What Rachel Maddow’s Defense of Keith Olbermann + MSNBC Gets Terribly Wrong

It’s not terribly surprising to see Rachel Maddow come to the defense of suspended MSNBC colleague Keith Olbermann. After all, he played a huge — some would say “key” — role in ushering her into a time slot on his cable network. So they’re friends. And, she owes him, I guess. But I also believe she truly believes it’s B.S. to see MSNBC boss Phil Griffin suspend Olbermann (whom Griffin really doesn’t personally like) over campaign donations to Democrats he hosted on his show. But here’s the deal: MSNBC suspended Olbermann not because he donated to political candidates, but because he violated NBC News policy by not getting permission ahead of time. (Whether MSNBC does not have to adhere to NBC News’ policies is another matter.) And Rachel, let’s not use the ethics policies of Fox News to argue the difference between right and wrong. That’s a losing battle. But yeah, it’s pretty silly to watch an obviously partisan pundit get canned for supporting certain candidates, when the thousands of dollars he personally sent their way is nothing compared to the tens of thousands of dollars in campaigning and exposure he gives these candidates by having them on his show … and agreeing with them. Moreover, Rachel argues that while FNC acts as a fundraising tool for Republican candidates, MSNBC is not the equivalent because it is a news, not a political organization. Except, uh, it is the equivalent when it is: MSNBC hosts regularly help candidates raise funds using is network, and to turn a blind eye to it shoots the entire argument in the foot. Should Olbermann be back on air? Yeah probably, because NBC News’ ethics policies for clearly partisan talking heads don’t make sense. But neither does Rachel’s argument about MSNBC being an island.

On the plus side, Olbermann’s indefinite suspension meant Thomas Roberts was filling in, making it a two-hour gay block:

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  • LOrion

    Yes and No… the minutiae of employee policy rules, especially in a mishmash of pyramidal corporate overlays hardly matter as much as the ‘Personality’ differences.
    Read that political tendency differences.
    What about the article yesterday on Think Progress defining that Steve Burke is now actual ‘head’ of MSNBC replacing Zucker. I think that is more important as he was involved in raising campaign funds for GWBush!
    We could have real problems here with every progressive being ‘fired’ for some minute rule infraction and a whole new ‘FOX/GOP/Corporate’ Network being created by new owners COMCAST.
    It is time HUFFPO and DKOS get together and form their own Progressive Cable Network!

  • Greg

    Thomas Roberts is so charming and hot. I think he did a good job hosting.

  • Devon

    I think the most important story here is the one that’s being largely ignored; That in the Citizens United States of America, a massive corporation like GE can funnel as much money as it wants to whatever candidate or cause it wants while simultaneously requiring it’s employees to get the boss to sign a permission slip allowing them to donate chump change.

    Stay classy America.

  • eagledancer

    Personally, I feel this all comes back to the insanity of the Supreme Court recognizing Corporations as having the same rights as human beings, which then logically leads to the idea they have freedom of speech and the ability to pour undocumented millions into whatever politicians they wish to buy.

    Tip of the hat to Lorion for linking the background information on who’s driving MSNBC these days…

  • the crustybastard

    I’m getting awfully sick of corporate dickheads who imagine they own their employees.

    Contractual provisions are ultimately void and unenforceable if a judge refuses to allow the state to enforce them. It’s irrelevant that everybody enthusiastically agreed with the specific terms at signing. Enforcing MSNBC’s contract would compel the government to infringe on Mr. Olberman’s First Amendment rights, and this it cannot do.

    I hope Olberman sues the shit out of MSNBC.

    He’d be doing us all a favor.

  • Ian

    Thomas Roberts definitely has the ASS-ets to grab my attention nightly, not just from his hosting turn on Countdown, but of course from this 2007 pic of his tasty looking backside from Manhunt:


  • Nathan

    @the crustybastard: I suppose you’ll be wanting the scared of muslims guy to sue NPR then?

  • Michael

    Money makes the world go ’round. It’s TV – everybody has a money agenda.

  • libhomo

    The main thing that FAIR has exposed is that both GE and Comcast make political contributions…to Republicans. Olbermann was suspended for making donations to a particular party that management didn’t like.

  • reason

    General Electrics donations actually lean left, generally giving between 60 and 65 percent to democrat.

  • James Davis

    @Ian: Lovely

  • greenmanTN

    I’m not a huge fan of Olbermann’s because I think he’s too often over-the-top and his “Special Comments” are ineffective because intends them to impress rather than be clear and to the point; he writes like he’s trying to be Edward R. Murrow for a Twitter audience. But I still emailed Griffin to protest his “suspension” because Olbermann was one of very few who were critical of the Bush administration when nearly every media voice was a cheerleader and he often speaks out in support of gay rights.

    Keith Olbermann donated money to an opponent of Rand Paul? Well, what a shock! I’d imagine there are some people who were really surprised by this, right after their mommy helped them change out of their jammies and into their school clothes. Keith Olbermann (and Rachel Maddow) are not reporters, they’re liberal commentators and it’s hypocritical in the extreme for GE, Comcast, or whoever else funds MSNBC to prevent their on-air “talent” from donating to politicians when those corporations do the same thing on a FAR larger scale. If denying Olbermann, Maddow or anyone else the ability to participate in the political process isn’t un-Constitutional, it should be. The “Fairness Doctine” isn’t just dead, it’s decomposed.

    And there IS a difference between Olbermann and Maddow and their alleged Fox News counterparts. The MSNBC commentators have liberal political ideologies but, using a framework of FACTS, they frequently criticize Obama and many other Democrats for failing to match them. At Fox News they use a framework of blatant and easily exposed lies to NEVER criticize Republicans, several times in the past actually identifying Republicans embroiled in scandal AS Democrats, “accidentally” of course. If John Boehner were to suddenly reveal that he dines on the flesh of infants, Fox News names like Beck and O’Reilly would assure their audience that baby-meat is delicious, nutritious, and the Biblically sanctioned “the new white meat.” Oh, and Boehner would be captioned as “Democrat” in the legend under his picture.

  • TheInsider

    It’s ok, Keith is a multimillionaire. He’ll be fine, don’t worry. Worry about those unemployed and with no money in the bank.

  • ggreen

    This blog lecturing Maddow is like 2-dollar whores lecturing about the importance of virginity.

  • Dave

    Keith and Rachel in particular dig for, work with, and present verifiable facts and sources in presenting their viewpoint and analysis. The hallmark of a news organization.

    Fox makes up and repeats its own fact free narrative. The hallmark of a shady and disingenuous political operation.

    Rachel’s points on this were spot on. Spot on.

  • VagrantMan

    Queerty shouldn’t be commenting on whats right and wrong with MSNBC’s journalism. This site itself seems like it’s operated by incoherent bumbling queers who have never taken a class beyond English 101. Most of your content isn’t profound or meaningful, but they help to push an agenda. With that said I usually find more sanity in the user comments than in actual articles.

    Queerty is the Fox News of gay blogs. So Queerty, while I think you’re journalistic trash you’re also really good at what you do. Much like Fox News is really good at what they do, but aren’t really a “news” source. Rachel Maddow’s rant wasn’t about Keith Olbermann, it was about the difference between Fox News and MSNBC. And while YES MSNBC does favor a progressive agenda it doesn’t push it on it’s audience like FOX. From 6am to 12am all of FOX’s programming is manipulated to promote the republican party. MSNBC “leans” left, but doesn’t baby and dumb down it’s content like Fox (or Queerty). And had author of this post been more aware of the news he would of realized that Rachel’s rant comes in a time of extreme scrutiny towards MSNBC. Yet all the while FOX News just get’s a pass because we’ve come to expect that sort of nonsense from them.

  • JustWatching

    You might not like what Fox says, Vagrant, but their reports are accurate (though slanted Right). You should be saying Queerty is the New York Times of gay blogs (with it’s own gay Jayson Blairs).

  • southpaugh

    It’s interesting watching so many opinions on this thread espousing opinions without a basis in fact. Claiming something is reality just because it seems right reflects any number of logical fallacies.
    The difference between Fox and MSNBC is that MSNBC bases stories on verifiable, multi-source fact, after which their commentary follows. Fox News just makes things up, cites itself as authority while masking that link as some anonymous source or dubious, mostly unverified sources without citing provenance. Their oft repeated “Some people say…” mantra comes directly from either their managment memo of talking points or sources like Brietbart, Drudge, or any number of Christian rumour mills. The death panels, Obama as socialist/marxist/communist/muslim/Nazi totalitarian nonsense, and their 35:1 or worse ratio Right Wing to liberal/progressive interviewee record are cases in point. Don’t get me started on Hannity and O’Reilly’s bullying or Beck’s conflation of paranoia and rampant historical revision with reality. The point of the MSNBC ethics rules is transparency, full disclosure, and controlling the assurance of actual as well as the appearance of propriety toward preserving it’s true stock-in-trade: credibility. Every thing Rachel said, including context, is absolutely spot on.

  • VagrantMan


    @JustWatching I can’t say you’re that accurate. I love watching Fox News, they have a great formula and it works well, but they do hack jobs of the accurate news you speak of. Just as an example during their “hard news hour” I saw a report about the California Gubernatorial Race. The reporter, Megyn Kelly, was pointing out how the both campaigns had spent $160million dollars. Now that’s an accurate statement, however it’s very important to point out that $140m at the time had come from Meg Whitman’s (the republican) own pocket. Had it been reversed, Fox would have torn apart the democrat on air and unapologetically. And if you watch FOX there are countless of examples of this happening everyday. MSNBC has the balls the criticize their own. FOX doesn’t. FOX has a grown man (Glen Beck) playing with puppets and talking about the NEW WORLD ORDER and and while advocating small government. MSNBC has Dylan Ratigan making coherent and great small government points like an adult. FOX has a one sided dumb down morning show where all they do is bad mouth the president. MSNBC has a diverse set of individuals who look at whats going on and talk about it from all points of views or angles.

    So yes, FOX does report news accurately, but before it’s presented to its viewers its grounded up and blended with republican talking points and served up as FAIR and BALANCED.

  • GrrrlRomeo

    I’m sorry, did you watch a different Rachel Maddow Show than I did? Because you essentially agreed with exactly what she said. I dare say, you subconsciously picked up your points from Rachel Maddow herself in the last half of that segment when you were distracted and only half paying attention.

    She said Olbermann got suspended for not following news policy. She used Fox to point out they had no such policy. The policy is what makes MSNBC different from Fox.

    If someone does something 3 times, is that the equivalent of someone else doing the same thing 10 times? 20 times? What does “equivalent” mean?

  • Pat Duffy

    Personally, I think it’s Un-American to prevent American Individuals from their Rights AS Americans. That said, we all have worked for Eejits with illegal rules that you can’t fight unless your parents were…Republicans(then you didn’t NEED that job;>).
    He should have asked and if they had told him “No” he should have thrown a public sh*tfit to Shame MS-NBC. Since that’s the sort of thing more in line with his Personality, I wonder if there’s more to this story…like he asked, they said “Yes” but since there was no signed Paperwork or tape to prove he got Permission. I’ve had that BS happen a few times over the last 4 decades at various jobs.
    Personally? I’ve been sending e-mails to ALL MS-NBC Advertizers telling them we’re Boycotting them until he’s back.

  • charles

    rachel maddow is an evil troll. kieth has never got this much attention. because NO ONE REALLY WATCHES THERE DUMB SHOW!! they are very mean spirited and fustrated people on that network.i don’t even think they like our country.

  • Margaret Still

    Charles, Rachel, an “evil troll”? I think not. Keith, which is misspelled by you as kieth, is more than just smart, he is astute, a word that likely goes over your head, and millions do nightly watch him. If you did, you would know he is smarter than any Fox “News” pretty face. Well, O’Reilly is not so pretty, but it is apparently a requirement that their guys look GQ buff and the gals look like they are about to walk down the aisle for some modeling show or beauty pageant (with as much leg showing as possible). And as for dumb, let’s see… you misspelled Keith,, you said “got” when it should be “gotten,” and you used “there” when it should be “their,” and then you spelled frustrated as “fustrated.” And you cannot blame it on poor typing skills–there for their? Right! Dumb? Look in the mirror before throwing stones. And, as for “our” country, that is the problem with America–people like you who cannot celebrate diversity of thought or apparently diversity in general. You are offensive. You are the one who comes across as un-American by being so narrow and biased.

  • BubbasBack

    Nobody watches her show in any case. She and Keith are in the ratings’ dumpster. Pass the beer. Burp.

  • Tangelo

    Did Keith make a mistake…yes. Should he be punished…yes…has he been punished enough (her point)…yes.

    The Conservatives have been having a field day about this like they are Saints who have NEVER done such a thing. That was also part of her point.

    Time to Move On. There is far more pressing news to be covered.

  • Rae

    Bring Keith back….

  • Shawn

    Olbermann had 2 of the politicians on his show the exact same day he made the donations to their campaigns and didn’t disclose that fact on air. I think journalists should be allowed to donate to politicians in their private lives, its public record. The news organization should allow someone else to cover that politician if they are in the news or at least have the host/journalist disclose the fact that they donated.

  • Benjamin

    I hope they bring Keith back very soon. He did nothing wrong.

  • tazz602

    Queerty – you obviously did NOT listen to her. She acknowledges that Keith erred in not getting permission ahead of time quite clearly. The main point of her statement was to point out to us – the viewers, liberal and conservative – the difference between MSNBC and FN and how seriously they take their journalistic objectivity. She does call for him to be reinstated – that the point has been made – but at no time does she excuse what he did.

  • Ian

    @James Davis: My dream for reincarnation would be to come back as Thomas Robert’s anchor chair seat ;P

  • the crustybastard


    There is a distinction between the way Mr. Olberman was punished by his employer for privately spending his own money, and the way Mr. Williams was punished by his employer for going on television and professing that he views Muslims with suspicion.

    This distinction isn’t small. Too bad it eludes you.

  • Jeffree

    Update: Olbermann will be back on Tuesday evening, per news reports.

    The powers-that-be decided that his time on suspension was sufficient….

  • damon459

    I’m glad he’s returning I signed the petition demanding he be brought back and signed the congratulations card sent out by the progressive change campaign committee.

  • Mason

    Big fact missing in this and many similar reports: re clearing it with mgmt. first before you donate: MSNBC policy states “should”, not “must” avise mgmt. Therefore the suspension would be difficult to defend in a contracts court setting.

    Announcement tonight is that he’s back as of Tuesday. (1/4 million Facebookers signing for Keith within 72 hours probably scared a few advertisers.) But all “news” employees are now on notice: only donations to Republicans will be tolerated, if you value your career (Scarborough’s donations were “cleared first”, we’re assured) . America’s unique form of propaganda-news on one side, and self-censorship on the other continues.

  • WillBFair

    This is a distraction form the fact that msnbc actually helped republicans take the House.
    They put up only weak arguments, including Olberman’s convoluted lectures, and gave nonstop coverage to republican candidates, knowing that even bad publicity is good publicity.
    All commercial news companies work tirelessly to create an ignorant public. Msnbc does while pretending to be liberal.

  • Brian Miller

    This whole pretentious “conversation” about MSNBC cracks me up.

    These people aren’t “news professionals.” They’re political entertainers paid to tell you what you want to hear, so that you tune in and they can sell advertising to people who want to sell you shit.

    FOX News is exactly the same.

    The debate over “which is right and which is wrong” is pointless. Neither is a serious news or journalism source. Watching the boys at NBC pretend otherwise is just plain boring.

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