Keith Olbermann suspension lifted, returns to MSNBC

Nov 08, 2010

Rem Rieder, editor and senior VP of the American Journalism Review, will be online Monday, Nov. 8, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the suspension of MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann after news broke that he'd contributed a total of $7,200 to three Democratic candidates in October.

"The Keith Olbermann campaign donations and the controversy that ensued after they were revealed spotlights the blurring line between news and opinion nd the challenges that poses for news organizations," said Rieder in an e-mail interview with The Washington Post.

Hi. I'm Rem Rieder, editor of American Journalism Review, looking forward to your questions and comments about the Keith Olbermann controversy.

When Olbermann provides millions of dollars of free advocacy by loving the Left and attacking the Right on a nightly basis, isn't it silly to object when he lays out $7,000 in cash? Ask any of those who benefit/suffer from his rants and they will agree that $7,000 is a drop in the ocean.

Given that Keith Olbermann's show is so aggressively partisan, it does seem silly to discipline him--if barely--for making campaign contributions.

So Rachel Maddow is allowed to go on air and preach to everyone how much of a news organization MSNBC is because they have "standards" they uphold their personalities to with respect to maintaining political impartiality. And then MSNBC turns around and makes Olbermann's "indefinite" suspension a 2-day punishment? Personally, I don't really care if Olbermann supports liberal candidates, as we all know his biases. However, please forgive me, Ms. Maddow, you don't get to preach to the people about the existence of the rule if the rule is not enforced in a meaningful way.

Yes, Rachel Maddow's comments don't seem very persuasive given how light the punishment turned out to be. What's the takeaway? MSNBC is different, but barely?

Keith Olbermann is a liberal, left-leaning Democrat who hosts a nightly TV show on MSNBC where he lampoons Conservatives and praises Obama yet they suspend him for contributing a few thousand to some Democratic candidates. What a riduculously ironic move by MSNBC. I suppose this move was meant to convince people that they are not what Fox News is to the right. Gimme a break.

MSNBC is not exactly putting on a clinic in crisis management. First it indefinitely suspended an unabashedly partisan host--not a reporter or traditional news anchor--for making campaign contributions. Then the punishment turned out to be two whole days?

True-or-False: Do journalists have opinions? If True, why are they required to hide them? If False, why are they different than normal humans?

Yes, journalists have opinions. But they are supposed to check them at the door when they go to work. Their reporting should be determined by the facts they find out, not by what they believe. ButI don't see how those rules apply to Keith Olbermann, who hosts a partisan program that has morphed into MSNBC's business plan.

I am an MSNBC and Keith junkie, but I appreciate the fact that the network stood by its ethical principles. Unlike the GOP fundraising arm of FOX (I refuse to call it News).

Well, it sort of stood by them. The punishment sounded severe, but turned out to be barely a slap on the proverbial wrist.

Thanks for taking our questions, Rem. Let me begin by saying I'm a big fan of Mr. Olbermann and MSNBC. However, I don't approve of his donating thousands of dollars to political campaigns any more than I do when Fox's on-air personalities do (quite often, apparently), and I think a suspension was entirely appropriate. Which brings me to my question: Do you think the incident will have any lasting effect on MSNBC's image? Or are the relatively few viewers who are even paying attention more likely to think, "They all do it"?

If Olbermann was a network news anchor, this would be a huge deal. But first Fox and now MSNBC have become very different entities, ones that heavily emphasize partisan opinion as opposed to traditional straight-down-the-middle reporting.

In the article you linked, Paul Farhi calls Olbermann a "Liberal Host", yet in your intro you call him an "MSNBC Anchor". Which he is might affect how this should be viewed. On the other hand, I'm of the opinion that as long as it is disclosed, it shouldn't really matter. It was funny though listening to my friend who hotes Olbermann try and convince me that he was a straight news anchor.

Good catch. My bad. He is a liberal host. I think MSNBC makes a mistake by having him anchor election night coverage.

Is it true that Olbermann is refusing to apologize when he comes back? Saw reports to that effect this morning.

He certainly hasn't apologized so far.  My take is that Keith Olbermann isn't an apologizing kind of guy.

How does an organization get away limiting an individual in how he can express his support for a political candidate? Clearly, they are interested in showing that they network leans left, right?

News organizations have always had rules barring journalists from engaging in political activity.

MSNBC ends suspension of host Keith Olbermann

Can you note some of the larger contributions by Republican, right-leaning TV hosts?

The most significant one is the $2 million Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which owns Fox, gave to the Republican cause.

On election night, CNN had James Carville and Mary Matalan, William Bennett, John Podesta, and many others who were asked to comment on the election. All of them seemed to be extreme partisans. Of course, it was worse on FOX with Rove, Palin, and the like. My belief is that as long as we know where they are coming from, who they support doesn't matter. Still, we are drowning a deluge of partisan opinion.

You're right: We ARE drowning in a deluge of partisan opinion. I found Election Night viewing extremely frustrating. All I wanted was results, and most channels were dominated by the partisan back-and-forth.

Is it true that Brokaw and Williams want nothing to do with the lefties at MSNBC?

I'm sure both Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams are uncomfortable with the direction taken by MSNBC. It's awkward for the network.

With all the consant insults to Fox News... Isn't this a good thing? Now we know he is just like Fox network but spewing his liberal propaganda. Really, where are the real journalists anymore? Do they exist?

The real journalists do exist, and they continue to do good work at many newspapers and Web sites  and TV news operations around the nation, not to mention NPR.  Fox and MSNBC are to a great extent in a different line of work.

Conservative news critic Bernard Goldberg has been circulating the poll result that in 2008, 60 percent of DEMOCRATIC LEANERS thought the press favored Obama in that election. Have their been similar evaluations since then about people's perception of press bias as regards Mr. Obama and its effect on elections?

Whatever press honeymoon there was for candidate Obama ended a long, long time ago. He has been hammered hard in the news media, often for good reason.

Why is Fox so quiet on this subject?

Fox has nothing to gain by weighing in. It can just sit back and enjoy it.

Keith Olbermann isn't a beat reporter for NBC, but rather a guy who's paid to give his opinions. Do newspapers tell columnists not to donate money to their favorite politicians or charities?

I think this is a classic case where the rules haven't caught up to the reality. Brian Williams and Keith Olbermann have very different jobs, and it doesn't make sense for them to be governed by the same codes of conduct.

Want to bet that the MSNBC brass saw the overnight ratings from election night and figured they needed a marketing stunt? When your numbers are as bad as Olbermann's, any publicity is good publicity.

I doubt that's the case. And while Olbermann's numbers certainly lag behind Bill O'Reilly's, he has increased MSNBC's auidence greatly. In fact, his approach really inspired MSNBC's strategy, which took a perennial also-ran and catapulted it past sturggling pioneer CNN.

If MSNBC tried this stunt to prove that it wasn't like Fox News, will NBC finally admit that Fox News isn't "news" as much as an arm of the GOP? Or will it still regard Fox as "one of us"?

I agree that Fox and MSNBC are fundamentally different from the other networks and CNN. Both are unabashedly partisan, and that's a huge shift. Of course, there are exceptions. For example, that description hardly applies to Shepard Smith's program on Fox.

I think it was wrong for Olbermann to contribute to a guest on his program, because that leads down a slippery slope to checkbook journalism by what is still a pretty major cable network. In other words, what would stop the Rent is Too [Darn] High guy, to take a random example, from telling every news show that he wants a "donation" to his party before he will appear or be interviewed? That being said, once I heard that Joe Scarborough and others on MSNBC routinely give political contributions to candidates they favor, I found the fine ethical line here to be very hard to figure out. I was hoping that at the same time they reinstituted Keith Olbermann, MSNBC would issue new, clear guidelines to cover all its opinionators -- Scarborough, Maddow, Olbermann. Plus, the new and improved guidelines would have become the story instead of having only Olbermann to talk about.

I think you are on to something. There really is a need for guidelines that differentiate between traditional journalists and partisan, opinion-driven hosts.

I agree with Brian Williams has a very different job than Keith Olbermann, but MSNBC itself blurs the distinction between the two jobs when they allow Olbermann to anchor election day coverage. You can't host an opinion show in one hour and a news show in another without confusing your roles and, in turn, the public. KO and MSNBC want it both ways, exactly what they accuse Fox News of doing.

You are absolutely right. It is a big mistake for MSNBC to have Olbermann anchor news coverage. It confuses the public, big time.

I heard an interview a few weeks ago where Jon Stewart essentially said that part of the success and brilliance of Fox News (yes, no matter how you feel about what they say they are a successful model) and specifically Roger Ailes is that they give their hosts and celebrities room to push the envelope and them also provide them with cover. They don't flinch at the slightest controversy. Your thoughts?

Yes, Fox honcho Roger Ailes and his boss, Rupert Murdoch, are not big on flinching.

Seriously, who cares if Olbermann gave money to Democrats. MSNBC is competing against Fox News, which basically is a mouthpiece for the Republican party. If you're going to go left with your evening programming, go all the way. Otherwise, you'll destroy your brand image with your loyal viewers.

I agree, which is why the initial decision to punish Olbermann was surprising. It looked like MSNBC wanted to have it both ways and wasn't entirely comfortable with its partisan identity. But the quick cave-in suggests it wasn't really THAT uncomfortable.

If a tree falls at FNC, somebody will hear it...

Yes, Fox has a much larger audience than MSNBC. But MSNBC's audience has grown quite a bit, and it's certainly much more a player than it was before it adopted its current approach. Whether that's a wonderful thing is another question.

They have a rule, he violated it, but the punishment was hardly meaningful. Don't you think the punishment should have been meaninful - either firing or at least 6 months suspension.

Yes, the way MSNBC handled this was laughable. First the moral outrage and the "indefinte" suspension, then the rapid retreat. The larger issue is that the rule involved here doesn't make much sense  when applied to someone in Olbermann's position.

Remember, MSNBC, do not contribute to candidates, unlike Fox, which just hires the candidates. How do you view Fox hiring so many, especially Republican, candidiates?

Yes, it certainlyn does. Fox is the full employment act for unsuccessful GOP politicians.

Gotta run. Thanks for all of the good questions and comments.

In This Chat
Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder is editor and senior vice president of the Amerian Journalism Review.
Recent Chats
  • Next: