Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Olby Affair

Keith Olbermann is a difficult man to like. In my opinion he and Sean Hannity are the two most insufferable talk show hosts on the air today (well, not counting Michael Savage). Olbermann is often vulgar, vicious, vile and unfair. Even so, I don't understand why MSNBC suspended him indefinitely without pay, and I suspect there must be more to the story than meets the eye:
Keith Olbermann, the unabashedly liberal-leaning counterpart to cable television's conservative hosts, was suspended indefinitely without pay from MSNBC Friday afternoon for contributing a total of $7,200 to three Democratic candidates in late October, a violation of network ethics policies.
I understand that NBC has rules about their personnel not contributing to political campaigns, but I don't know why. They say it's because news people should not be invested in a political candidate because it reflects poorly on their ability to fairly comment on the issues of the day, but this explanation is difficult to credit. Anyone who has watched MSNBC's lineup knows that there's no impartiality there. The people at MSNBC are as deep into the tank for progressive Democrats as Sean Hannity over at FOX is in the tank for conservative Republicans (FOX, by the way, has a similar policy for its news staff but not for its commentators).

I think the NBC policy makes little sense and to punish Olbermann because he gave money to a couple of progressive candidates when for 24 hours a day MSNBC is pretty much campaigning for progressives and progressive policies anyway seems a little peculiar. Olbermann is, like everyone else at MSNBC and many of the people at FOX, an opinion-monger. He tries to promote his point of view and to persuade people to accept it. No one confuses these guys with objective news reporters. No one thinks they're ideologically unbiased or that they even should be.

To forbid them from financially supporting the candidates they promote on their shows seems very odd, but if the NBC execs feel they have to enforce their policy why not just dock him a day's pay or something? The reaction seems, on the face of it, disproportionate to the offense, and that's why I think there's more to the story than what we learn from the WaPo account. Maybe this is not the first problem the suits over at MSNBC have had with Keith, which is certainly not hard to imagine, and perhaps he has crossed the line one time too many.

At any rate, I wouldn't be sorry to see him be let go, which is what some are speculating is going to happen (if he does leave I wish he could take Hannity with him), but this is not how I'd like to see it happen. I'd prefer he be cashiered because his ratings are poor or because his level of civility falls short of MSNBC's standards, but these aren't the reasons that were given for his suspension. The guy's very hard to take, but he still should be treated fairly and reasonably, even if he doesn't treat others that way.