Olbermann Suspended For Refusing To Apologize, But Will He Return?
Keith Olbermann was reportedly suspended for failing to apologize for making political donations to Democratic candidates, but it really seems intended to serve to justify the illusion that MSNBC's programming is not partisan.
Mike Allen reports that Keith Olbermann’s suspension from MSNBC was ultimately due to the fact that he refused to make an on-air apology for donating to three Democratic candidates:
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.
Not only do they make less, but Maddow gets better ratings than Keith among key demographic groups (which is important to advertisers), and Lawrence O’Donnell isn’t far behind Olbermann in that category even though he’s only been on the air a month and a half.
The question is whether Olbermann returns or not. In it’s initial report on Friday, The New York Times reported that sources said that a firing was unlikely. However, Media Bistro says that its sources say that Olbermann will not be returning to the air, the only question remaining being whether he is let out of his contract or not.
Then there is the other theory, which notes that Olbermann’s suspension plays very nicely alongside the network’s efforts to distinguish itself from Fox News Channel:
One executive said the network decided it was imperative to take this kind of strong action as a way of underscoring that MSNBC, while featuring prime-time shows that overtly support Democratic policy, remains a channel that adheres to fundamental journalistic values.
An executive with another television news organization, who asked not to be identified in offering analysis of competitors, said NBC may even see the disciplining of Mr. Olbermann as an opportunity to distinguish itself from Fox News, which has been increasingly criticized for taking Republican positions
That’s essentially what Rachel Maddow said in her commentary on the matter at the end of her show on Friday:
Maddow’s “we’re better than Fox, and Olbermann’s suspension proves it” strikes me as a little weak. Regardless of what MSNBC’s policy about campaign donations might be, the fact of the matter is that their entire block of programming from 5pm to 11pm Monday through Friday is little more than an in-kind contribution to the Democratic Party (just as Fox’s programming in that period is pretty much GOP TV). For Maddow to claim that MSNBC is ethically superior to Fox News in this regard is simply absurd.
Finally, as Tommy Christopher notes at Mediaite, there’s still the unanswered question of who gave Politico the tip to go type Keith Olbermann’s name into the FEC database, and while there are many possibilities (including someone from one of the campaigns bragging to a reporter that their candidate got a contribution from the Keith Olbermann), the whole scenario does lend itself well to those inclined to see conspiracies and ulterior motives in otherwise innocent coincidences.
In the end, this is hardly the most important story in the world, but if MSNBC is using the Keith Olbermann “scandal” to try to convince the public that it’s hosts aren’t politically biased, then that’s a lie worth calling them out on.