The Cult of Keith

We’ve enjoyed Countdown, nightly, for about two years now. As our esteemed apocalyptic vulgarian FlyingChainSaw observes, it’s like watching Crooks & Liars live. Although unlike our esteemed apocalyptic vulgarian, we think that’s a good thing.

So we don’t come to this mess from the perspective of an Olbermann-basher. We like Keith. He’s fun. He’s the only reason we even turn on the tube at 5pm Pacific. San Diego has a 24-hour jazz station. We have options.

That said, we agree with MSNBC management: Olbermann violated a clearly stated ethics policiy, and his suspension is not unwarranted. Olbermann did the same thing with Richard Wolffe, after all.

What disappointed us after the news broke Friday is that we’re in the minority. At least among progressive bloggers — the progressive bloggers we also read daily as we scrape the Internets for story tips. They’ve ignored entirely the facts of Olbermann’s suspension, and the principles behind it.

And in so doing, they’ve shown themselves to be hacks.

Let’s take a tour…

ThinkProgress:

Earlier today, MSNBC declared that it would be suspending progressive host Keith Olbermann because he violated NBC’s ethics rules by donating to three Democratic candidates for Congress. As many bloggers have noted, conservative MSNBC host Joe Scarborough has donated to Republican candidates for Congress while promoting the same candidate on air, but has never been disciplined.

Well, um, no.

Here’s the ethics policy for NBC News:

Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Such activities may include participation in or contributions to political campaigns or groups that espouse controversial positions. You should report any such potential conflicts in advance to, and obtain prior approval of, the president of NBC News or his designee.

It remains unverified that Scarborough received “prior approval” from management. But it cannot be documented that he didn’t. If you’re going to claim that NBC is selectively enforcing its own policies, that’s a major caveat to overlook.

But not as major as this:

Why would Comcast be interested in silencing progressive voices?

Well, um, Comcast doesn’t own NBC. GE does. Comcast’s purchase remains pending — a not-insignificant fact that we would expect an organization like ThinkProgress to know. They later corrected their post, but such a fundamental error should never have been published in the first place.

Media Matters:

If NBC News’ policy extends to CNBC, the network may have a problem with Larry Kudlow, the anchor of CNBC’s primetime show Kudlow & Company and co-anchor of the noon show The Call.

Well, um, no.

CNBC is not a division of NBC News. It reports directly to the CEO of NBC Universal. This is not generally known among the public, but well-known to media professionals. A website devoted to media ethics should be expected to know this — and knowing it, report it to its readers.

One would also expect a website devoted to media ethics to devote a few more pixels to Olbermann himself, rather than going on at length with an “everybody does it” angle.

Greg Sargent, WaPo, on the NBC News ethics policy:

This is a bit difficult to parse. But this does seem to say that those who are worried that their “standing as an impartial journalist” would be jeopardized by political activity should report it. Last time I checked, Keith Olbermann doesn’t pretend to be an “impartial journalist.”

Well, um, no. To the first part, anyway.

The “prior notice” clause is not difficult to parse at all. Nor does it provide exceptions for entertaining prime-time progressive blowhards. Rather than grant that Olbermann violated a clearly stated policy, Sargent instead goes for special pleading.

Oh, and cites Gawker (as do others) in support of his case:

But according to one NBC News insider, it’s common knowledge within the organization that MSNBC’s increasingly left-wing programming and personalities aren’t required to abide by NBC News’ exacting rules — if they were, it would be a much less bombastic and politically charged network.

Gawker doesn’t name its source. If we were relying on Gawker to make that point — we suspect NBC News has more than a few “insiders” — we’d be a lot more circumspect about it.

Josh Marshall, TPM:

But of course all of this pales behind the larger point which is that Olbermann’s job at MSNBC is to be an extremely opinionated commentator on politics.

Well, um, no.

The larger point is that Olbermann violated a clearly stated NBC News ethics policy, one Olbermann himself has agreed with when applied to Richard Wolffe. Hey, it’s no secret where Olbermann’s or Wolffe’s sympathies lie. That’s priced into the show, so to speak. But even sympathetic viewers can get squeamish upon learning that one of Olbermann’s campaign contributions was made the same day he interviewed that candidate.

Marshall, again:

MSNBC’s policy forbids employees from making donations to political candidates, unless they ask for permission to do so, in which it seems usually to be granted. That seems to me to undercut the principle behind the policy.

Well, um, yes and no.

Yes, to be proper about it, disclosure should be made to your audience, not just your management. But note: “You should report any such potential conflicts in advance to, and obtain prior approval of, the president of NBC News or his designee.”

In strict journalism terms, you’re not asking management for permission to donate to a campaign, but clearing any potential conflicts of interest before you do: “Hey, if I donate to this campaign or cause that doesn’t come within a mile of my beat, will that be a problem?”

Or, in strict management terms: “I must confess I was caught flat-footed.”

That’s Olbermann himself, responding last year to news of Wolffe’s consulting gig — for which Wolffe was suspended indefinitely from MSNBC.

And which undermines Marshall’s general observation:

But against the canvass of the media and political world we’re living in and everything that’s happening in it, the scale of MSNBC’s response this seems bizarre, arbitrary and excessive.

Except, of course, the scale of MSNBC’s response is entirely equivalent to the scale of its response to a similar situation last year.

Marshall certainly proposes a valid, perhaps even fruitful, conversation. But let’s not confuse that conversation with the facts of the case at hand.

And finally, Steve Benen at Washington Monthly:

But before Olbermann’s critics get on their high horse, a little context seems appropriate. The MSNBC host donated a total of $7,200 in checks to help three candidates. He did so in his personal capacity; he disclosed his contributions; and did not encourage others to support these campaigns.

Well, um, not exactly.

Olbermann did not disclose his contributions: Not to his audience, and not to his management. They came to light because Politico looked into mandatory campaign-contribution reports. And Olbermann did interview a candidate the same day he contributed to that candidate’s campaign.

And yes, Olbermann’s $7,200 pales in comparison to News Corp’s seven-figure gift to the Republican Governors Association. But as we said earlier, the Fox Does It Too defense does not reflect well on your standards of judgment.

Benen doubled down later Friday:

But an indefinite suspension without pay seems way over the top under the circumstances. We are, after all, talking about three checks — one each for three candidates.

We’re also talking about three maximum contributions under campaign law. And, like others, Benen cites Scarborough and Pat Buchanan without noting that we have no proof they violated the “prior approval” rule.

It’s profoundly disappointing that nobody among the progressives we regularly read saw this for what it was, and stated so clearly. Instead, everyone took Olbermann’s side, even though Olbermann himself has been quiet since a brief pre-suspension defense of his actions.

We’re left with the conclusion that if progressives like and agree with somebody, they’re more than willing to cut him some slack — IOKIYAP. This isn’t about principle — it’s about Keith.

Hey, gang, there’s plenty of room to discuss the policy, or the evil wiles of MSNBC management. But if you jump to friendly conclusions without laying out the facts at hand, you’re nothing but a fucking hack.

And honestly, we expected better from you.

39 comments:

4:52 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

Thank you for making sense, Nojo. I’m so tired of the IOKIYL or the childish “but Fox is doing it too” nonsense.

5:13 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: I’m very curious to hear what Keith says when he comes out from hiding. If he admits error, if he says that he holds himself to higher standards than those he criticizes, if he says it doesn’t matter whether the policy is equally applied to Joe & Pat, never mind Fox News — he scores major points.

If, instead, he whines — he loses.

I’d like to think he’s smart enough to play it right. But we’ll have to see.

5:13 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

What’s the point of rules and ethics then?

5:29 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

Oh, and I might as well call it: I think Keith should cool his heels for a week. I don’t think you can bring him back before then without losing the point.

Either that, or Parker & Spitzer are making worried late-night calls to their agents.

5:59 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

So, should we go to Keith’s house and punch him in the face and tell him to donate his $7 million salary to hiring real journalists who developed, you know, news, like stuff that isn’t vomited into a blog using random facts and rumors from other blogs?

6:07 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@FlyingChainSaw: blogenfreude’s closest.

6:28 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@mellbell: and Keith is, like, 6′ 5″ and likely to punch back. Besides – like they’d let me into his building?

6:44 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@blogenfreude: Stinque Fact Check!

6-3.5.

Or, in personally relatable terms, between NojoPop and NojoBro. Nojo, who dwarfs mere mortals, is the runt of the family.

7:20 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@nojo: I am a mere 6 feet … so sue me.

7:23 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@blogenfreude: Shrimp.

7:38 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

Sorry, only 6’2″ here.

Nojo, thanks. As someone who has had to abide by a similar policy, it irritates me to no end to see people willfully misunderstand it.

7:43 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@Signal to Noise: This is great. All three of you guys could stand on each others’ shoulders, put on a really huge trench coat and an Ed Murrow mask and show up at Keith’s house and give him a load of abuse. Guy on the bottom could piss on shrubs. Guy in the middle could piss in his post box. Guy on top could piss on his head.

7:57 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

Accidental Sports Update: Ducks Huck Fuskies.

9:15 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@blogenfreude: A costume would be in order for this: pink tie deliveryman?

@nojo: If, instead, he whines — he loses. Agreed. And I’ll bet that in private, and with his agent, he’s doing a lot of whining, not to mention chasing down other options back in the sports world.

When is “sweeps week”? Perhaps they’ll time it for then.

9:25 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@nojo: Why not send him to bed without his supper?

And anyone who suggests that Crooks & Liars is anything but a bunch of crappy writers (except Driftglass and BlueGal) getting hysterical and/or excited about the stupidest shit ever have no business opining on this Keef bidnez BECAUSE YOU’RE FUCKING INSANE.

Srsly, they seem to have a bunch of sixth graders blogging over there.

10:26 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

TJ/ I don’t think an infant is as high maintenance as a Jack Russell. Mix or not, that puppy just doesn’t quit. I ran her around the park for an hour, played fetch in the house with a gazillion dog toys for hours, took her out every time she barked at the door, unsuccessfully tried to wrangle every piece of discarded chewing gum in the neighborhood that she decided to eat, sat with her on my lap/shoulders/neck as she chewed something, usually me, while I watched TV for the first time in 3 months.

While being a human chew toy, I learned that the L&O (reg and SVU) shrink is now shilling for Farmer’s Insurance, and I can buy some sort of vibrator that will make my arms super firm.

Going to bed so I can take C’mere, Crazy out at six am. We really need better street lights. She almost walked me into that same utility pole I’ve been trying to avoid since Game 1 of SFLs vs. JNOVs, plus I couldn’t tell if she pooped on someone’s lawn. Will bring flashlight next time around.

10:35 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@JNOV: My sister’s Jack Russell calmed down considerably when he began his phenobarbital regimen.

10:39 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@mellbell: Right‽ And I forgot we’re going to regular time tonight. Better set the clock for 5 AM. I don’t think the puppy can hang on another hour.

10:49 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@Nabisco: Network/local sweeps are November, but I don’t know whether calve follows the same schedule.

Oh, and who brought up “Go” the other day? Haven’t seen it for awhile, but the best lines are from the subtitled kitty.

10:54 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

Paul Krugman Lede of the Year: “Everyone hates quantitative easing.”

11:13 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

Sport TJ: The Stanford Tree looks dumber this year than past years. Looks more like a palm tree than an actual tree.

Oh hai, back on topic. @TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ and nojo : Okay, I’ll admit ignorance, exhaustion from working 12 hours on a Saturday, preceded by travel, insomnia, and 3 am indigestion and stress, as a precursor to confessing, what the fuck does IOKYAP or IODKYAIL or KYJELLY or whatever the hell you’re saying mean?

/Fucking Internet memes/abbreviations, how do they work?

11:16 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@SanFranLefty: The original is It’s OK If You’re A Republican. Revise as needed.

11:18 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

Here’s the thing that gets me about all this:

How could Keef be so STUPID? That’s the real foul here.

Dude — those contributions are publicized. You got about 20 people / organizations who would love to embarass you, and you have an ethics policy that you totes know about, and you went after Fox for forking over one extra-large to the GOP… and you still do it? So: you break a fairly important rule, look like a hypocrite, AND throw about $7500 down the crapper? Alarm bells are ringing, man.

(SPORT UPDATE — Tree 35:17 UofA, late. But my math says that Stanford still gets shut out of the Big Four bowls. Hate to say it’s so, but it’s so.)

11:24 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@SFL — they just cut off my Stanford game for Mizzou / T Tech. Fuckers.

I like the different, non-redwood trees. They had a palm tree with a LSJUMB hat on top, with a big red nose, my freshman year. It was SOLID. (The fronds folded down, and were raised into position with an umbrella-like device. Clever.)

11:28 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@chicago bureau: Now 42-17 Tree over Arizona with 2:45 left.

Oh, and w/r/t Big Four – given the insane SEC bias on display this season when the rightful #1 and #2 should be the Nojos followed by the Big Blue Ty-Dee-Bowl of Boise State – I think if U of O makes it to a Bowl Game at this rate, the Pac-10 should be happy. If Stanford and Luck were playing east of the Mississippi, they’d be 4th in the country despite the one loss to the Ducks.

11:29 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@chicago bureau: Oh, and Tree interception. Maybe. Or at least a great fucking job stopping a completed pass.

11:36 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@SFL: At least Bama was shut up today, in re All That. Now all that is required is somebody to punk Auburn. (Not that Stanford would benefit. Seeing any SEC team getting laid low would be for the Greater Good.)

11:43 pm • Saturday • November 6, 2010

@chicago bureau: I’m going to guess that Keef was satisfied with his own motives and integrity, and never thought anyone else would have cause to question them. That’s what his pre-suspension email to Politico suggests.

And you bet he’s pissed. And reviewing his options. But so far, he’s been smart enough not to spout off in public.

12:43 am • Sunday • November 7, 2010

@blogenfreude:

Not to threadjack, but aren’t you a fan and afficianado of FLW, Blog?

Edit: I just realized you had a stinque.com email…I’ll send it there.

12:44 am • Sunday • November 7, 2010

@chicago bureau: Oh, there’s something in it for us. All that is required to help LSJU is to have Auburn get an indictment of their QB for his pay-to-play shakedown of all SEC teams. Or more of a stinque (so to speaque) around him w/o indictment, so that the East Coast bias sportswriters get a little Reggie Bush heartburn and decide that Luck would be a luckier choice for the Heisman.

Unfortunately for Nojo, the Ducks of NCAAF are the Giants of MLB of this year. Great amazing team of random mismatched players’ effort together, but really no superstar to single out for the big prize. (Unless Buster Posey or Timmy can score a single-star prize).

12:58 am • Sunday • November 7, 2010

WDADABH?

(When did acronyms die and become haiku?)

1:22 am • Sunday • November 7, 2010

@pinkoscum & @blogenfreude:

Oh hay, did you see that FLW’s fully restored Coonley House is for sale? It’s truly sublime, and reportedly Wright stated that this is his favorite residence that he ever designed. Be sure to check out the full screen photos and the bonus floor plan pron. Swoon! The way the light filters through the custom covers of the living-level skylights is such that one truly believes in magic, at least for a few moments. I can comfortably say that me and the fam could be very happy here, and I wouldn’t change a thing… eeeeeeeeexcept for the turbo-fugly, cheap tiles in the master bath, and some unfortunate “art” and modern furniture, which I regret to report are more suited for a faux Mediterranean tract house in San Bernadino. Other than that, job well done, current owners! A+.

1:42 am • Sunday • November 7, 2010

@SanFranLefty: I used to get extra beer money during football season, but those functions are handled in-house these days.

Such things evolve — I still get the beer money, but doing other chores. Plus there’s always another campus department to pick up slack.

3:04 am • Sunday • November 7, 2010

@chicago bureau: Tech (4-4) beat No. 14 Missouri 24-17 despite two FG blocked by Missouri, whose only scores came in the first quarter.

The hapless New Mexico Lobos finally fucking beat someone, a pathetic squad from Wyoming. The homers on radio and tv made it sound like they won a conference championship and were all Happy Days Are Here Again. My (shitty) Broncos will get beat by KC on Sunday and by the Nojos next week. And my Dodge Dakota, the Adventure Wagon, still needs work after a new computer and a sensor and over a week in the hands of my dad’s hippie mechanic back home. Then there’s work to do on my mother in law’s place. Grrr. May as well have that Nut Brown Ale cuz the treadmill is too loud to fire up at midnight.

On track, kind of, I have not watched a lot of Keef in the past few months, since, as someone else said here earlier, I read his stuff already on the web. Cashed in some airline miles and got the Economist for free. Now I can read about how Corporations are Good and Capitalists are Heroes. Rachel still has great insights, has a cocktail moment segment and I can catch AMC on there once in a while.

3:32 am • Sunday • November 7, 2010

@redmanlaw: Cashed in some airline miles and got the Economist for free.

Hey, I’ve been meaning to do the same thing! For now however, I check the site on my eyePhad, waiting for the missus to weigh in on whether she has the time to get through that Limey weekly or not.

Does Rachel still have that sniveling sidekick for the “cocktail moment”? He is largely responsible for turning me away from the MSNBC fold, since his attempts at snarky pop musings frequently came across as either hurtful or they just fall flat.

Hey, Hopey is over in my neck of the woods. Who else wants to see Michelle in a sari?

2:54 am • Sunday • November 7, 2010

@Nabisco: Kent’s still around, but either not as much, or I’ve learned to tune him out.

And speaking of tuning, let’s see if the semiannual Ritual of the Manual Blog Clock Reset works.

Update: Greetings from an hour ago!

3:28 pm • Sunday • November 7, 2010

Taking a tour of progressive blogs is like visiting your Aunt Jean- you love her in theory but wish she wouldn’t kiss you cheek with those scratchy hairs on her upper lip, or with the pot-pie crumbs in the corner of her mouth. And why does her house smell like cat pee? She doesn’t have a cat.

Reading the big lefty blogs is like that, particularly KOS.

4:09 pm • Sunday • November 7, 2010

@Tommmcatt: Sex God or AVATAR OF SEX?!?!?! You be the judge…: And Kos himself, well…

Honestly, the way he and Arianna reel off talking points, they’re worse than politicians. Countdown is enough of an echo chamber without those two shattering glass with their perfect reproductions.

4:28 pm • Sunday • November 7, 2010

@nojo: Arianna has always been an attention whore; I remember when she was an R shill. Now she’s a D shill. Same fucking difference.

Markos seemed more pure in 2003. Now he’s just another annoying reverberation in the echo chamber.

ETA: We need a fucking sounding board.

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