In a stunning move bound to shake up the competitive, combative world of prime-time cable news, MSNBC has suspended Keith Olbermann – its biggest star – following revelations that he contributed money to three democratic campaigns, violating NBC News ethics.
MSNBC President Phil Griffin issued a terse statement on Friday: “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.”
No elaboration on the statement was forthcoming from MSNBC, including the length of the suspension or whether Olbermann’s political donations would require the cable network to ultimately dismiss him.
The donations were first unearthed by Politico.com from Federal Election Commission filings. After Politico reported the contributions earlier this week, Olbermann issued a statement of his own, noting, among other things, that he made the contributions on Oct. 28, just days before Election Day.
“One week ago, on the night of Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010, after a discussion with a friend about the state of politics in Arizona, I donated $2,400 each to the reelection campaigns of Democratic Representatives Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords,” Olbermann said. “I also donated the same amount to the campaign of Democratic Senatorial candidate Jack Conway in Kentucky.”
He went on to emphasize that he did not use his TV show to encourage anyone else to make the same donations. “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,” Olbermann’s statement said.
But Olbermann’s explanation was not enough to skirt the ethics rules at NBC News, and Griffin apparently had no choice but to suspend him, possibly leading to the dismissal of his network’s highest-rated personality, whose show, ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann,’ at 8 p.m./7c, draws more than 950,000 viewers nightly.
Olbermann is the MSNBC firebrand best known for his attacks on Fox News Channel rivals such as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck – all of whom enjoy higher ratings than Olbermann – on issues of ethics and truthfulness.
Griffin himself was quoted just last month in the New York Times criticizing FNC’s parent company, News Corp., for donating money to several organizations working to defeat democratic candidates.
What do you think of Olbermann’s suspension? Is it fair? Should they let him back on, despite this violation of NBC News rules?