Keith Olbermann released a written statement Monday night following his suspension for making undisclosed campaign contributions to three Democrats, but anyone who was expecting contrition from MSNBC’s “Countdown” host was sorely disappointed.
Olbermann, who returns to primetime tonight, did apologize “for having precipitated such anxiety and unnecessary drama,” but his only regrets seem to stem from the way his superiors handled the situation.
“You should know that I mistakenly violated an inconsistently applied rule – which I previously knew nothing about – that pertains to the process by which such political contributions are approved by NBC,” Olbermann wrote.
Network ethics policies prohibit staffers at MSNBC and NBC News from making political donations without obtaining prior approval. Olbermann may have been unaware of the policy and MSNBC’s application of its ethics rules was reportedly iconsistent, but neither of those excuses address his failure to disclose the contributions on air.
At least one of the candidates who received money from Olbermann, Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, also appeared on “Countdown.” Olbermann never disclosed this to his viewers. In his statement, Olbermann said he would have come clean about the contributions, but was prevented from doing so by MSNBC.
“I did not attempt to keep any of these political contributions secret; I knew they would be known to you and the rest of the public. I did not make them through a relative, friend, corporation, PAC, or any other intermediary … When a website contacted NBC about one of the donations, I immediately volunteered that there were in fact three of them; and contrary to much of the subsequent reporting, I immediately volunteered to explain all this, on-air and off, in the fashion MSNBC desired,” Olbermann wrote.
Olbermann may not have hid his donations, but he didn’t tell MSNBC or his viewers about the gifts until they were revealed by Politico. Full disclosure is one of the basic concepts of ethical journalism and a disclosure statement after the fact is worth very little. Proper disclosures allow consumers to more fairly evaluate the content in a media outlet. Admitting to something after it is discovered isn’t a disclosure; it’s getting caught with your pants down.
Supporters have argued that Olbermann and his fellow cable news hosts practice opinion journalism and should be entitled to their opinions. No one has asked Olbermann not to have a point of view, or even, not to give money to politicians. MSNBC policy doesn’t ban campaign contributions outright, it simply asks staffers to reveal them to the network in advance.
Olbermann claims he “immediately volunteered” to “explain all this … in the fashion MSNBC desired,” but Politico’s Mike Allen says anonymous sources at the network have told him that the network suspended Olbermann because of his refusal to apologize. If it was indeed a public apology MSNBC was looking for, Olbermann’s statement clearly didn’t satisfy them.