NATCHITOCHES, La. — Nov. 6, 2010 – Stop the presses: Keith Olbermann is politically biased. It seems that surprising news escaped the notice of his bosses at MSNBC for several years. They only perceived a problem this week, when they learned he’d given money to three Democratic political campaigns.
Olbermann’s suspension is silly and bizarre. News organizations obviously want to preserve the illusion of impartiality. Who’s going to believe a reporter’s story about candidate Jones when we know the reporter gave money to Jones’ opponent, Smith?
But then, who believes that what Olbermann does is news reporting and analysis? The cable news network schedules are full of shows that serve particular political ideologies. So is talk radio. I don’t watch Olbermann, Maddow, Hannity or Huckabee because I want an objective analysis of the day’s events. I watch them because I want their partisan savaging of the other side. Their partisanship is essential to what they do. If I want faux-objective, I’ll mosey on over to CNN to watch their gray men.
If Anderson Cooper is caught handing out political donations, CNN should fire him. If Olbermann hands out donations, it’s the least that he does for liberal Democrats. He can’t afford to buy real access with cash, and the coverage and microphone he provides to Democrats and the scorn he heaps on Republicans are worth more than his measly donations. Not much more – his audience is tiny compared to Bill O’Reilly’s – but it’s better than the $2,400 in each of his donations.
Rachel Maddow waxed sanctimonious last night about this, explaining that MSNBC’s rules show that there’s no real equivalence between that station and FOX. Nonsense. The bosses at Fox simply realize that if you’re going to hand a partisan talking-head a microphone, you may as well let him play politics. They certainly had no illusions about the impartiality of Palin and Huckabee when they hired them. It would be idiotic to punish them for political activity when you hired them for their political activity.
Likewise it seems idiotic to suspend Olbermann for doing with money what he does with his mouth. But perhaps it’s not. If I were a cynical conspiracy theorist, I’d wonder whether they suspended him to improve his numbers when he comes back. Perhaps they wanted to take up Maddow’s sanctimonious claim about their status as a real news channel. Perhaps they want to establish some centrist street-cred with the new Congress and a TV audience that seems less enamored of Obama’s change.
Perhaps after seeing the rise in Juan Williams’ profile after his firing from NPR, Olbermann asked for the suspension himself. I doubt it will work - he isn’t really very funny, interesting or smart – but I look forward to his return to the airwaves. Maybe he can get a gig with NPR.
James Picht teaches economics at the Louisiana Scholars’ College in Natchitoches, La. From the age of 6, he always knew what he wanted to be. Economist wasn’t it. But after accidentally falling in to it, he found that he liked it. Now he also likes raising his two children, being a husband to Lisa and taking pictures of trees in the middle of the night.
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