Media World: Keith Olbermann screwed up badly

As a a card-carrying member of the liberal media elite, going after one of my political brethren is painful. However, MSNBC and Keith Olbermann's failure to disclose the lobbying ties of former Newsweek reporter Richard Wolffe is downright embarrassing.

In his diary on the liberal Daily Kos Web site, Olbermann wrote that the controversy around Wolffe caught him by surprise. Wolffe, a Brit who has written about American politics for years, is a regular on "Countdown with Keith Olberman," and recently guest-hosted the show while Obermann was on vacation. However, in light of the Woffe scandal, Olbermann has announced that he will not allow Wolffe to return to the program until he and his producers can "clarify" the circumstances of his job with Public Strategies Inc., a well-known Texas-based PR firm.
"I must confess I was caught flat-footed," Olbermann wrote. "I do not know what the truth is; my executive producer and I have spent the last two months dealing with other things ... but what appears to be the truth here is certainly not what Richard told us about his non-news job. "

Olbermann's explanation doesn't make much sense. When Wolfe was hired by Public Strategies in April, his appointment was extensively covered by trade publications such as PRWeek, and the lobbying company was quick to capitalize on Wolffe's fame, widely distributing a press release that crowed about his ties with MSNBC.

The ethics blunder is particularly embarrassing for Olbermann, who often criticizes the ethics of conservative rivals Fox News and CNN's Lou Dobbs. Tellingly, Media Matters -- which, like Olbermann, chronicles the failings of conservative media groups -- didn't have anyone available to comment on this story.

According to Public Strategies, Wolffe, who declined a request for comment, was hired to "advise" several top clients. That means helping them deal with the often-barbed questions of the Washington press corps. He also tells corporate executives whether they should cooperate with a particular journalist. If it sounds sleazy -- well it kind of is -- but it's part of normal life in the national Capitol. None of it should comes as a shock to MSNBC.

Ultimately, Olbermann's protests ring hollow. Someone at his staff should have had a clue of what Wolffe was doing; under the circumstances, it would have been insane for the commentator to lie about his job. Moreover, even if he did, it is clear Public Strategies was far from subtle about the hiring. Ultimately, there is little question that Olbermann, his producers, and his corporate paymasters at the General Electric Co. (GE) knew exactly what was going on. The only question is how these prominent crusaders against corruption managed to miss their own moral failings.

The lesson here is that wrong is wrong, even if it's done by people you like.
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