Olbermann’s Donations: A Breach of Ethics Policy, But Not Unethical

I’ll make this short, but I can’t pass up the chance to come to MSNBC host Keith Olbermann’s defense when he deserves one. It may never happen again.

Politico is reporting that Olbermann made campaign contributions to two Arizona members of Congress and losing Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway beforeTuesday’s election , which is a violation of NBC ethics policies.

Olbermann made the maximum legal donations of $2,400 apiece to Conway and to Arizona Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords.  Grijalva appeared as a guest on Olbermann’s “Countdown” show the same day that Olbermann made the gift. NBC, like most news organizations, has a policy against employees contributing to political campaigns on the theory that it indicates a breach of journalistic independence and a lack of objectivity.

Yes, Keith broke the rules of his employer. That is wrong, no matter what the rule is, and justifies whatever punishment NBC deems appropriate.

The rule, however, is itself unethical, because its objective is to deceive the public into believing that reporters who are anything but objective, are. It isn’t a contribution that makes a reporter partisan and biased, it is wanting to make the contribution that shows his bias, whether he makes it or not. The rule prohibits reporters acting in a way that alerts the public to what their biases are. But I want to know what they are. Don’t you?

In the case of Olbermann, we know his biases already. He is 100% in the bag for any progressive, liberal, Democrat, or any individual who would spit in Dick Cheney’s eye or throw a Tea Partier out the window. I assume that if he could, he’d contribute to every Democratic candidate. The man said on his show that he would vote for Alvin Greene, the Gumpish Democratic candidate for Senator, rather than vote for Republican Sen. Jim DeMint. He’s not objective, and he’s not paid to be objective. NBC’s deceptive “hide your biases!” edict doesn’t apply to him, because they aren’t hidden. Whatever one thinks of Keith Olbermann, he certainly isn’t pretending to be objective.

His donations, therefore, have no ethical implications whatsoever, including hypocrisy, as some are insinuating. Olbermann crtiticized Fox for making some large contributions to Republicans. That’s very different. A news organization should not  be financially allied with either party. A news commentator is another matter. He or she can be partisan, just be up front about it.

Olbermann violated a bad rule, and a particularly silly one in a case like his. He was disobedient, but not the least bit unethical.


Update: NBC has suspended Olbermann indefinitely, without pay. After all, a commentator who spends his entire show bashing conservative Republicans and praising progressive Democrats just compromised his integrity by financially supporting two progressive Democrats running again conservative Republicans, undermining NBC’s apparent belief that viewers should regard him as non-partisan and objective, even though that was already impossible.

2 thoughts on “Olbermann’s Donations: A Breach of Ethics Policy, But Not Unethical

  1. Pingback: Flunking the Keith Olbermann Test « Ethics Alarms

  2. Pingback: MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow matches Fox News’ distortions about Obama with her distortion about George W. Bush « Ethics Bob

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