Keith Olbermann Is Not A Journalist

The opinionated cable news host — and others like him — should not be subjected to the same standards as reporters

MSNBC’s new promotional tagline is “Lean Forward.”

For Keith Olbermann, it should have been “Bend Over.”

Yes, Olbermann, MSNBC’s biggest star, broke the network’s rule barring employees from making campaign contributions without prior approval. To his credit, he manned up and admitted it almost immediately after Politico broke the story Friday.

But he did not deserve to be suspended without pay indefinitely — despite the fact that “indefinitely” turned out to be two whole business days. He’ll be docked about $54,000, based on his $7 million yearly salary.

When Olbermann returns to the air tonight, don’t look for apologies. He’s angry, and justifiably so.

MSNBC’s initial punishment was a gross overreaction, probably intended to embarrass (and possibly tame) the irascible host of Countdown, which happens to be the network’s top-rated show. It accomplished neither.

The rule Olbermann broke is woefully obsolete, given the hyper-politically partisan world of cable TV. All the MSNBC primetime hosts (as well as those at Fox News) are openly partisan about their politics. Moreover, it drives their ratings.

For MSNBC to say that Olbermann compromised his “journalistic credibility” by having donated $2,400 each to three Democratic congressional candidates was posturing, at best. Olbermann’s outspoken liberal politics apparently had no effect on his journalistic credibility when he co-anchored election coverage last week.

At worst, the network’s sudden adoption of journalistic principles in prime time was an effort to suck up to its corporate cousin, NBC News. And if you think NBC bought it, there’s a peacock I’d like to sell you. Most of the time, NBC News tries to distance itself from MSNBC’s pontificators.

Image-wise, the controversy upped Olbermann’s stock considerably. Both conservatives and liberals crowned him a martyr, while lambasting MSNBC. The damage to the network’s image as “the place for politics” is incalculable.

But Olbermann is no innocent bystander. He’s a magnet for mayhem. He’s loud, arrogant, and self-involved — all job requirements for cable talkers. He only books guests who mirror his lefty views. In most of his previous jobs, he didn’t leave burned bridges, he left scorched earth.

These characteristics are what make him MSNBC’s top host, and MSNBC knows it. And because he is clearly not, by any definition, a journalist, he should be encouraged to put his money where his mouth is. And so should his colleagues and his Fox News counterparts.

Since “transparency” is the hot buzz word in journalism these days, such a move would prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Olbermann and the folks at MSNBC do, indeed, lean left (not forward), and that Fox Newsers lean right. Shocker!

Changing the rules would end the hypocrisy. Opinion hosts and journalists do not live in the same universe. It’s time to stop pretending they did.