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Olbermann Suspension is Lunacy

POSTED:

Just quickly: I just found out about the suspension of Keith Olbermann for making political contributions. NBC apparently has some policy prohibiting journalists from donating to candidates, so they suspended him indefinitely without pay.

I went online and read the news and found the inevitable commentary by ostensible experts on journalistic ethics, who are all lining up to whale on Olbermann. One quote I found in this Bloomberg piece:

"Journalists who work for a news organization have an ethical responsibility to honor their guidelines and standards,” said Bob Steele who teaches journalism ethics at Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida. “If NBC and MSNBC spelled out those guidelines clearly and Olbermann violated those guidelines, then he should pay the price."

He should pay the price? Is Bob Steele kidding? What the hell is wrong with people?

We had a whole generation of journalists who sat by and did nothing while, for instance, George Bush led us into an idiotic war on a lie, plus thousands more who spent day after day collecting checks by covering Britney's hair and Tiger's text messages and other stupidities while the economy blew up and two bloody wars went on mostly unexamined... and it's Keith Olbermann who should "pay the price" for being unethical? Because, and let me get this straight, he donated money, privately, to politicians?

This is absurd even by GE's standards. There is no reason, not even a theoretical one, why any journalist should be prevented from having political opinions and participating in election campaigns in his spare time. The policy would be ridiculous even if we were talking about an evening news anchor -- because the only "ethical" question here is the issue of NBC wanting to preserve the appearance of impartiality and being unable to do so, because political contributions happen to be public record and impossible to hide from viewers.

Again, that would be true even if we were talking about Brian Williams or Tom Brokaw, someone from whom viewers expect a certain level of impartiality. But what Olbermann does is advocacy journalism and it's not exactly a secret. NBC punishing Olbermann for donating to Democratic candidates is like Hugh Hefner fining the Playmate of the Year for showing ankle. It's completely and utterly retarded.

These periodic spaz attacks the people in our business have over obscure and usually completely made-up ethical controversies -- often over this whole "objectivity" issue, which provides a seemingly endless source of false piety for some of the more obnoxious journo-ethicists -- are really irritating. I'm biased, obviously, because I'm a guest on the show, but this is beyond stupid. And by the way, has anyone checked the donation lists for CNBC anchors? I'm guessing a few of those have shelled out to the Rs. What's the deal, GE?

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Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.

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