Politics

He’s ba-a-a-a-ack. Olbermann, MSNBC, Principles, Politics, Journalism, Media and the Democratic Dilemma

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We started the weekend with the Olbermann kerfuffle, might as well end with it. For most of the weekend there was a lot of high dudgeon, pontification, indignation and snark but not much new information. One story claimed that Olbermann was suspended by management for refusing to apologize, and Olbermann broke his silence by tweeting his appreciation for the support of fans, but not offering an apology or his side of the story. Finally, on Sunday night MSNBC President Phil Griffin released this terse statement.

STATEMENT REGARDING KEITH OLBERMANN – SUNDAY, NOV. 7
From Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC:
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.

So that will be the next chapter of the story. Will he or won’t he apologize? Should be good for a nice ratings boost on Tuesday.

More interesting than the specifics of the suspension and reinstatement itself (which strikes me as a pretty straightforward management action and not very newsworthy) is the reaction across the partisan spectrum, which I find fascinating.

In general, the right-o-sphere is amused. They acknowledge the right of Olbermann’s employers at MSNBC to suspend, discipline or fire Olbermann as they see fit, but in general think it was a mistake for them to do so. After all, it is not like he was hiding his bias for Democratic candidates. The surprise would have been if he was not contributing to Democratic Party causes.

A more interesting schism is on the left. The vast majority on the left can be exemplified by the Daily Kos reaction: Olbermann is right. MSNBC management is wrong. Full stop. But not everyone on the left felt that way.

Lets go back to Keith’s “good friend and colleague” Rachel Maddow (who owes her TV career on MSNBC to Keith Olbermann) when she explained exactly what happened on her Friday show:

If you look past her sympathetic demeanor and pay close attention to what she is saying, the unmistakable takeaway is that (unlike most of the left-o-sphere) Maddow is standing foursquare on the side of MSNBC management. She is saying her “good friend and colleague” Keith Olbermann was flat out wrong. Worse than that – he was “Fox News wrong.”

She spends several minutes tut-tutting over a litany of egregious examples of Fox personalities raising funds and contributing to Republican candidates and causes. Well and good, but once she starts down that path, there is no way to backtrack and justify Olbermann’s contributions to Democratic candidates as acceptable since – you know – that would make MSNBC just like Fox.

Ever since Jon Stewart put Fox and MSNBC in the same journalistic basket at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, the MSNBC punditocracy have been a bit touchy on exactly that subject.

It is obviously important to Maddow to demonstrate that she works for a news organization that has higher standards than Fox. Important enough that, if necessary, her “good friend and colleague” Keith Olbermann had to go under the bus. She even seems to agree the punishment meted out from MSNBC management is fair (as long as the suspension does not go on to long – which it didn’t), concluding with a wish that he will be back soon (which he will be). Perhaps it was more like a plea for an MSNBC News Presidential Pardon (which he got). Perhaps she is hoping that Olbermann will show remorse. Perhaps.

Or perhaps he won’t apologize, and will emerge as a Hero of the Kos Kids by bravely standing up to the MSNBC corporate bullies for the right to – ummm – Be just like Fox!!!

Although in a minority, there are some on the left who were not riding with the herd. A good synopsis from this perspective – Nojo at Stinque (a group blog that is hard to categorize, but sits well left of Dennis Kucinich and a bit right of Bernie Sanders) describes The Cult of Keith:

“…we don’t come to this mess from the perspective of an Olbermann-basher. We like Keith. He’s fun. He’s the only reason we even turn on the tube at 5pm Pacific. San Diego has a 24-hour jazz station. We have options. That said, we agree with MSNBC management: Olbermann violated a clearly stated ethics policy, and his suspension is not unwarranted. Olbermann did the same thing with Richard Wolffe, after all. What disappointed us after the news broke Friday is that we’re in the minority. At least among progressive bloggers — the progressive bloggers we also read daily as we scrape the Internets for story tips. They’ve ignored entirely the facts of Olbermann’s suspension, and the principles behind it. And in so doing, they’ve shown themselves to be hacks.”

This is how I think it nets out:

If you stand with MSNBC management, you are standing for a principle (however weakly enforced) and claiming that MSNBC is something qualitatively different than Fox News. This possibly explains why much of the right wing is with Olbermann. It validates that they are the same, except with vastly different ratings. That is the point that Maddow tries to refute.

But – if you stand with Keith Olbermann against MSNBC management, you are acknowledging that you don’t really care about whatever principle that Maddow was flogging, and saying you prefer MSNBC to be (as Jon Stewart describes it) Fox-Lite.

The remaining question is this – Where does Keith Olbermann stand? Will he apologize, acknowledge he was wrong, and work to make MSNBC something qualitatively different than Fox? Or is it to be – Fox-lite Starring Keith Olbermann!

partially cross-posted form Divided We Stand United We Fall