What Was the Point of Olbermann's Two-Night Suspension?

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MSNBC's "indefinite" suspension of host Keith Olbermann will be shorter than most anticipated. The "Countdown" host will be absent for just two broadcasts, returning to his show on Tuesday night. Olberman received the slap on the wrist for donating a total of $7,200 to three Democratic candidates without disclosing the contribution to his audience or MSNBC.

To many observers, the justification for Olbermann's suspension was puzzling. NBC requires that its anchors and reporters receive permission from the company before contributing to political campaigns. The goal of the policy is to maintain the appearance of objectivity. However, few would mistake Olbermann as anything but a stalwart liberal who makes no bones about his leftward slant. So what was this suspension about? Media watchers flesh it out:


Deliberately or not, the Olbermann suspension is accomplishing great things for MSNBC. First of all, this thing is generating enough publicity to make P.T. Barnum look like Greta Garbo. Then, there’s the fact that this publicity supernova comes on the heels of the network’s expensive “Lean Forward” re-branding effort...

What really makes you go “hmmm,” though, is the fact that, just days before Olbermann’s indefinite suspension, the Countdown host announced the “indefinite suspension” of the “Worst Persons in the World” segment, in an explicit bid to draw just the contrast that his own suspension has. We’re through the looking glass here, people.

Adding fuel to this little can of conspiracy Sterno is the way in which this story broke. Are we to believe that the staff of Politico just happened to be whiling away their lunch breaks on the FEC website, stumbled across Olbermann’s donations, and had the tingling Spidey-sense to wonder if they violated NBC News’ policies?

  • This Was About Olbermann's Identity Crisis, writes Meghan McCain at The Daily Beast:

Olbermann needs to determine if he is a commentator or a journalist. It never really crossed my mind that he was considered a journalist by anyone, just like I never assumed that anyone considers Glenn Beck a journalist. And, for the record, neither does he. Both Beck and Bill O’Reilly (as recently as his appearance on Real Time With Bill Maher) said they fall on the commentary side of the network. This is the state of the media. No one should really be surprised by Olbermann’s donations. What should surprise people is that entertainment, commentary, and journalism have fused into such a state that it is difficult to differentiate among the three.

  • This Was a Struggle Between Past and Present, writes David Carr at The New York Times:

In news operations, opinion used to have a separate address. ... Sounds quaint, doesn’t it? Now news anchors lecture the federal government on its response to disasters, cable networks function as propaganda machines for political parties and newspaper writers throw aside neutrality to tell readers what is really going on behind the headlines...

MSNBC is enforcing a set of standards meant to apply either to another entity — NBC News — or another era, when news people had to act as if they didn’t have political rooting interests. The game has changed, but the rules remain the same, at least at some media outlets.

  • It Was About NBC Protecting Its Brand, writes Marisa Guthrie at The Hollywood Reporter:

Ultimately, Olbermann’s suspension for donating a total of $7,200 to the political campaigns of three Democratic candidates again exposes the tension between MSNBC’s opinionated stars and NBC News, the news organization MSNBC exists under.
 While Olbermann is an established liberal firebrand, he is also apparently beholden to the same standards and practices as Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd, NBC News’ chief foreign affairs correspondent and chief White House correspondent, both of whom appear regularly on MSNBC.


This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.