Fates and Fortunes

Scarborough's wrist latest to be slapped over political donations

11/19/2010 06:18:42 PM

If cable news network presidents suspend all hosts with a political agenda, will there be anyone left on the air to rant? (Well, maybe Chris Matthews who I have recently seen in not one but two movies: the atrocious Morning Glory, in which Diane Keaton is thinly disguised as an older Katie Couric, and the convoluted State of Play, in which good reporting is represented by kidnapping, threatening and interrogating potential sources – methods that had not previously occurred to me. You have been warned, sources!)

As Politico reported today, MSNBC President Phil Griffin has now suspended Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough for two days over $4,200 in political donations he made during the mid-term elections. Never mind news sponsored by Starbucks, this is clearly a punishable flaunting of journalistic ethics. This comes on the heels of also suspending Countdown’s Keith Olbermann for two days for similar offenses. Olbermann went so far as to host one of the candidates to whom he contributed — Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva – on his program prior to the revelations of his contributions, reports The Wrap. Both men’s donations came to light after Politico reported on them. Imagine our surprise to learn that Olbermann and Scarborough had political leanings!

Meanwhile, Fox News’ Sean Hannity also makes political contributions but no one seems to care.

This is because viewers have figured out that there’s a difference between reporting on the news, commenting on the news and in some cases, making the news. This is not to say that reporters don’t have opinions because they do, and in a world where blogs have somehow become the first line of offense, they are often encouraged to have them. (For example, that is happening right now in this very blog.)  I think most people understand that Jon Stewart is commenting on the news, not reporting on it. MSNBC and Fox are much like Stewart, except really not funny. They might want to work on that.

Suspending Joe and Keith for making their political convictions clear off the air is sort of like this completely made-up example in which your father tells you that he will no longer pay the rent on your college apartment if you are living with your boyfriend, even though he knows that’s been going on for the past six months. You either have a policy that you enforce from the get-go, or you don’t. Imaginary Dad’s threat didn’t get anyone to move out and the rent continued to be paid, and this half-hearted two-day suspension stuff isn’t accomplishing anything except giving Keith and Joe extra days off. Like Imaginary Dad, Griffin is trying to convince Keith, Joe, all the rest of MSNBC’s on-air talent and the world that he’s threatening, all-powerful and should be listened to, but it’s too little too late.

Here’s Scarborough’s statement in full. It’s a little different in tone than Olbermann’s:

It was recently brought to my attention that I made political contributions over the past several years that are not consistent with MSNBC’s guidelines. These contributions were to close personal friends and family members and were limited to local races. Despite the fact that these races were local and not relevant to my work at MSNBC, I have been told they violated MSNBC guidelines.

I recognize that I have a responsibility to honor the guidelines and conditions of my employment, and I regret that I failed to do so in this matter. I apologize to MSNBC and to anyone who has been negatively affected by my actions. I gave a number of $500 contributions to my brother and three longtime family friends. These contributions were nothing more than simple acts of friendship. I gained nothing personally, politically, or professionally from these donations.

To be blunt, I had no interest in their campaigns other than being kind to longtime friends. Because the contributions involved local, non-competitive races — and were given for personal rather than political reasons — I mistakenly believed I did not need approval from MSNBC.

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