I very much do not like Keith Olbermann's brand of journalism--I was actually shocked by the juvenile rudeness displayed by Mr. Olbermann and his co-hosts on Tuesday night, and I thought I was beyond being shocked by what happens on the teevee.


Nonetheless, this seems crazy:

MSNBC suspended Keith Olbermann indefinitely today after news broke that he had given the maximum allowable contribution to three Democrats without disclosing it to his viewers.

reported on the suspension about 20 minutes ago, with a more detailed statement from MSNBC brass:

"I became aware of Keith's political contributions late last night," Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC, said in a statement. "Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay."

Olbermann, who does not hide his liberal views, has acknowledged donations of $2,400 each to Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway and Arizona Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords during this election cycle.

NBC's ethics policy generally bars political activity, including contributions, without the approval of the president of NBC News, Steve Capus, according to a 2007 story on MSNBC.com.

"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," it says. "Such activities may include participation in or contributions to political campaigns or groups that espouse controversial positions. You should report any such potential conflicts in advance to, and obtain prior approval of, the President of NBC News or his designee."

In a statement released before the suspension as announced, Olbermann said: "I did not privately or publicly encourage anyone else to donate to these campaigns, nor to any others in this election or any previous ones, nor have I previously donated to any political campaign at any level."

As NewsBusters noted in a post on Thursday, Olbermann has often claimed that he is "not a liberal," as he once put it. Though that claim was always dubious, to say the least, it is simply laughable in light of Olbermann's political contributions, and now the news of his suspension.

Who in Olbermann's audience is this morning writhing with shock and disbelief, plaintively wailing, "Say it ain't so, Keith?"  How is his enthusiastic advocacy of Democratic candidates and causes somehow sullied by putting his own cash into the effort?  

Media organizations that ban donations seem to have correlation and causation mixed up.  Journalists aren't biased towards a candidate because they give money; they give money because they support the candidate.

I can think of only two reasons to bar journalists from making political contributions: First, to prevent candidates from shaking down journalists for contributions in exchange for access; and second, to help the media organization hide the political leanings of its journalists.  The first issue strikes me as unlikely to crop up with a national journalist, who couldn't possibly give enough to any candidate to make a difference.  The second strikes me as rather pernicious, but also rather beside the point in this case.  Note to Phil Griffin: In the case of Keith Olbermann, the cat is already out of the bag--and is darting around the studio, clawing up the furniture and yowling about "the worst person in the world".

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