After MSNBC suspended Keith Olbermann from “Countdown” for making contributions to political campaigns, activists and pundits on both sides of the aisle used the occasion to speak out on journalistic integrity and freedom of the press.
On November 5, Politico reported that Olbermann had given $2,400 to Arizona Reps. Gabrielle Giffors and Raul Grijalva and Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway; later that day, MSNBC President Phil Griffins announced that he would be suspending Olbermann indefinitely to be “mindful of NBC News policy and standards.”
And while MSNBC Griffin announced Olbermann’s reinstatement to the air on Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has placed the controversy in a different perspective, stating his opposition to a merger between Comcast Corp. and NBC Universal, which owns MSNBC.
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“I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the hundreds of thousand of progressives and others who demanded that Keith Olbermann be reinstated to his position at MSNBC,” Sanders stated. “These people understand the enormously important role that the media play in contemporary American politics.”
The union would grant Comcast majority ownership over NBC Universal, replacing its current parent company, General Electric (GE). Critics of the deal include media watchdog and reform organizations such as Free Press and Media Access Project, as well as Sen. Al Franken. Media Matters for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee could not be reached for comment.
Sanders emphasized that Comcast is the biggest cable provider in the country. If the merger goes through, “the new head of that company would be Stephen B. Burke, Comcast’s chief operating officer and a ‘Bush Ranger’ who raised at least $200,000 for the 2004 reelection campaign of President George W. Bush,” Sanders stated. Sanders also criticized GE, stating that the company has “an anti-labor history of outsourcing jobs and with financial links to military and nuclear power industries.”
“Surely we understand that GE is not going to provide the same backing for MSNBC commentators that Rupert Murdoch provides for his mouthpieces at Fox News,” Sanders said, referencing arguments made by Media Matters for America and MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow that Olbermann’s suspension by MSNBC demonstrates a journalistic integrity lacking at Fox News.
Comcast has denied that it had any influence in the decision, stating, “Comcast is committed to the independence of NBC’s news operations.”
Yet, advocacy blog Think Progress points out that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts implied otherwise in a New York Times article published in May 2010. Media executive Peter Chernin, who chaired News Corp. before Rupert Murdoch, asked Roberts how he would oversee the daily editorial operations of a large news group.
“‘Are you saying that you’ll never interfere?’ he asked. Mr. Roberts blanched slightly at the question, which included a hypothetical situation that had Keith Olbermann, an MSNBC host, attacking a couple of Republican congressmen just as the approvals were being finished. ‘Let’s have that conversation in six months or 12 months,’ Mr. Roberts said.”
Media Matters for America also noted that other MSNBC anchors, including “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough and CNBC’s Larry Kudlow, were found to have contributed to Republican candidates for Congress and did not face repercussion.
“We do not need another media giant run by a Republican supporter of George W. Bush,” Sanders said. “That is the lesson we should learn from the Keith Olbermann suspension.”