Accuracy in Media

Keith Olbermann is back after his indefinite suspension turned out to be just two days. TVNewsers sources, which I cited last week, were mistaken at best when they quoted “insiders” as having said he “won’t be back.”

David Zurawik, TV critic for the Baltimore Sun, was right on the money when he called the suspension “a joke suspension” if it only lasted a week or two. Imagine what kind of joke it turned out to be. And Zurawik linked to some great clips. One is Lawrence O’Donnell, one of the other MSNBC hosts proudly proclaiming that he is a socialist, causing Morning Joe Scarborough to howl with laughter. The video and description of Rachel Maddow is priceless:

“Maddow Friday night called for Olbermann’s reinstatement. And as she whined her way through her what-he-did-was-wrong-but-Fox-is-worse-so-reinstate-him-now complaint, MSNBC came sharply into focus.

“It’s not high school with cable TV salaries, as one news executive once explained it to me, trying to account for the adolescent behavior and attitudes of its hosts. No, it’s a weird, little, liberal prep school. It’s not very good academically, but it cost lots of money to get in. The editor of the literary magazine is Olbermann, and his protege is Maddow, the poetry editor. And now, the poetry editor is upset because Keith was suspended for breaking one of the school rules.

“And she’s so upset she’s going to demand his immediate reinstatement. But what is she going to do if he is not reinstated? Nothing, because that would involve paying a price, however small, for her convictions. And if she walked off in protest, who would publish her self-absorbed, snarky poems?”

This is not the first time the network has had to restrain their ratings king for his partisanship. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the “reporting” of Olbermann, Matthews and others led then-Democratic governor from Pennsylvania Ed Rendell to call MSNBC the “Obama Network.” He said “MSNBC was the official network of the Obama campaign,” and called their coverage “absolutely embarrassing.”

Tom Brokaw of NBC News basically agreed, saying, “I think Keith has gone too far. I think Chris has gone too far,” while arguing that they are “commentators,” and “not the only voices” on that network.

Shortly after those comments, they were, according to The Washington Post, removed “as the anchors of live political events, bowing to growing criticism that they are too opinionated to be seen as neutral in the heat of the presidential campaign.”

Once again, a brief suspension.

Olbermann has made news in the past for blasting his own colleagues when he thought their views were a bit out of line, including those of Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough.

Assuming he hosts about 225 shows a year, Olbermann’s two-day suspension amounts to about a $60,000 to $70,000 fine, roughly the average in-kind contribution Olbermann makes on a nightly basis to the Democratic Party.

And to the idea that Rupert Murdoch contributed a million dollars to the Republican Governor’s Association, it should be remembered that in the past, Murdoch supported Al Gore financially in 2000, and then-News Corp. COO Peter Chernin was a prominent and open supporter of John Kerry in 2004. Murdoch also supported Hillary Clinton in her successful bid to become the senator from New York.

The left-wing “The Nation” magazine looked at what happened to Olbermann, and wondered what standards apply to Olbermann’s bosses at NBC and NBC parent company General Electric:

“A journalist donating money to a political candidate raises obvious conflict of interest questions; at a minimum, such contributions should be disclosed on air. But if supporting politicians with money is a threat to journalistic independence, what are the standards for Olbermann’s bosses at NBC, and at NBC‘s parent company General Electric?,” they asked.

“According to the Center for Responsive Politics, GE made over $2 million in political contributions in the 2010 election cycle (most coming from the company’s political action committee).”

Again I ask, if MSNBC really cared about the appearance of impartial journalism, would they have had as their correspondents covering election night the line-up of Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz, Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell, along with Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson? And it’s not just election night, it’s every night.

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