Keith Olbermann, the pre-eminent liberal voice on American television, was suspended Friday after his employer, MSNBC, discovered that he made campaign contributions to three Democrats last month.
The indefinite suspension was a stark display of the clash between objectivity and opinion in television journalism. While Mr. Olbermann is anchor of what is essentially the “Democratic Nightly News,” the decision affirmed that he was being held to the same standards as other employees of MSNBC and its parent, NBC News, both of which answer to NBC Universal. Most journalistic outfits discourage or outright prohibit campaign contributions by employees.
Many prominent liberals and conservatives immediately called on MSNBC to reinstate Mr. Olbermann, who is usually outspoken but who had no comment on his suspension Friday. His agent did not respond to a request for comment.
Now I'll be the first to concede that there is an argument for not suspending UberDouche over this -- indeed, my wife articulated one such argument when she commented that "you can't tell me that those other folks -- you know, like Glenn Beck -- aren't giving money to those Tea Party people." But in the end, I have to disagree with that argument, and not just because it does my heart good to see him unceremoniously dumped after years of crappy ratings, undisguised bias, and and the utter repudiation of his side by the American people on Tuesday.
The reason is simple -- Keith Olbermann, for all that it was obviously fraudulent, made the claim that he was a JOURNALIST. This sets him apart from the likes of Beck, O'Reilly, Hannity, Limbaugh, and so many other members of the cable and broadcast commentariat -- and therefore set a higher standard for his conduct. Commentators are, by definition, opinionated polemicists who take side in the debate. Journalists are, or so we have been told for oh-so-many years, neutrals who provide us with facts, not opinion and ideology, and who therefore must hold themselves above the partisan fray -- and Olbermann himself made the argument that anyone who worked for Fox News could not be deemed a journalist because of the alleged bias of the network's news coverage. In making these contributions, Olbermann committed what can only be called journalistic malpractice, and this suspension is clearly warranted. Indeed, I question whether this offense renders him unfit (as if he ever was fit) to cover political matters as a journalist in the future.Perhaps there is a place for Keith and his overly-inflated ego doing sports reporting somewhere, but he can no longer make the claim to be a journalist with any degree of credibility when it comes to covering political, national, or international affairs.
Heck -- maybe he should try to get a Limbaugh-style radio deal, or run for public office instead.
UPDATE: Who supports my position on Keith Olbermann being compromised by these donations? None other than Olbermann himself -- he has even stated that he does not vote lest he be compromised. If stepping into the voting booth is unacceptable, then giving cash to candidates is an even worse lapse.