In essence MSNBC fired Keith Olbermann for making political donations to Democratic candidates, but they are allowing Ed Schultz to speak at the Wisconsin Democratic Convention.
According to the AP, “The head of the Democratic National Committee will be one of the guest speakers when the Wisconsin Democratic Party holds its convention in Appleton next week. DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been confirmed as one of the speakers. The Florida congresswoman will be joined by Ed Schultz, a nationally syndicated radio and talk-show host.”
What makes this decision hypocritical is that in November of 2010, MSNBC indefinitely suspended Keith Olbermann for donating to three Democratic congressional candidates. At the time MSNBC boss Phil Griffin said, “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.” Politico first reported this morning that the donations were $2,400 max donations to Democrats Jack Conway, Raul Grijalva, and Gabrielle Giffords.”
MSNBC’s inconsistency in applying their own rules has exposed the sham behind their reason for suspending Olbermann. Are we to believe that making political donations to candidates is a suspendable offense, but it is fine for the host who took over Olbermann’s 8 PM time slot to appear as a speaker at the Wisconsin Democratic Convention?
Why are the rules different for Schultz than they were for Olbermann?
It can be argued that Olbermann’s political activity was much less influential than what Ed Schultz is engaging in. Olbermann wrote checks in private with his own money, but Schultz is using his position and influence as an MSNBC host to appear live at a political convention.
The point is that MSNBC and the left have to be consistent. The left can’t be outraged at the political advocacy of Fox News, and David Gregory’s appearance as a keynote speaker for a Republican advocacy group, and then turn a blind eye to the activities of Ed Schultz. MSNBC’s only statement on the matter has been to announce that Schultz will be doing his show from Wisconsin next week. The network has issued no public acknowledgement of his planned and public partisan activities in the state.
MSNBC is fast tracking their way down the slippery slope of Fox News style cable news political advocacy. It is looking like MSNBC’s suspension of Keith Olbermann was a deliberate action of provocation designed to escalate the conflict in order to fire him or force the Countdown host to quit. In the end, both sides agreed to a buyout, and Olbermann went on to have an ill-fated short stint at Current TV.
Partisan political activism has become the norm on cable news. There is precious little objectivity remaining, and it is obvious that the news is taken a backseat to partisan politics. Partisan political activity whether it be for the left or right has no place in journalism, but mostly what MSNBC’s decision with Schultz reveals is MSNBC’s own hypocrisy in their dealings with Olbermann.
In hindsight, it can now be understood that MSNBC/Olbermann split was bad for both sides. MSNBC’s viewership has dropped by 200,000+ per night without Countdown. Ed Schultz has not been able to draw the 1-1.2 million viewers a night that Olbermann had. Schultz tends to hover between 850,000 and 950,000 viewers a night. The smaller audience has translated into a slight dip for MSNBC’s biggest stat, Rachel Maddow, while Olbermann and Current had an acrimonious split due in large part to the network’s not ready for primetime operation and shoestring budget.
MSNBC is sending the message that partisan political activity is only a problem when they want rid of someone. This maybe an uncomfortable position for the left, but Ed Schultz should not be delivering news and opinion on national television for a cable news network while also engaging in partisan political advocacy.
MSNBC should never behave like Fox News, and their allowing Ed Schultz to mix partisan political activity and the news is very disappointing and Foxesque behavior.
Mr. Easley is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association