Keith Olbermann’s Suspension: Journalism’s Ethical Perversions

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[Speaking Truth To Power]

MSNBC’s star reporter, Keith Olbermann, returned to the airwaves, after being suspended for two days because he donated money to three Democratic candidates, in supposed violation of the companies “ethics” policy.

Isn’t it American journalism’s “ethics” we should denounce—instead of Olbermann?

MSNBC suspended Olbermann for donating $2,400 to three Democratic candidates: Arizona congressional candidates Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords, as well as Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway. The donations were reported in Politico.

MSNBC president, Phil Griffin, said “After several days of deliberation and discussion, I have determined that suspending Keith through and including Monday night’s program is an appropriate punishment for his violation of our policy. We look forward to having him back on the air Tuesday night.” The short suspension probably had a lot to do with the 300,000 signatures supporting Olbermann; they were gathered in two days on an online petition. Olbermann’s show, "Countdown," receives high ratings for the network.

Unsurprisingly, some so-called journalistic purists and theorists have been bloviating about Olbermann’s "violation" of the so-called mainstream media’s supposed lofty ideals. Howard Kurtz, of CNN’s Reliable Source, said “By donating to three Democratic candidates while covering the mid-terms on MSNBC, Olbermann crossed a bright journalistic line.” Kurtz also opined “viewers had no way of knowing” Olbermann donated to Rep Grijalva on Oct. 28, when he also interviewed the Arizona congressman.

Curiously, Kurtz is, seemingly, unaware of his crossing of the “journalistic line” his “viewers had no way of knowing.” For example, Kurtz, reportedly, often takes money from sources—like Time Warner and CNN—that he is purportedly covering.

While he worked at the Washington Post, as a media critic, he took a job at CNN, although he was supposed to be reporting on them. Kurtz also often interviewed his publicist wife’s clients—without disclosing that intimate relationship. Perhaps, Kurtz should examine his own twisted journalistic scruples.

Unfortunately, many contradictory and phony journalistic ideas are taught in journalism theory classes. NYU Journalism Professor, Joe Peyronnin, in a Huffington Post piece wrote “Olbermann’s political contributions reflect badly on all of NBC News…It is paramount that each news organization avoids even the appearance of a conflict of interest when reporting the news. If a story representation is unfair, without all sides of the argument, or takes a political point of view, viewers may no longer trust the news organization. A news division’s credibility is its bond with the audience.”

Professor Peyronnin is correct when he says news organizations should avoid “even the appearance of a conflict of interest.” Olbermann should’ve disclosed on his show his monetary support, so viewers could make their own decision regarding his opinions of the candidates. However, I believe that was his only mistake—and given the cause he was supporting it makes him even more likable. But first, several journalistic fantasies and contradictions, expounded by the professor, should be addressed here.

Question: if Mr. Olbermann’s “political contributions reflect badly on all of NBC News” don’t the contributions of NBC “reflect badly,” on NBC as well? According to the Center for Responsible Politics, NBC’s parent company, GE, spent more than $2 million this election cycle. In addition, they spent $32 million lobbying politicians this year. If it’s so taboo, for a journalist, to support politicians then why is it proper for news outlets to endorse politicians on their editorial pages?

Part of the problem with this conflicting stance is the fictitious idea that journalism should strive for the illusive ideal of “objectivity.” Journalism’s goal should be publishing truth—period. The only time journalism should be “objective” is when the facts aren’t all in, or can’t be proven. Should both sides of an argument be given equal weight when one is patently absurd, as we to often see on television, when simple dots never get connected?

For too long there has existed a false narrative about how great journalism was before "advocacy journalism" reared its web.

All journalism is advocating something, regardless of the polite pretense. Unfortunately, this fantasy about “objectivity” also promotes the idea the reporter should act as a detached, neutral party. And, many use “objectivity” to hide the truth and protect the status quo. American journalism—unlike Keith Olbermann—isn’t advocating for its rightful constituents: regular Americans.

They’re too busy schmoozing, sleeping, and bending over to power. America’s media has failed us, especially, by allowing lying warmongers to swindle us into wars. H.L Mencken once warned “A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant.” American media has always dutifully made many dumber. They’re devoid of credibility and in no position to judge Mr. Olbermann.

The bottom line is: Keith Olbermann is a credit to a profession hated by many, nearly as much as people hate lawyers. The reason he’s loved is because his passion says: I really give a damn about regular people, unlike the selfish “objective” journalists selling out the American people daily. American journalism should examine its own wretched ethics.

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