MSNBC suspends Olbermann for political donations

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NEW YORK (AP) — MSNBC has suspended prime-time host Keith Olbermann indefinitely without pay for contributing to the campaigns of three Democratic candidates this election season.

Olbermann acknowledged to NBC that he donated $2,400 apiece to the campaigns of Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway and Arizona Reps. Raul Grivalva and Gabrielle Giffords.

NBC News prohibits its employees from working on, or donating to, political campaigns unless a special exception is granted by the news division president — effectively a ban. Olbermann’s bosses did not find out about the donations until after they were made. The website Politico first reported the donations.

“I became aware of Keith’s political contributions late last night,” Phil Griffin, MSNBC’s chief executive, said Friday. “Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay.”

Olbermann was not immediately available for comment.

His “Countdown” show, which airs at 8 p.m. ET, is MSNBC’s most popular program. His on-the-air transformation from the host of a straight news program to a liberal commentator led the network itself to go in the same direction, filling its prime-time lineup with left-leaning hosts and doing better in the ratings than anytime since its 1996 launch.

The rise in opinionated cable news programming has called into question whether the traditional rules of news organizations to preserve the appearance of impartiality should apply to people who have their jobs in part because of a clear point of view.

Sean Hannity, a conservative radio talk show host with a popular hour on Fox News Channel each weeknight, donated $2,400 to the congressional campaign of New York Republican John Gomez in May. In August, he donated $5,000 to Michelepac, or Many Individual Conservatives Helping Elect Leaders Everywhere, according to the Federal Election Commission. The PAC is associated with Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann.

Fox’s Bill Shine, senior vice president of programming, told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press after the Bachmann donation that “it’s always good to remember that he’s not a journalist; he’s a conservative TV host. If he wants to donate to a candidate, he certainly can.”

Fox’s parent company, News Corp., gave $1 million this summer to the Republican Governor’s Association, which helps elect GOP gubernatorial candidates nationally. Fox host Neil Cavuto paid $1,000 in 2002 for a ticket to a dinner benefiting the Republican senatorial and congressional campaign committees.

MSNBC’s own Joe Scarborough, who hosts the “Morning Joe” program, is listed in campaign records as donating $4,200 in 2006 to Derrick Kitts, a failed Republican congressional candidate.

Grijalva was on Olbermann’s show twice in the weeks leading up to the election, once on Oct. 22 because the congressman’s office in Tucson had received a suspicious envelope containing powder in the mail, and on Oct. 28 to talk about the state’s tough new immigration law, spokesman Adam Sarvana said. Grijalva did not ask for a donation and Olbermann did not say he was giving one.

“I assume that Olbermann decides on his own who to give his money to,” said Sarvana, adding that the campaign was surprised when the check arrived.

A spokeswoman for Giffords also said Olbermann’s donation was unsolicited. Her race against a Republican tea party candidate was still too close to call on Friday afternoon.

Olbermann was a co-anchor of MSNBC’s election coverage this week. The network’s performance drew some criticism, particularly with Chris Matthews’ contentious interviews with Republican Bachmann and Marsha Blackburn.

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