- ‘Gay Jeans’ that fade into rainbow-colored denim created
- Divided court strikes down big porn award
- Jimmy Carter: Don’t hurt Russian people with sanctions
- Oldest ex-MLB player dies in Cuba, 2 days shy of 103rd birthday
- ‘Top Gun’ for drones: Squadrons of carrier-based killers have Navy’s approval
- Bill Clinton to endorse Charlie Rangel for re-election
- Pfc. Bradley Manning is now Pfc. Chelsea Manning: Court says so
- Secret base U.S. special forces used to train Libyans now under terrorist control: report
- 9th suspect in N.C. kidnapping turns self in to FBI
- L.A. sheriff admits to testing flyover spy program without notifying residents
Olbermann suspension highlights ethics rules
NEW YORK (AP) - Keith Olbermann’s suspension from MSNBC for donating to three Democratic campaigns has made his status a cause for liberals and raised questions about how long-standing rules designed to protect the integrity of news organizations fit in a new era of opinionated programming.
Olbermann was suspended indefinitely without pay Friday for violating NBC News rules about donations. MSNBC wasn’t commenting on Olbermann’s future Sunday after an online petition calling for his immediate reinstatement, run by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, exceeded 250,000 signatures.
The left-leaning cable network’s most popular personality acknowledged donating $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 making political donations unless an exception is granted in advance by the network news president. In this case, Olbermann’s bosses didn’t know about them until being informed by a reporter.
The rules are designed to preserve the appearance of objectivity for news organizations. Cable news networks, most prominently Fox News Channel and MSNBC, have increased their popularity in recent years through prime-time programs that dispense with any notion of impartiality.
“What we’ve seen in the last five years is the rise of these personalities that eclipse the journalism that these organizations do,” said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute journalism think tank.
Many mainstream news organizations take these rules dead seriously. National Public Radio subjected itself to some teasing this fall when it issued a memo forbidding its personnel from attending comic Jon Stewart’s rally in Washington last month, but NPR didn’t want reporters seen at an event that some people could interpret as political, unless the reporters were covering it.
Olbermann’s fans note that he’s made no secret of his support for Democrats on his prime-time “Countdown” show. So why should he be suspended for putting his money where his mouth is?
McBride said she wouldn’t be surprised if some news organizations drop these rules in the next few years, or at least carve out exceptions for certain personalities. Fox News seems to have effectively done this. Prime-time host Sean Hannity made a $5,000 donation to Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann’s PAC this summer; Fox says he’s a conservative talk show host, not a journalist. Part-time commentators the network has hired like Karl Rove and Sarah Palin continue their political work while drawing pay from Fox.
“It’s getting harder and harder to draw the lines in general,” McBride said. “The public doesn’t spend a lot of time differentiating between commentators and journalists.”
Yet the principle of journalistic independence is more important now than ever, said Bob Steele, director of the Prindell Institute for Ethics at DePauw University in Indiana.
Prime-time opinion hosts are journalists as well as commentators, Steele said. They host news programs, make decisions on what stories to emphasize, what guests to bring on, and what questions are asked, he said.
“There’s a huge difference between having a belief and becoming an activist,” he said, “and when you contribute to a campaign with your money or your energy, you’re an activist.”
Donations to some Democratic candidates by a commentator who clearly supports Democrats may seem simple. But why these candidates in these states and not others? What if these candidates get involved in primaries?
In other words, it can get messy.
TWT Video Picks
By Andrew P. Napolitano
Obama's veil of secrecy is pierced
- 'Top Gun' for drones: Squadrons of carrier-based killers have Navy's approval
- Pentagon plans to replace flight crews with 'full-time' robots
- Kansas will nullify local regulation of guns
- Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy hailed as patriot, ripped as lawless deadbeat
- America is an oligarchy, not a democracy or republic, university study finds
- Opposition rising to Colorado gun control laws
- CARSON: When government looks more like foe than friend
- Paul Ryan to meet with black lawmakers after 'inner cities' flap
- Georgia's new carry law a big win for gun rights
- Tactical advantage: Russian military shows off impressive new gear
Top 10 handguns in the U.S.
Celebrity deaths in 2014