Olbermann, Objectivity or Opinion on TV

Keith Olbermann

Keith Olbermann, the liberal host of “Countdown” on MSNBC, was recently suspended indefinitely without pay for making political donations to three Democrats. 

The network policy prohibits such contributions. Most journalistic outfits discourage or outright prohibit campaign contributions by employees. 

According to MSNBC policy, “Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest.” In other words, employees must avoid any conflict of interests or even the appearance of a possible conflict.

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow asserted that Fox News is a “political operation” while MSNBC is a “news operation,” ” …we are not a political operation. Fox is. We are a news operation. And the rules around here are part of how you know that.” 

The indefinite suspension was a harsh example of the clash between objectivity and opinion in journalism. News commentary programs have blurred the lines between straight news reporting and opinionated news commentary.  While television news organizations have rules about journalists contributing to political campaigns, there seems to be a lack of distinction between reporters and those offering opinions. 

Olbermann is not a straight forward newscaster.  His liberal point of view  is well-known to everyone. His on-air support has far more economic value to the party and politicians that he supports than his meager contributions. 

The network apparently decided to take this kind of strong action as a way of attempting to show that MSNBC remains a channel that adheres to fundamental journalistic values. 

The channel ended up having a straight forward news anchor, Thomas Roberts, fill in Olbermann’s slot on Friday night. 

“Countdown,” is the most popular hour on MSNBC, with about 1.1 million viewers a night.

*UPDATE*  Keith Olbermann will be back on the air Tuesday, ending his suspension for violating NBC’s rules after two days. It has become more and more difficult to determine who is a commentator and who is journalist..

While many news organizations taken rules about maintaining the appearance of impartiality seriously, FOX News Channel and MSNBC have dispensed with any notion of impartiality on prime time programs.

Olbermann supporters note that he’s made no secret of his support for Democrats on his prime-time show “Countdown”.

NBC has not mentioned making any changes to NBC’s rules.

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