Keith Olbermann Suspended for Making Political Donations

Keith Olbermann
Keith Olbermann

MSNBC has suspended Keith Olbermann indefinitely after the host of Countdown With Keith Olbermann was accused of making donations to three Democratic political candidates in violation of the network's ethics policy. This is a blunder from which the 51-year-old may never recover.

Olbermann donated $2,400 each to Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway and Arizona representatives Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords.

As Olbermann was no doubt aware, these sorts of donations are a matter of public record, and someone was bound to find out about it sooner or later. So, the question is why Olbermann would do something that would make him look bad and get him into trouble with his employer. In particular, he should have also realized that his donations would come back to haunt him because he has scolded executives at Fox News, whose parent company News Corp. (NWS) made two $1 million donations to Republican and Republican-leaning groups during the midterm election cycle.

"Mind-boggling is a good phrase," says Al Tompkins, senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, in an interview, adding that Olbermann violated the ethical codes of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio Television Digital News Association. "It continues to reinforce the idea that MSNBC is pro-Democrat."

The Partisan Trail

Indeed, Olbermann and his MSNBC colleagues were scolded in the media for making intemperate comments during Tuesday night's midterm election triumph by the Republicans. Earlier this week, Olbermann stunned viewers by announcing that he was suspending his "Worst Persons In The World" segment with the intention of scrapping it outright. The feature often gave the "honor" to Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, and to many viewers it had became tiresome.

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Last year, the broadcaster said he was caught flat-footed by his program's failure to disclose that regular guest Richard Wolffe worked for a lobbying firm, though his position was widely publicized at the time. Reportedly no longer working in lobbying, Wolffe remains an MSNBC contributor.

In his defense of the donations, Olbermann said in statement that "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." The liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America says "more than 30 Fox News personalities have endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates or organizations in more than 600 instances."

While that may be true, it's no excuse. According to Politico, the recipients of Olbermann's generosity were guests on his show.

In the end, his money helped produce mixed results. Conway was trounced by Tea Party favorite Rand Paul, a frequent target of Olbermann's critical barbs. Grijalva and Giffords are expected to win their races.

Olbermann's career is probably finished at MSNBC. But if Dan Rather could find a job after his tenure ended abruptly at CBS, Olbermann probably can too.