Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Editorial: K.O.'s K.O.

Well, I've certainly flip-flopped all over the ball park over the issue of Keith Olbermann's suspension and whether or not it was justified. From the moment it broke, something didn't quite smell right to me and it still doesn't. My gut reaction was a prim, "rules are rules."

Then I began reading some very excellent arguments which were put forth by Reality Zone who published an article from Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR). Others include Oh!pinion and Politics Plus. These are all top-notch blogs whose writers are smart and talented and who possess admirable integrity. Coming at it from different directions they argue that NBC has treated KO unfairly. They almost have me convinced, but something keeps nagging at me just the same.

I go to Progressive Eruptions where Shaw writes about Rachel Maddow's reaction to the action and my nose starts sniffing again. By the time I get to Menopausal Stoners and Useless Trivia and Mindless Rants  it's begun to twitch like a dog with St. Vitus Dance. And this is why.

I don't give a flying flip what Joe Scarborough got away with, or what FOX News does or even GE. I just don't think their lack of ethics has any bearing on Keith Olbermann. Nor do I think KO's good and noble contributions to the liberal cause have any bearing on the situation. Nor does the small amount he donated. And this is why.

It is about Olbermann and the contract he signed with NBC, a contract that is binding, a contract that states in plain English that journalists must check with management before donating to a political campaign. FOX News excepted, this is pretty standard in the world of ethical journalism. He has no more right to break this contract than anyone else has a right to unilaterally suspend a legal agreement. Sure, all kinds of others have gotten away with it, but that doesn't make it okay for Olbermann to get away with it. It especially doesn't make it okay for a champion of truth and honesty to get away with it. It especially doesn't make it okay for a respected journalist to get away with it. And this is why.

Any journalist who possesses an ounce of brains and a thimble-full of integrity will at all costs avoid even the slightest appearance of wrong doing. Drama King that Olbermann can be sometimes, he's by no means short on brains. So, why? Why would he do something that he is smart enough to know ain't kosher? And this is the crux of the problem with me.

Menopausal Stoner writes in her article, Suspending KO = Effective PR, "I'm thinking there's a special comment from Keith - already in production - where he says being suspended was appropriate because it distinguishes MSNBC from FOX."

Progressive Eruptions quotes Rachel Maddow: “He made three personal political donations to candidates in this last election cycle,” she said. “The reason that resulted in Keith’s suspension is that, here at MSNBC, there is an explicit employee rule against hosts making contributions like that. . . . But if you do not ask in advance, you are bound by the rule.”

Smell anything yet?

If this is, and I'm beginning to think it is, some kind of PR stunt, or if it's manufactured news, or just bad theatre, Olbermann is seriously out of bounds. Not only is this kind of crap entirely unethical, he's sinking to the level of FOX News. And if my suspicions are correct? I'll leave that up to NBC.

And if my suspicions are wrong? I'll be wearing feathers in my mouth.

UPDATE, Sunday, 11/07: From Politico:

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.


  1. Tn
    Did you steal my tin foil hat?

    Comcast take over might have had something to do with it.


  2. I haven't thrown myself into this story because so many others have, and no time actually. But Menopausal Stoner fits me to a tee. I do agree with you too Leslie, but something just doesn't feel right about the whole thing. We'll see soon I hope.

  3. RZ: If Comcast is able to get their dirty little hands on NBC, you're absolutely right that we'll be in deep trouble. But I jus have a feel that the possible takeover has much, if anything, to do with KO.

    Sue: Like I said, there is just something about this story that doesn't ring true. It was MS's piece that hit home and defined it for me.

  4. That should have read: But I have a feel that the possible takeowver "doesn't have" much . . .
    My writing is getting as bad as Lisa's.

  5. Contract provisions and corporate rules are enforced and observed selectively. This is enforcement for "convenience purposes" to mask something for one party or the other.

  6. Advicey: That may well be but it really doesn't have anything to do with this perhaps being a mere stunt or a piece of PR. Nobody can deny that KO has a flair for the dramatic.

  7. I'm pretty much with you on this. Then again, I want Fox News to officially become part of the GOP and have Sarah and the other pols on their payroll have to count their salaries as campaign donations.

  8. Unions get blamed for lousy and indifferent management.

    Labor contracts contain language spelling out work rules and management's right to create and enforce them. Olberman violated a work rule and was disciplined. I don't get MSNBC so I never watch him so I have no connection other than when he was doing the football pregame on Sunday night.

    He violated a rule and was punished. According to his contract. He has no complaint.

  9. I’m like you, Leslie, I’ve read a dozen different theories about this.

    Here’s yet another one:

    NBC suits had a legal right to do what they’ve done. That aside, were they looking for something, anything to force Olbermann out? He wouldn’t be the first liberal to be shafted at MSNBC. Phil Donahue, Ashleigh Banfiled and Bill Press come to mind. Maybe they need a nighttime slot to slip a conservative into? (How did Michael Savage work out for them?)

    Their nighttime lineup seems to depend on which way they perceive the political winds to be blowing. After Obama’s win, they ousted Tucker Carlson and Dan Abrams and brought in Rachel Maddow. This KO incident came pretty close after election results, and I can see the suits considering a conservative for KO’s slot.

    When MSNBC suspended David Schuster for his unfortunate “pimping” remark about Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, they said “for two weeks.” It’s the “indefinite suspension with no pay” that has me wondering what their plans for KO are.

    It’s all just speculation at this point, but it will be very interesting to watch.

  10. Yes he did break the rules, and he should be punished for that.

    Why are Joe Scarborough, and Pat Buchanan still there? They also contributed, and we all know it was not to liberal causes.

    Comcast might be what everyone is looking for.

    If this was not a K/O stunt, and they possibly ask him to come back.
    He should tell them to go EFF themselves.

  11. L.P., I think it very unlikely this is a PR stunt or manufactured news. If I had to surmise some kind of evil plot, it would be that Comcast wants Olbermann gone but doesn't want the fallout from getting rid of him, so Griffin siezes on the campaign donations to suspend K.O., hoping it will end in resignation. Alternatively, I suppose, Griffin might think Olbermann's presence is endangering the Comcast deal, either because of political differences or because Olbermann has a very lucrative contract. So, Olbermann gets suspended, maybe leaving him vulnerable at contract renewal time to new restrictions and/or less money.

    What works against such scenarios is that Olbermann is a big draw for MSNBC. He and Maddow are close friends. If he goes because he gets shafted, she's liable to go too. That blows a huge hole in MSNBC's lineup, one that has been built with some care over the past two years and is working well. I don't see Griffin throwing away what works.

    Replacing any of MSNBC's people with a right-wing talker seems even less likely. It would go over like a lead balloon, and the new person would be hard put to find a following on that network. People don't go to Starbucks looking for Dunkin Donuts coffee. They don't go to MSNBC to see some Limbaugh or Beck wannabe either.

  12. Kay: That's a heck of a good idea.

    Aya: You're right. As I say, he's simply too smart to have not been familiar with this rule. Or, maybe his ego got in the way and he thought, like so many, that the rules don't apply to him.

    BJ: I admit that I have concerns about that "indefinite suspension" thing. It leaves it pretty wide open and sort of indicates they don't have any intentions of bringing him back. But, as you say, it's open to interpretation.

    RZ: I don't have an answer and no, it isn't fair. But it still doesn't make KO's own actions acceptable. I'm sure politics is behind all this, but having worked in the media, I know how gossip flys. If there has been unhappiness with KO, I have no doubt that he would be the first to get wind of it. Unless he did this to push the envelope, it seems to me he would have been a little more careful about breaking a clause in the contract.

    Maybe this petition will work for him as it worked against ABC when they made the announcement about Breitbart.

    The fact that Comcast only carries Fox in their basic plan should be a wake-up call to viewers.

  13. BJ wrote: "Their nighttime lineup seems to depend on which way they perceive the political winds to be blowing. After Obama’s win, they ousted Tucker Carlson and Dan Abrams . .."

    The reason for Carlson and Abram's departure was that they failed to draw enough of an audience.

    Olbermann has explained several times that "his bosses," and Griffin by name, probably don't particularly agree with or especially like his political take on things a good bit of the time. But that's not what matters most to them. Their job is to present people and programming with audience appeal. It's all about drawing eyeballs, meaning the high ratings that make it possible for a network to attract advertisers and charge profitable rates to air their commercials.

    Fox is different. It ran at a big loss for a very long time. Rupert Murdoch sustained those losses for political reasons. I suspect he had other extremely rich silent partners helping to absorb those big losses, but that's just a guess. Despite being the ratings leader among cable news networks, I wouldn't be surprised if much of the time, Fox is still racking up big losses.

    For Griffin to swing right, he'd have to be prepared to win away Fox's following of fanatics. I can make a good case that CNN tried to win away a portion of conservative viewers, starting about the time George W. Bush started running for president — and it backfired.

    Why would Griffin want to try to outfox Fox at great risk and expense when his people have been able to create an alternative niche that's working? It's neither logical nor good business.

    Maybe Comcast will come in with some very different ideas, and apparently having some definite Republican/right-wing preferences might dump MSNBC's progressive programming, even if that means losing money. I'll bet if that happens, Comcast won't try to re-create MSNBC as a full-time Fox competitor, though.

  14. Tiny has decided to wait for the dust to settle since there are so many opinions. Regardless of the final outcome, she will still consider KO as one of the good guys who unselfishly donated both his time and money for the betterment of his fellow human beings. So she wishes only the highest and best for Keith Olberman.

  15. SWA: As a retired editor, I understand the ratings game. You are probably correct on all points.

    Unless things have drastically changed (which is possible), owners, executives, publishers stay out of the newgathering and editorial decisions of a news organization. (Rupert and Fox News being the exception, as usual.)

    Perhaps what all this comes down to is that NBC executives were just embarrassed to read about KO on POLITICO.

    There are just so many theories, and you know what they say about “opinions.” I think “wait and see” is the best approach.


  16. I'm just disgusted with KO for being either 1. a publicity whore or 2. naive in the extreme if he didn't think it would come back to bite him in one way or another.

  17. Hey Girl
    Thanks for the mention. Hope you're having fun with this tempest in a teapot - I've been hanging out at Hookah House with my son and his "brothers." They don't give a shit about Keith Olbermann or any of those people. They're disgusted with everyone involved in the whole political process.
    They are, however, spray painting Stop War on traffic signs which I think is an excellent sign . . .

  18. SW: Maybe Rupert & Co. will grow weary of throwing money into projects that don't generate results - financial and otherwise. Fox is losing viewers and advertisers, the TP didn't have very impressive results in the election, and I think people in general are so worn out from all the pre-election hoopla that they simply don't want to hear it anymore and will find something else to do or watch. Maybe I'm hallucinating. But most of my southern TP kin have stopped watching Beck and I take this as a good sign.

    Tiny: I just think you're kind of missing the point. We on the left cannot allow ourselves to sink to the level that is the right. We must work extra hard to be honest and above board. What KO did - for whatever reasons - was wrong. Excusing one person just because they're on our side isn't really a good argument. If this is a manufactured news stunt it is no different from Fox's editing of videos. Good guys don't cheat.

    BJ: The battle between the newsroom and the owners and publishers is legendary and has gone on since the beginning of time. If anything, I think it has intensified over the last decade due to the demise of newspapers. Publishers need those advertising dollars more than ever just to stay afloat and reporters need those jobs that are disappearing at a very rapid rate.

    Bee: That summarizes it pretty well, I'd say.

    Pen: Think I'll run by Hookah House!

  19. Just sharing two paragraphs from the Associated Press story late Sunday night that KO will be back on the air Tuesday:

    “Left unanswered is the question of why Olbermann would do something he undoubtedly knew would be provocative, or whether he was trying to make a statement against NBC's policy. He did not immediately return an e-mail message seeking comment Sunday.

    “The incident raised questions about how long-standing rules designed to preserve the appearance of objectivity for news organizations fit at a time that cable news networks, most prominently Fox News Channel and MSNBC, have increased their popularity through prime-time programs that dispense with any notion of impartiality.”

  20. BJ: Thanks. Guess I'm only going to have to eat half a crow then?

  21. Leslie, my position was never that Keith did not break the rules. It was:

    1) For MSNBC to tell him that he can make no private donations without their approval violates his rights.
    2) MSNBC is hypocritical to punish a progressive commentator and take no action against conservative commentators.

    In any case, it's over. We generated over 300,000 signatures and shut down MSNBC's switchboard. Keith will be back tomorrow night.

    On Rachel's comment, bear in mind that if she had expressed any outrage at all, she would have been at risk too.

  22. TC: This is a standard clause in most media contracts, the one glaring example where it probably isn't is Fox. Whether or not this violates KO's rights is a maybe. MSNBC is not saying he can't contribute; they are saying he needs to fly it by management first. I would be willing to bet the farm that had he done so, all this drama would have been avoided.

    I totally agree that it's hypocritical but does anyone know absolutely for sure that the conservative ??? didn't get an okay first?

    Anyway, despite our differences here, we are still friends. It really kind of gets boring when everyone agrees with everyone else and echos the same old thing. Peace.