Joe Scarborough Deserved a Warning, Not Suspension By MSNBC

What is about MSNBC anchors and political donations?

The General Electric Co. (GE) cable channel today suspended Joe Scarborough for two days after learning that Scarborough had made eight $500 contributions -- the state's legal maximum -- to Florida political candidates without securing prior permission from MSNBC management, as required by company policy.

According to Politico,
the contributions were to candidates for state office who were personal friends of Scarborough, including his brother George. Keith Olbermann, of course, was suspended "indefinitely" on Nov. 5 for violating the same policy by donating to three Democratic candidates for two days.

Is this a case of the network treating two star anchors fairly or overreacting once again?

Fact vs. Opinion

Scarborough reportedly is fuming. One of his friends snapped to Politico that the races were "meaningless." Others continue to argue that the policy itself is silly, hearkening back to the days when the line between news and opinion was less blurry than it is today.

I don't buy it.

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As I've argued before, the policy does serve a useful purpose. It helps to ensure that broadcasters don't hijack MSNBC's airwaves for their own political purposes. That said, the case against Scarborough is much less clear than it was for Olbermann. The host of Morning Joe donated to local races that would be of little interest to the audience of a national cable news channel. He also is a former Republican member of Congress who has earned a lot of respect from people from observers on both sides of the aisle.

Olbermann, as Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast noted, has earned a reputation for being aloof and surly. His missteps were far more serious. MSNBC is fighting the perception that it is in cahoots with the Democrats, and Olbermann did not help change those perceptions. The fact that Fox News has no such restrictions in place does not mean they are right.

Small Contributions to Small Races

Scarborough is hardly blameless. He did not "recall" the Florida contributions during a conversation with MSNBC head Phil Griffin during a conservation about Olbermann's situation two weeks ago, according to Politico. At the time of the earlier dust-up, Politico found that Scarborough made donations to races in Oregon and Alabama which the network said complied with its policy because he sought permission in advance.

Could Scarborough have mistakenly assumed that the state races were not subject to the policy? Easily.

Should he have known better? Of course.

"There is no love lost between Mr. Olbermann and Mr. Scarborough," the New York Times says. "But the two men may now find themselves agreeing about a new approach toward commentators' donations at MSNBC."

Were it not for Olbermann's stupidity, Scarborough would have gotten a warning, which is what he deserved. Instead, he will cool his heels until Tuesday at home without pay.