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Saturday, November 06, 2010


I very rarely watch Keith Olbermann's television program any more, though I certainly understand how it serves a purpose in America's political discourse. Arguably, it served a much bigger purpose when it was launched during the Bush era. Few people in the media gave much real scrutiny to the Iraq war and Olbermann was willing to poke at some of the weaker claims.

Olbermann has now been suspended from his job for donating to several Democratic political candidates in 2010.

As it happens, I had a debate case many years ago about the harm of employer's requiring employees to forego constitutional rights. Given how the U.S. Supreme Court has equated political contributions with political speech, this is a troubling case. Moreover, it is difficult to see how an opinionated journalist like Olbermann is allowed to say almost anything (loudly) on-air without violating his network's ethics standards, but cannot make private political contributions.

Olbermann works for MSNBC, which apparently overlooked Republican colleague Joe Scarborough's donations in 2006. Apparently, those were reported in advance, which hardly makes the double standard less of a double standard given that the ethical concern is that media members shouldn't appear to have conflicts of interest when reporting about politicians they support. If transparency is the issue, I'd think public FEC reports would suffice.

Indeed, in 2007, MSNBC identified nearly 150 journalists who gave to political campaigns. A 2010 report by found 235 media donors this year -- giving nearly half a million bucks!

Olbermann's "crime" isn't exactly unique in his field.

Media Matters has documented that Fox News "personalities" operate by a different ethical code altogether:
In recent years, at least twenty Fox News personalities have endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates or causes, or against Democratic candidates or causes, in more than 300 instances and in all 50 states.* Republican parties and officials have routinely touted these personalities' affiliations with Fox News to sell and promote their events.
The list is not merely former Republican politicians like Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, etc. (and those are just the stars). Rather, it also includes Fred Barnes, Glenn Beck, Monica Crowley, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, etc.

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