By Benjamin Kabak*
A pdf version of this article may be downloaded here.
Three days after Election Day 2010, Politico, the multimedia news outlet that covers all things politics, dropped a bombshell on the political media world. Keith Olbermann, MSNBC’s lead commentator and the host of the increasingly controversial Countdown, donated money to three Democratic politicians in advance of Election Day.[FN1] Olbermann confirmed to Politico that in late October 2010, he gave $2,400, the maximum amount allowed by federal campaign contribution law, to Rep. Raul Grijalva, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Jack Conway, the Democratic nominee and eventual loser in the race for a Kentucky Senate seat.[FN2] These donations violated NBC News’ own internal policies barring personal contributions; as Politico’s Simmi Aujla reported, news organizations and reporters “consider it a breach of journalistic independence to contribute to the candidates they cover.”[FN3] NBC News eventually suspended Olbermann indefinitely, and he did not host Countdown on either Friday, November 5 or Monday, November 8, 2010.
Olbermann returned to the airwaves on Tuesday, November 9, 2010, one week after Election Day and just two days after he was suspended. MSNBC President Phil Griffin announced the end of the suspension: “[A]fter 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.”[FN4] When he returned to the airwaves, Olbermann defended his actions, saying that the NBC News policies he allegedly violated were “not in his contract” and were “probably not legal” either.[FN5] Still, he apologized to his viewers for various breaches of trust, yet maintained that he made “legal political contributions as a U.S. citizen.”[FN6]