Keith Olbermann

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Keith Olbermann (1959-) is a U.S. news and opinion broadcaster, of liberal ideology, who will be starting a show on Al Gore's Current TV network. He and MSNBC, a cable network generally considered liberal, mutually terminated their contract in January 2011. He started sports broadcasting in high school, and then worked in sports for print and radio outlets. He was part of the ESPN sports network launch in 1992. Moving to general news at MSNBC in 1997, but became frustrated with reporting on the Bill Clinton impeachment, and moved to Fox News as a sports anchor. Leaving Fox in 2001 for ABC News, he won an Edward R. Murrow award for coverage of the 9-11 Attacks. He later returned to MSNBC,[1] first in pure news, and then became more of a opinion broadcaster, positioned against Fox News.

November 2010 suspension

Olbermann was suspended in November 2010 for making campaign contributions. MSNBC President Phil Griffin explained: “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." [2]

The indefinite suspension, which met with considerable criticism, lasted two days. Rachel Maddow, another popular and liberal opinion broadcaster at MSNBC, used the episode to attack Fox. The Post article quoted MediaMatters as saying more than 30 30 Fox News hosts and contributors had donated to conservative candidates.
Let this incident lay to rest forever the facile, never-true-anyway, bull-pucky, lazy conflation of Fox News and what the rest of us do for a living. Hosts on Fox News raise money for Republican candidates. They endorse them explicitly, they use their Fox News profile to headline fundraisers. . . . We are a news operation, and the rules around here are part of how you know that." [3]
Others were quoted as suggesting it was much ado over nothing. Rem Rieder, editor of the American Journalism Review said
"Watch 'Countdown' for five minutes and it's clear that Olbermann is a fierce partisan who uses his program to bolster liberal causes. It's an approach that has worked big time, hugely increasing MSNBC's audience during Olbermann's time slot....Let's face it: neither Fox nor MSNBC is really a news organization, at least not in the traditional sense. Their primary mission is to espouse political causes. . . . Political activity is what Olbermann and Rachel Maddow and [MSNBC host] Ed Schultz do for a living."

The offense

His contributions went to three Democrats, Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway and to Arizona Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords. Conway lost to Rand Paul, Grijalva won, and no winner has been declared in Giffords' race. He made the legal maximum individual contribution of $2,400 to each.

He announced
I did not privately or publicly encourage anyone else to donate to these campaigns, nor to any others in this election or any previous ones, nor have I previously donated to any political campaign at any level.

Industry positioning

The suspension has been compared to that of the firing of Juan Williams, a full-time National Public Radio journalist who also appeared on Fox News. MSNBC fired him for making an allegedly racist comment. Politico also observed that MSNBC's parent, NBC News, was increasingly uncomfortable with the ideological stance being taken by the cable network.

Industry sources told the New York Times that the decision might be a way for NBC to differentiate it from Fox,"underscoring that MSNBC, while featuring prime-time shows that overtly support Democratic policy, remains a channel that adheres to fundamental journalistic values."[4]


  1. Keith Olbermann. TV Guide. CBS Interactive. Retrieved on 7 November 2013.
  2. Simmi Aulja (5 November 2010), "Keith Olbermann suspended after donating to Democrats", Politico
  3. Paul Farhi (8 November 2010), "MSNBC ends suspension of host Keith Olbermann", Washington Post
  4. Brian Stelter and Bill Carter (5 November 2010), "Olbermann Suspended From MSNBC for Campaign Donation", New York Times