Keith Olbermann, the host of MSNBC’s top-rated show Countdown, has been suspended indefinitely for making three maxed-out donations to Democrats during the 2010 cycle.
Olbermann has admitted that he gave $2,400, the maximum individual donation, to KY-Sen candidate Jack Conway, and Reps. Raul Grijalva (AZ-07) and Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-08). Conway ended up losing to Rand Paul; Grijalva won his unexpectedly tight race, and Giffords looks to be holding on, though the race has not been called. Olbermann said in a statement, “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.”
NBC News has an ethics policy in place that bars its personnel from making political contributions without the approval of Steve Capus, the president of the news division. “Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
However, this policy doesn’t look to have been broadly applied. Atrios finds a number of contributions to Republican candidates made by Pat Buchanan, who is a paid political analyst for MSNBC. They have a right to make such a policy, but it ought to be carried out on anyone who violates it.
For his part, as recently as 2008, Olbermann explained that he doesn’t vote as a symbolic gesture to maintain his objectivity as a journalist. He elaborated on this to Portfolio Magazine, saying, “I know it’s very idiosyncratic, but I would feel just a little hesitation, just a little drag on the airflow, if I went to criticize somebody, especially a president, for whom I had voted. It is driven by the same thing that used to make me keep my distance from the athletes I covered. I don’t want anything, even that tiny bit of symbolic connection, to stand in between me and my responsibility to be analytical and critical.”
Obviously that refrain from political participation has ended. And Olbermann both had recipients of his contribution like Grijalva on the show, as well as criticizing opponents like Rand Paul, this year.
Allow me to disclose: I’ve given to Democratic candidates like Alan Grayson, Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer this cycle. We don’t have any policy barring that here. And I don’t think it has any bearing on my coverage.
The suspension for Olbermann is indefinite in length.
UPDATE: Joe Scarborough admitted to contributing to a Republican House candidate in Oregon in 2007. A spokesperson for NBC played this off by saying “Joe hosts an opinion program and is not a news reporter.”