Debate on politics and news doesn't end with Olbermann's suspension
MSNBC host Keith Olbermann will be back on the air Tuesday, but the distinctions between news and political organizations continue to blur.
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The contributions violated NBC News policy which says that those covering politics cannot contribute to campaigns without prior approval from the news organization’s boss – effectively a ban. Olbermann co-anchored MSNBC’s election night coverage. His superiors did not find out about the contributions until a Politico reporter asked about them.Skip to next paragraph
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[The Monitor’s ethics policy requires written disclosure to the editor of financial contributions to any political or public issue campaign. Written disclosure is also required of “any conflict, potential conflict, or appearance of conflict” between the performance of journalistic duties and any outside business, financial, political, or other interest.]
Rachel Maddow, whose program follow’s Olbermann’s, argued on the air Friday that there was a major difference between MSNBC’s approach and the policy at Fox News. Olbermann was disciplined for his political contributions and Fox does not have a similar policy for its hosts or commentators, she noted. For example, Fox News host Sean Hannity faced no adverse consequences for giving $5,000 to the political action committee of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) in August. Fox’s position is that Mr. Hannity is a conservative talk show host, not a journalist.
News Corp, the parent company for Fox and The Wall Street Journal, also made million dollar contributions in the 2010 election cycle to the Republican Governors Association and to the US Chamber of Commerce, both major players pushing Republican candidates in the election.
“Their network is run as a political operation,” Ms. Maddow said on air Friday. “Ours isn't. Yeah, Keith's a liberal, and so am I. But we're not a political operation – Fox is. We're a news operation. The rules around here are part of how you know that.”
But rules that allow on-air personalities like Olbermann to both offer political commentary and host election night coverage have the potential to confuse viewers about what role a person is playing. As Kelly McBride, an expert in journalism ethics at the Poynter Institute, told the Associated Press, “It’s getting harder and harder to draw the lines in general,” she said. “The public doesn’t spend a lot of time differentiating between commentators and journalists.”