Friday, November 5, 2010

A Letter to the President of MSNBC

Dear Mr. Phil Griffin,

Your decision to suspend Keith Olbermann indefinitely without pay is a most interesting one.

Not because a network rule that prohibits employees from making donations to political campaigns is not a good rule. I'm sure that most of us would agree that employees within a broadcast medium, especially those who have the ability to shape public discourse through their positions, should be unfettered by such obvious distractions and conflicts of interests. Rules such as this are laudable and, given the current climate, critical. And if Olbermann violated such a rule, knowing what the policy was, then he should have to face the consequences of his actions.

The curious part about your decision, though, has nothing to do with the need to enforce policy, but rather the perceived selectiveness of that enforcement. If Keith Olbermann were the only member of MSNBC who had violated company policy, then your decision to suspend him would've made perfect sense. However, Olbermann is hardly the only offender of this policy.

Joe Scarborough made a contribution of $5,000 to a local Alabama Republican candidate; Larry Kudlow gave $1,000 to Republican Chris Shays and serves on the Leadership Council to the Club for Growth, a group that has donated $2 million to Republican candidates; and Pat Buchanan is a long-time Republican operative and a former GOP Presidential candidate himself. Yes, Kudlow is technically an employee of CNBC, but both networks are owned by NBC, and the parent company, if I'm not mistaken, has the same rules in place for its personalities; at least that is what you partially said in your statement, did you not?  I'm not parsing words when I say something smells rotten here. Is not network policy absolute? If so, why haven't all of these men faced the same punitive measures that Olbermann has faced? If not, why then was Olbermann singled out?

There exists only one plausible and disconcerting reason why. Of all your on-air personalities - more than Rachel Maddow, more than Ed Schultz, even more than Chris Matthews - Keith Olbermann has become the face of progressivism for millions of progressives in the country. He has become both a beacon for us, as well as a bull's eye for conservative ire. And while his ratings have no doubt increased the bottom line at MSNBC, with the recent shift in political fortunes in Washington this past election cycle and the typical knee-jerk reactionary measures it engenders within the mainstream media, I am skeptical of the standard "rules are rules" explanation that MSNBC is offering up here. My gut tells me that this was more about circling the wagons and attempting to craft a message that nervous investors will like - investors who historically could care less about ideology and whose only concern is the bottom line - while paying homage to a perceived new narrative. And that narrative is liberal is out, or at least should be called to task.

But even allowing for the possibility that this was not about perception, but based solely on the facts at hand, those "facts" don't even begin to support or justify your decision. For one thing, notwithstanding the contradictions within the NBC family, Fox's commentators routinely donate and actively campaign for right-wing candidates fully unfettered by such restrictions. It is one thing to keep your side of the street clean; it is quite another to throw one of your own under a bus currently being driven by full-time ideologues with an obvious agenda.

Whatever your reason, you have made your decision. You have suspended Mr. Olbermann for his transgressions, and with it, I hope, made your point. As Rachel Maddow astutely said on her show this evening, "It's time to bring Keith back." Agreed. You drew your line in the sand and enforced your policy. But there is a point where one simply cuts off his nose to spite his face. It is both appropriate and vital to restore Olbermann back to his proper place on the set of Countdown next Monday. I am hopeful you will realize this and act accordingly. The last thing a network, which appeals mainly to a liberal audience, needs to do is alienate itself from its core audience. The bottom line could adversely be affected, and we certainly wouldn't want that would we?

Yours truly,

Peter W. Fegan

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