Keith Olbermann, MSNBC journalist and host of the show "Countdown with Keith Olbermann," was suspended "indefinitely" this past Friday following a report that he had donated a total of $7,200 to three Democratic candidates during this election cycle: Jack Conway for the Kentucky Senate, Raul Grijalva of Arizona's 7th district, and Gabrielle Giffords of the Arizona 7th.
Olbermann has been a sportscaster for ESPN's "SportsCenter" and "SportsNight," Fox Sports Net's anchor for sports shows and baseball coverage, NBC sports anchor, and on-again-off-again MSNBC host since 1997, and an avid blogger (I read his MLBlog "Baseball Nerd" at http://keitholbermann.mlblogs.com/ with regularity). He was initially suspended for violating MSNBC's rules on political donations. Those rules, put in place after the 2006 elections cycles, currently allow donations with the approval of the President of NBC News, but Olbermann never sought or received such permissions.
I say initially suspended because if you read the headlines (anywhere but MSNBC.com, which has no mention of this newsworthy topic anywhere), The Huffington Post is calling Olbermann's time off without pay for Friday's and Monday's "Countdown" episodes "the shortest suspension in the world." As of tonight, Olbermann is to be reinstated for Tuesday's "Countdown" - officially because according to Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC, "After several days of deliberation and discussion, I have determined that suspending Keith through and including Monday night's program is an appropriate punishment for his violation of our policy. We look forward to having him back on the air Tuesday night."
Unofficially, MSNBC executives may have been bowing to outside pressures by competing news agencies and the public. Olbermann's recent Twitter tweet, "Greetings from exile!" garnered him a mass following of support, and a Progressive Change Campaign Committee petition to put Olbermann back on air garnered over 300,000 electronic signatures as of this writing (including mine). CNN's Eliot Spitzer called the suspension "rediculous" and "silly," frequent MSNBC guest Dan Choi boycotted the network, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) criticized MSNBC for their decision, and even the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol (a conservative, by the way) called on Republicans "of the world" to "Keep Keith!"
Personally, I agree that even if Olbermann did violate an MSNBC "rule," I believe that personal donations in politics are akin to free speech. Anyone should be allowed to make them without fear of reprisal from one's bosses or another entity. In Olbermann's case, such donations wouldn't make me think he had some sort of agenda. He's a well-known liberal pundit, and his donations to three Democrats in very tight races isn't exactly at the top of the "Most Surprising Things of 2010" list. I'm glad they're putting him back on the air. If the media themselves are being silenced over political donations, what hope do the rest of us have?