constitutional jurisprudence, from the very beginning.

Besides, don't you regularly go off about how originalism is a stupid jurisprudential philosophy? Scalia would agree and Stevens disagree with the direction you go when you try to support your position, but both of them would agree that going that direction won't help you, because your position on this subject is simply flat out wrong.

Look, you've already had an actual constitutional lawyer tell you in no uncertain terms that you don't know what you're talking about, and fits of pique won't help you. What's it gonna take for you to get it?
posted by valkyryn at 3:11 AM on November 7, 2010


The United States Constitution is and has always been a legal document, the force of which is almost exclusively legal. These "rights" you say you cherish don't actually have any meaning outside the legal system. The legal system is run, surprisingly enough, by lawyers.

You may not like the fact that you are dependent on someone else for your constitutional protections, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. And it's a good thing that it is, because if people like you were allowed to run things--people who know just enough law to really be dangerous--we'd be up shit creek without a paddle. You've already proven that you're completely willing to eliminate those same rights for people you don't like. It's the lawyers who are holding you back from tearing down the laws that protect you.
posted by valkyryn at 3:16 AM on November 7, 2010


You've already proven that you're completely willing to eliminate those same rights for people you don't like. It's the lawyers who are holding you back from tearing down the laws that protect you.

Is this where I'm supposed to paste in a quote from A Man for All Seasons?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:53 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is this where I'm supposed to paste in a quote from A Man for All Seasons?

Stop! That's my job!
posted by Justinian at 12:14 PM on November 7, 2010


The United States Constitution is and has always been a legal document, the force of which is almost exclusively legal. These "rights" you say you cherish don't actually have any meaning outside the legal system. The legal system is run, surprisingly enough, by lawyers.

That's not true. The second amendment has even more power outside of the courthouse than within. It is not we the lawyers it is we the people. Rights are defined by cultural consent and understandings. Go visit a more traditional society and you will see that many rights exist even within what we would despotism. These rights come from culture and violating them usually leads to conflict.
posted by humanfont at 1:02 PM on November 7, 2010


if people like you were allowed to run things--people who know just enough law to really be dangerous--we'd be up shit creek without a paddle

I know, right? Things would be so much better if only lawyers were allowed to know anything about the law. Oh, what's that, Article I Section 3? Legislators aren't required to be lawyers? OH NOES!!!

It's the lawyers who are holding you back from tearing down the laws that protect oppress you.

This game is fun!
posted by Sys Rq at 4:20 PM on November 7, 2010


Great news everyone!!!
posted by JoeXIII007 at 6:22 PM on November 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Heh. How much you wanna bet he scheduled his long weekend months ago and they just spun this out for publicity?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:14 PM on November 7, 2010


So, a two day suspension creates a massive uproar and sparks a conversation about the role of journalists as opinion-makers, not just reporters. Any conversation on that topic generally turns into an indictment of FoxNewschannel.

Olbermann comes out of this looking like a hero to his supporters. Despite the heat, NBC comes out of this looking nominally more ethically upstanding than FoxNewschannel. Maddow probably gained new viewers. Olbermann will have high ratings next week, even though the country is probably sick to death of hearing about politics. He probably didn't lose any advertisers, either.

During the middle of sweeps.

Fascinating.

posted by zarq at 5:09 AM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Called it.
posted by empath at 5:36 AM on November 8, 2010


Politico / Playbook: (Second item, emphasis theirs)
BEHIND THE CURTAIN: Network sources tell Playbook that Keith Olbermann was suspended because he refused to deliver an on-camera mea culpa, which would have allowed him to continue anchoring “Countdown.” Olbermann told his bosses he didn't know he was barred from making campaign contributions, although he is resisting saying that publicly. Olbermann may not hold as many cards as he thinks. He makes $7 million a year and MSNBC's prime time is not as dependent on him as it was before the addition of Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell, who make considerably less.

posted by zarq at 8:24 AM on November 8, 2010


Statement:

A STATEMENT TO THE VIEWERS OF COUNTDOWN
by Keith Olbermann

I want to sincerely thank you for the honor of your extraordinary and ground-rattling support. 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. I would also like to acknowledge with respect the many commentators and reporters, including those with whom my politics do not overlap, for their support.

I also wish to apologize to you viewers for having precipitated such anxiety and unnecessary drama. You should know that I mistakenly violated an inconsistently applied rule – which I previously knew nothing about – that pertains to the process by which such political contributions are approved by NBC. Certainly this mistake merited a form of public acknowledgment and/or internal warning, and an on-air discussion about the merits of limitations on such campaign contributions by all employees of news organizations. Instead, after my representative was assured that no suspension was contemplated, I was suspended without a hearing, and learned of that suspension through the media.

You should also know that I did not attempt to keep any of these political contributions secret; I knew they would be known to you and the rest of the public. I did not make them through a relative, friend, corporation, PAC, or any other intermediary, and I did not blame them on some kind of convenient 'mistake' by their recipients. When a website contacted NBC about one of the donations, I immediately volunteered that there were in fact three of them; and contrary to much of the subsequent reporting, I immediately volunteered to explain all this, on-air and off, in the fashion MSNBC desired.

I genuinely look forward to rejoining you on Countdown on Tuesday, to begin the repayment of your latest display of support and loyalty - support and loyalty that is truly mutual.

--K.O.


Ouch, he went right after Joe Scarborough and the bosses at MSNBC. Must see TV at 8 tomorrow.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:07 PM on November 8, 2010


Rights are defined by cultural consent and understandings.

We're talking about a document, not the culture at large. Whether or not rights exist independent of any legal authority for them is an interesting conversation to be sure, but not relevant here. The Constitution is, in fact, a legal document with no force except that of law. General societal consensus is all well and good, but the rubber meets the road at the ballot box, in the legislature, and in the courthouse.
posted by valkyryn at 12:57 PM on November 9, 2010


As a followup, there is now reporting to the effect that this really does seem to be merely the public side of what has been an ongoing feud within the organization and NBC. Brokaw has apparently expressed displeasure and various staffers are apparently accusing Olbermann of hypocrisy.
posted by valkyryn at 3:15 PM on November 15, 2010




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