MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has been suspended indefinitely and without pay for violating the network’s ethics code on political contributions.
An investigation by Politico discovered that Olbermann had financially backed three Democratic candidates, despite a company policy that forbids an anchor from doing so without prior approval of the president of NBC News. The policy specifically states concern that an employee making such contributions may “jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist” and “may create the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
Today, MSNBC President Phil Griffin released a statement that Olbermann had been suspended over the violation.
“I became aware of Keith’s political contributions late last night,” Griffin stated. “Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay.”
Olbermann made donations of $2,400 each – the legal limit – to three Democrats: U.S. Senate candidate from Kentucky Jack Conway, who eventually lost to Republican Rand Paul; U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.; and U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.
The MSNBC host, in fact, made his donations to the Arizona representatives Oct. 28, the same day that Grijalva appeared as a guest on his “Countdown” show. Olbermann also welcomed Giffords and Conway earlier, in May.
Politico discovered the donation to Grijalva in a Federal Election Commission filing, and when MSNBC was asked for a comment, the news agency forwarded a statement from Olbermann:
“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.”
Olbermann had previously criticized Fox News’ parent company, News Corp., for contributing $1 million each to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Governors Association. On Oct. 7, Olbermann discussed the Fox News donations on his show with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.:
“Is there a legislative response to the idea that there is a national cable-news outlet that goes beyond having a point of view and actually starts to shill for partisan causes and actually starts to donate to partisan groups of one party?” Olbermann asked the congressman.
Griffin joined Olbermann in the criticism, challenging the New York Times, “Show me an example of us [MSNBC] fundraising.”
Olbermann, however, insisted his contribution violations were not an example of “fundraising.”
“I did not privately or publicly encourage anyone else to donate to these campaigns,” Olbermann said in his statement, “nor to any others in this election or any previous ones, nor have I previously donated to any political campaign at any level.”
Specifically, the policy Olbermann violated states, “Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Such activities may include participation in or contributions to political campaigns or groups that espouse controversial positions. You should report any such potential conflicts in advance to, and obtain prior approval of, the President of NBC News or his designee.”