Lean Back

We’ve long said that Countdown is fine Left Coast dinnertime entertainment: We enjoy a good rant with our supper, and Keith Olbermann can deliver a stemwinder when he’s moved.

We also certainly don’t mind when a couple of our graphics show up on his program. Based on past performance, we should see another in 2012 or so.

But despite the slant of its primetime hosts, and its new slogan, MSNBC still styles itself a news organization, with certain ethical standards required of all journalists: You shouldn’t kick bucks to a political campaign you’re covering. And if you do, you should disclose it — preferably to your audience, but at the very least to your management.

Olbermann crossed that last line with three campaign contributions, and it seems that his boss learned the news from a Politico reporter. This is not, shall we say, A Good Thing. Said boss promptly “suspended indefinitely” the title character from “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.”

And unleashed a shitstorm.

Of course the wingnuts had a grand time with the news, as gleefully as we would have greeted similar news regarding Beck or Hannity. Only Fox News doesn’t have an ethical standard similar to MSNBC, so that ain’t gonna happen.

What bothered us instead Friday was the outrage from the Left: How could MSNBC do that to Olbermann! Look at what Fox gets away with! Look at the campaign contributions by Morning Joe and Uncle Pat! Sign Michael Moore’s petition to being Keith back! Boycott MSNBC!

Which, boiled down, appeared to be an argument that MSNBC lower its standards to that of a reviled political operation masquerading as a news channel. Is that really what you guys want?

It’s moments like these that explain why we don’t self-identify as a Lefty. Sure, we’re fellow-travelers, but sometimes we prefer to take the scenic route.

For the record, Lefties would like you know that there’s no love lost between Keith and the Boss, who would turn MSNBC into the Scarborough Channel if he could. An argument can be made that indefinite suspension is a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime, or that it’s merely a pretext in a power-play to rid the channel of Olbermann.

Which may well be true — and which doesn’t change the ethics policy that Olbermann violated.

Nor do we have anything on the record that Scarborough or Buchanan violated that rule — that they didn’t disclose their contributions to management beforehand. Remember, it’s not that Olbermann forked over some cash, it’s that he didn’t tell anybody about it.

Just like Richard Wolffe didn’t tell anybody about his consulting gig that got him indefinitely suspended from Countdown for a month or two last year. Here’s what Olbermann said about it at the time:

I must confess I was caught flat-footed. I do not know what the truth is; my executive producer and I have spent the last two months dealing with other things… but what appears to be the truth here is certainly not what Richard told us about his non-news job.

Wolffe did eventually return to Countdown, and his consulting gig became part of his boilerplate intro. Regular viewers also know that the length of Howard Dean’s supersized disclaimer is a running gag on the show.

Olbermann has also made it very clear, repeatedly, that Freedom of the Press Belongs to Those Who Own One, to borrow a phrase from our J-school days. As a paid employee of MSNBC, he’s exercising General Electric’s First Amendment rights, not his own. MSNBC cannot “silence” Keith Olbermann, since Olbermann is perfectly free to chat it up on his own time.

Lefties rallying around Olbermann are undermining these very principles, principles that Olbermann himself has been outspoken about, when instead they should be applauding MSNBC for upholding standards that Fox News doesn’t even bother with. Even Rachel Maddow understands that, closing her show last night with a segment detailing the numerous political contributions by Fox hosts and paid contributors — not to prove that MSNBC treated Olbermann unfairly, but that at MSNBC those things are not done.

Is Countdown a Lefty echo chamber? Well, sure — we have yet to see Arianna, or Kos, or Chris Kofinas add anything to the conversation, and it would be a better show without them. But the content of the show and its service to journalism is another discussion. Here the case is, or should be, very simple: NBC News has an ethics policy, and Olbermann violated it. End of story.

And to that Countdown boycott, no worries — the show sucks when Olbermann isn’t there. The audience will take care of itself.


I agreed with the decision despite all the possibilities of vengeance by Phil Griffin and the lower standards of Faux News: it’s policy, and he violated it. I’ve seen similar boilerplate in my employment contracts too.

Just because your enemy’s standards are much lower doesn’t mean you should adjust yours to meet them halfway. The bigger problem for MSNBC is that it’s failed repeatedly to define itself and figure out what it wants to be. That hasn’t changed in the KO era.

But despite the slant of its primetime hosts, and its new slogan, MSNBC still styles itself a news organization

Jon Stewart covered this same ground when he had Mike Wallace’s son on earlier this week, except he also pointed out that MSNBC shouldn’t even pretend to out partisan FOX. NBC has a double A club trying to go up against the Yankees of hack infotainment programming, and even if they brought Michael Moore himself to chair Countdown with Jim Hightower providing Special Commentary they’d never have a shot at the big leagues that FOX plays in.

Dear Nojo,

Yes, you are correct in what you say, but even so still I am very, very cranky about this and continue to think the suspension was very, very wrong.

I don’t think you should be chastising Lefties for “undermining these very principles,” because Lefties were not aware of the reporting requirement, but even so still, do you really think that suspension was the appropriate remedy?

Maybe you haven’t noticed, but the Lefties are fighting a group who have no compunction about violating rules or rewriting rules to favor themselves.

Despite your disapproval, I am going to continue being peeved about this.

I’m more annoyed with the RW noise machine, which apparently thinks that getting sacked for breaking your contract is terrible sometimes (when the provision is “don’t embarrass your employer with hate speech”) but is apparently OK when the rule is “don’t embarrass your employer with undisclosed political speech”. After all, any good teabagger will tell you that money == speech, especially if you’ve got a lot of it…

Bingo. Much of this shitstorm is speculation about motivations – Was Keef buying an interview? Is this a management excuse to dump an expensive contract and change direction?

I don’t think anyone appreciated how the msnbc talent and organization – from top to bottom – was stung to learn that even fellow travelers like Jon Stewart considered MSNBC and Fox mirror images. Recall the umbrage taken by Keef his own self last week. Maybe it is as simple as MSNBC unwilling to be seen again as bush league Fox. They needed to throw him under the bus to draw a big bright line (as Maddow did last night).

They should have just punched him in the face and fired his ass and brought in a real journalist who can direct a team of researchers to find stuff that hasn’t been beaten to death on a blog or anywhere. Like, news. When I travel, I see cable and occasionally stop by the Countdown show and it feels like he is reading Crooks and Liars on the air.

@FlyingChainSaw: Ha!

Hey, dog owners: I’m watching/walking my neighbor’s puppy today. She’s supposedly a Jack Russell mix, but her personality is ALL Jack Russell, which I adore. But holy smokes, the walk to the coffee shop and back was fraught with numerous coffee spills and poo collection issues that almost ended up with my garroting. Getting her in her crate was a whole nuther issue.

I walked her for about an hour thinking that the Jack Russell in her needs to play and get out some of that energy. I’m considering taking her to a dog park, but I know nothing about dog park etiquette. What happens if I take a friendly yet untrained and insanely active dog to the dog park? Will I be banned?

@JNOV: Dog park etiquette is all about creativity in play. Best thing you can do is go to the dog park with your insanely active dog and a cup of beef gravy and a camera. Find the smallest dog in the park and throw the beef gravy over him, point at him and entreat your Russell to ‘bite, Jack! Bite!’ Once your dog has his playmate in his jaws, snap pictures to post on Stinque.com

@FlyingChainSaw: Evil, evil man. And back to the gravy and dog thing. You might need an intervention.

She would probably be the smallest thing at the park. Imma guess she weighs 7 lbs tops. That doesn’t stop her from jumping up and snatching my glasses when I try to put the leash on her. I love this dog!

@JNOV: Do not take a hyper dog that you don’t know well and can’t really control to a dog park. It can only end in tears. A nice long walk or run where you don’t even try to hold anything but the leash and the poop bags is ideal. Enjoy the puppy!

Speaking of puppies, I can’t tell from the crappy maps on weather.com how bad Tomas is hitting chez baked. Anyone had any news?

@Mistress Cynica:

“Do not take a hyper dog that you don’t know well and can’t really control to a dog park.” – mc

Coincidentally, this is excellent advice for MSNBC management.

@FlyingChainSaw: it feels like he is reading Crooks and Liars on the air

But that’s what makes it entertaining! If it was just news, I’d listen to jazz instead.

What I don’t get is how anyone can stand Keith or Rachel (or Billo or whoever) at 8pm. That kind of programming is the last thing I want shoved in my face after dinner.

@Mistress Cynica: Baked is fine. Apparently she slept in a wetsuit?

Yeah, I’m not taking this dog anywhere after she tried to strangle Seamus and me. She has one of those Ronco Pocket Fisherman leads, and after a game of tug of war, she managed to get it stuck at a less than comfortable distance from me, so I took her home and fixed the lead. She also enjoys jumping on my head (I thought I’d leave her out of the crate for awhile and watch TV. HAHAHAHAHA!) I tried to take pictures, but, well, it’s hard to get quality photos while a puppy is jumping on your head. Then she started barking at me — she wanted to go out again. I was like, yeah. Eff TV. You’re going in your crate.

@nojo: What you said is right and just: long couches are far superior.

@nojo: Here’s the deal. For $7 million, MSNBC can hire all the old Knight-Ridder guys who were driven off from the Inquirer and migrated to the Baltimore Sun and were driven off by the compound takeovers and buyouts there and deliver 24.7 shockingly relevant news developed by adults and still have millions left over. Olbermann can read C&L’s take on why Cheney sucks. Or you can have adult journalists digging into the connections between Cheney’s off shore fronts and the contractors who’ve cleaned up and continue to clean up in Iraq and Afghanistan with documentation flashed on the screen and copies forwarded to the DoD IG’s office with follow-ups every 12 hours, etc. day in and day out until Cheney’s innocence or guilt is conclusively determined. Can you remember any time Countdown broke news that required original reportage or even thinking? By any definition, he is a clown, another partisan twit with a larger vocabulary than Hannity, true, and more reason by a yard but still someone who can be discounted as a hack, much less a tribune of irrefutable truth. Fuck ’em and the bus he came in on. Better MSNBC finds a crew that can put news into news programming. Likely, though, they’ll hire another noise maker.

@FlyingChainSaw: Specifically, they’ll hire a money-maker. That’s the biz.

But in general, you’re making Jon Stewart’s point: There’s room for a cable-news outfit to be an arbiter of truth, not a Voice for Your Side Here, and not a He Said/She Said False-Equivalency Fest. CNN would be the obvious candidate, but they’re too busy playing musical chairs with partisan hacks.

@nojo: They should just get Seymour Hersh to read his day notes on the air for a half-hour with commentary about where he thinks the story is going and how reliable his sources are. Problem is, he’d kill stories mid-way if their theses turned out to be unsupportable. Still, it would be orders of magnitude more useful than hearing what Crooks and Liars told Keith to think that afternoon. Better and more controversial would be to hire Julian Assange and team him with an old timer like Robert Hicks from the Washington Post. They could keep Assange in Queensland and have him parse the document store with Hicks though a VPN-mediated workgroup scheme like Groove set up on an offshore server in, say, Denmark or Isle of Mann. Every day, they could set up a half-hour recitation about the latest crimes of patriots combed from the day’s work of parsing the Wikileaks archive. It’s be killer TV and have the DoD posting snipers in Hick’s driveway and sending attack carriers to the West Pacific.

@FlyingChainSaw: And if for the last three minutes of the show you were the Managing Opinion Page Editor who broke in with apocryphally vulgar editorials about the latest pile of smoking poo uncovered by Hersh and Assange and how Dick Cheney needed to eat that pile, that would be so fucking cool and be my news show come true.

@SanFranLefty: Even better: Hire Andy Rooney to read the script.

“You know what really bugs me? Besides the long eyebrow hairs poking me in my eye? It’s when Mrs. Kucinich and Mrs. Obama refuse to make out on national teevee while Christina Hendricks watches! And that fucking Dick Cheney – stomp on his heart and put it through a wood-chipper”

Okay, that’s all the FCS I can attempt to channel in one sitting without getting exhausted.

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