Well, it’s been a couple of days since MSNBC put Keith Olbermann on indefinite suspension, and more details are coming out. The rationale has become clearer — and more defensible.
MSNBC, like most media organizations, divides its on-air personalities into two categories: “news” and “opinion” folks. News folks are supposed to be the traditional, objective journalists, while the opinion ones are more free to express those opinions in various forms.
Olbermann was defined as a “news” guy, both by MSNBC and himself. (Let’s not get into what little resemblance this bore to reality; we’re talking strictly on how MSNBC and Olbermann defined his role.) Olbermann openly proclaimed his neutrality, talking about he refused to vote, and repeatedly cast himself as the heir to legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow. MSNBC went along with that fantasy.
Under MSNBC’s rules, though, that meant that Olbermann had to seek their approval for any kind of political contributions he made. Contributions are seen as endorsements, and “objective” people don’t do that sort of thing.
So when Olbermann gave significant financial donations to a couple of Democrats in Congress without clearing it first with MSNBC, he left them open to being blindsided when news of those donations broke.
Further, it came out that one of those donations (to Arizona’s despicable Congressman Grijalva) on the very same day Olbermann was interviewing Grijalva on his show — without disclosing that he was a backer of Grijalva.
That’s going way too far by someone who is pronounced — by both his network and himself — as an objective journalist.
Even that could have been overcome. MSNBC apparently offered Olbermann a chance to make it all go away if he just acknowledged on air that he shouldn’t have made those donations, but Olbermann refused. He’s clinging to his fantasy that he’s the indispensable man at MSNBC, and that they will cave and beg him to come back — on his terms.
And that ain’t gonna happen. Olbermann is (well, was) the bottom-rated network’s highest-paid guy, but his ratings simply haven’t justified that pay rate. What he’s done is give them an excuse to get rid of him without having to buy out his contract — at a time when they’re looking to be sold to Comcast, which doesn’t care much about ideology but cares a great deal about the bottom line. Losing Olbermann improves that bottom line.
So Olbermann has blustered his way out of a job. And good riddance — he’s a pompous, blustering, asshat par excellence. And his removal was entirely justified and in full accordance with MSNBC’s stated and public policies — which he broke, then refused to acknowledge.
Could he return to MSNBC? Well, it would require two things: an acknowledgment by Olbermann that he erred, and a redefinition of him as an opinionator and not a journalist. And Olbermann simply has too much ego to accept either.
Where will he turn up next? I dunno. But I’ll be curious to see how it all plays out. I’ve never watched a single episode of his show (and, apparently, now never will), only clips, but it’s entertaining to watch him blither and bluster and take himself far, far more seriously than he deserves. I see him taking his first show (on wherever he shows up) to denounce the “cowards” at MSNBC who turned on him and threw him to the wolves.
And it will be remarkably entertaining to watch. The funniest thing about Olbermann is that he simply doesn’t see that he’s such a joke.
And we need our laughs these days.
Update: Keith Olbermann reacts to news that he has to abide by the same ethics rules as every other MSNBC employee: