I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
- Captain Renault, Casablanca
It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s hung ‘round these parts for any length of time that I’m a HUGE fan of Keith Olbermann. As a pundit, he’s without peer, regardless of which side of the ideological fence we happen to be talking about. He’s intelligent, erudite, passionate, and devoted to the truth. Given the success of “Countdown” over the past few years, Olbermann has become the unmistakable eminence grise of MSNBC. Let’s face it; without Keith Olbermann, MSNBC would still be a ship without a rudder. Olbermann not only puts a face and an identity to the network, he’s become their conscience and ideological soul. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a matter for a debate best left for another time, but from where I sit, without Keith Olbermann, MSNBC is Rachel Maddow and a bunch of anonymous but well-meaning talking heads.
This is why I was shocked to hear the news yesterday that Olbermann had been suspended without pay by MSNBC. When I first heard the news, I thought. “He’s schtupping an intern?” “He’s buying weed from his producer’s kid?” “He’s hosting orgies at his Manhattan apartment?”
As it turns out, Olbermann’s alleged high crime and misdemeanor was making donations to three Democrats during this election cycle. Yeah, I know; Olbermann’s a Liberal; whodathunkit? And he was exercising his right as an American to donate to political candidates? My God…when do we get to see him doing the perp walk as he hangs his head in shame??
Yes, MSNBC chief Phil Griffin suspended Olbermann indefinitely without pay. What seems less clear is why this rises in Griffin’s mind to the level of a disciplinary issue.
NBC News rules explicitly bar employees from making political donations without prior approval, which is ostensibly why Griffin suspended Olbermann. But according to one NBC News insider, it’s common knowledge within the organization that MSNBC’s increasingly left-wing programming and personalities aren’t required to abide by NBC News’ exacting rules—if they were, it would be a much less bombastic and politically charged network. So while Olbermann’s donations may have run counter to the NBC News brand and Griffin’s wishes, there doesn’t appear to be a chapter-and-verse policy applying to MSNBC employees barring them.
So, let me see if I have this straight: Fox Noise Channel talking heads endorse Republicans, donate money to them, and unabashedly engage in fundraising and cheerleading for Republicans. This all happens openly and without apparent consequence. Olbermann donates $2400 each to three Democrats, and he’s suspended by MSNBC?? No reasonable person could doubt that Fox Noise Channel leans far to the Right, just as no reasonable person could doubt that Olbermann’s political orientation is decidedly Left-leaning. So why the clear and obvious double standard…especially when there are questions about whether the policy Griffin cites as his reason for acting even applies to MSNBC employees?
What this really feels like is Griffin deciding that it was high time for him to prove to Olbermann that his is bigger. Olbermann, never the shy, retiring sort, is renowned for his ego, and probably not without justification. After all, it’s not arrogance if you actually deliver. Yet it certainly seems as if Griffin just might be feeling the need to show Olbermann who wears the pants at MSNBC…because it’s not even clear that NBC’s ethical standards even apply to pundits like Olbermann.
In a statement earlier Friday, Olbermann defended his donation, saying, “I did not privately or publicly encourage anyone else to donate to these campaigns nor to any others in this election or any previous ones, nor have I previously donated to any political campaign at any level.”
Griffin’s statement underscores that it was Olbermann’s failure to obtain approval, and not the actual political donations, that prompted the suspension.
The move is doubly significant in that it represents a major development in the relationship between Griffin and Olbermann, who once told the New Yorker, “Phil thinks he’s my boss.”
“Keith doesn’t run the show,” Griffin told New York Magazine recently. “I do a lot of things he doesn’t like. I do a lot of things he does.”
I, of course, know only as much of the story as I read in several online sources while researching this post. I’d have to imagine that there’s a lot more to the story than currently is known. It may well turn out that my making Griffin out to be the bad guy may be a stretch, but based on what I know now, it’s seems a reasonable assessment. Phil Griffin may be, in his determination to demonstrate to Olbermann that his really IS bigger, killing the goose that lays MSNBC’s golden egg.
Smooth move, Ace. Way to grow your business. And isn’t interesting that this rule seems to be somewhat selectively applied, in this case to Olbermann?
More to come, I’m certain….