Friday, November 5, 2010

MSNBC Suspends Keith Olbermann Without Pay Over Political Contributions

UPDATE, Nov. 5 at 4:49 p.m. Eastern: Brian Stelter of The New York Times just tweeted "MSNBC now says Chris Hayes will *not* be the sub tonight. No word yet on who will be."


Keith Olbermann has been suspended without pay from MSNBC because of his contributions to three political candidates.

The unusual move happened this afternoon after POLITICO reported that he had contributed to the campaigns of three Democratic candidates.

MSNBC President Phil Griffin released the following statement: “I became aware of Keith's political contributions late last night. Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay."

Usually journalists are bound by ethical standards not to contribute to political campaigns or to be aligned with any political party or movement. Ethic rules concerning partisan commentators on cable TV networks  and political advocacy have been debated for some time now. Many believe they are held to the same standards of new reporters. Others have felt that they are advocates, and do not fall under the same guidelines.

Indeed, journalists have contributed thousands to political campaigns and efforts and not faced suspension. MSNBC published a list of 143 journalists who gave to political campaigns. On that list, published on July 15, 2007, was Joe Scarborough, NBC's "Dateline" correspondent Victoria Corderi,'s Rachel Schwanewede, senior editor of, and's Joel Widzer, travel columnist. I cannot find any report that they suffered the same penalty that Olbermann did today.

One other distinction could be that NBC News policy does not prohibit making political contributions, just that you need prior approval from NBC executives to do so. It is possible that Scarborough and the others did receive such prior approvals and Olbermann did not.

Olbermann made campaign contributions to two Arizona members of Congress, Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords, and Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway. Conway lost his bid to Republican and Tea Party candidate Rand Paul. Olbermann made the legal maximum donation of $2,400 to each.

What might be the troubling point to MSNBC brass is the fact the Olbermann made the donation to the Arizona candidates pair on Oct. 28 — the same day that Grijalva appeared as a guest on Olbermann’s “Countdown” show.

POLITICO is also reporting that Chris Hayes, the Washington editor for The Nation and a previous fill-in for Rachel Maddow, who will fill in for Olbermann tonight has also made contributions to political candidates. POLITICO reports that he gave $250 to the congressional campaign of a good friend, Alabama Democrat Josh Segall.

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