After Politico revealed this morning that Keith Olbermann had donated to three Democratic candidates apparently without first gaining approval, as per NBC policy MSNBC president Phil Griffin has announced his punishment in a statement released this afternoon:
"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."
While we argued earlier that nobody should really care whether Olbermann donates money to Democrats since he clearly favors Democrats on his show all the time anyway, NBC has rules, and being the network's biggest draw isn't an excuse for not following them. Olbermann has been known to have an outsize ego at the network, and maybe Griffin felt it was time to get him back in line. As our Gabriel Sherman reported:
Olbermann’s nightly numbers — Countdown tripled MSNBC’s audience in the 8 p.m. slot — give him immense power at the network and force his bosses to tolerate his mountain-size ego. MSNBC president Phil Griffin, who has worked with Olbermann on and off since their first days at CNN in the early eighties, acknowledges there have been issues. “It’s always complex because of management and Keith,” he says ....
Griffin, a master politician with talent, says that Olbermann’s influence is overstated. “Keith doesn’t run the show,” he says. “I do a lot of things he doesn’t like. I do a lot of things he does.
Even if you think some kind of reprimand was in order for Olbermann for flouting the rules, though, an indefinite suspension seems pretty harsh.
Update: It didn't take long for Internet sleuths to find other MSNBC personalities who, like Keith Olbermann, had donated to political candidates while employed with the network, apparently without repercussion. As blogger Atrios points out, pundit Pat Buchanan has made numerous political donations over the past few years during which he's been employed at MSNBC. And Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough, whose role at MSNBC aligns more with Olbermann's than Buchanan's does, donated $4,200 to Oregon congressional candidate Derrick Kitts in 2006. Like Olbermann, who interviewed Raul Grijalva on the same day he donated to him, Scarborough interviewed Kitts a few days after he made his donations, a DailyKos diarist discovers.
Is this evidence of a double standard? Not necessarily. NBC policy, as far as we can tell, does not prohibit political donations, but merely requires that they be cleared beforehand to ensure that an employee does not "jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist" by "creat[ing] the appearance of a conflict of interest." So maybe Scarborough got approval for his donations, whereas Olbermann did not, and that's why only Olbermann was punished.
When Scarborough's donation was reported in 2007, a spokesman for NBC said, "Yes, he did make a donation to Derrick Kitts. Kitts is an old friend of Joe's. Joe hosts an opinion program and is not a news reporter." He did not say whether Scarborough had also received prior approval. We've asked MSNBC for clarification.
But if Scarborough didn't receive approval before making the donation, yet was exonerated under this "he hosts an opinion program" exception, it's unclear why Olbermann didn't get the same treatment, unless they see him as more of a "news reporter" than an opinionator, which is hard to believe.
Update 2: William Kristol defends Olbermann.
Update 3: An NBC News "insider" tells Gawker:
"The standards department has told us that MSNBC doesn't answer to NBC News standards," the insider said. "They don't have coverage over MSNBC. They used to, back before MSNBC went political, but at some point it became too hard and MSNBC was taken out of their portfolio. As far as I know, there are no ethical standards at MSNBC. And if NBC says MSNBC is supposed to be living up to the NBC News standards, that's a preposterous lie."
Update 4: Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has released a statement calling on MSNBC to reinstate Olbermann immediately, thus marking the first time ever that Sanders and Kristol have agreed on anything.