How MSNBC Turned Keith Olbermann’s Viewers into an Angry Angry Mob

Nov 05 2010 Published by under Featured News

After hearing from the masses of disgruntled Keith Olbermann fans, the general consensus is that

MSNBC overreacted by suspending Olbermann for making political contributions, but a bigger problem for the network is that by announcing that his suspension is indefinite MSNBC angered their own viewers. MSNBC has mishandled this and created a massive PR headache for itself.

Here is what we do know. In a statement today MSNBC president Phil Griffin said, “I became aware of Keith’s political contributions late last night. Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay.” After re-reading his statement, I noticed something that I didn’t notice before. Griffin said that Olbermann violated NBC News policy and standards. The network standard against political donations only applies to anchors and news reporters.

It is obvious to anyone who has ever watched Keith Olbermann that while he may anchor a show on MSNBC, he is not an objective journalist. Olbermann considers himself, and he behaves like a pundit. Further muddling the issue, the network doesn’t consider Joe Scarborough, who has also donated to political candidates, an anchor. Even though Scarborough like Olbermann used to host an hour long show on the network, they are considered different.

Why are they different? I don’t know. Maybe Olbermann wanted his contract to specify that he is an anchor, so that he could also host political coverage? Maybe MSNBC wanted to hire him as an anchor? No matter who had the idea, the rules are the rules, and Keith Olbermann broke them. For this, he should be disciplined, but here is where MSNBC really screwed up. They called the suspension indefinite. This news has lead to a complete a total freak out by Keith Olbermann’s dedicated following.

An indefinite suspension sounds a lot scarier than it really is. In essence, it means that Olbermann could come back at any time. Fans panicked and thought that this meant that he would be gone for weeks or longer. The reality is that Olbermann will probably be gone for a days. He already admitted to making the donations. There is no need for any investigation on the part of his employer. In fact, suspending him on their lowest rated day of the week actually works out well for MSNBC and Olbermann, who could be back at work as soon as Monday. Look at it this way, the network doesn’t want their top personality suspended. If it lingers on, ratings will drop, and that will cost them money. Olbermann will be back on the air ASAP. You can count on it.

The bigger issue is that once again MSNBC has managed to give itself a PR black eye. They seemed to have no idea that Olbermann’s audience would react this way, but in light of all the criticism Fox News has taken for their donations to Republican causes, MSNBC had to disclose Olbermann’s behavior, but they could have saved themselves a ton of grief, if they would have said that Olbermann has been disciplined, and all together avoided the phrase, “indefinite suspension.”

Olbermann made a mistake, but MSNBC also completely screwed this up by mishandling the aftermath of their employee’s actions. It is understandable that the network would want to send the message that this behavior is not acceptable, but there are a thousand better ways to handle this than what they chose to do. By criticizing Fox News and then donating himself, Olbermann made himself and his employer look like hypocrites. However, the anger and panic of Countdown fans is completely unnecessary. Your favorite host will be back on the air, probably with an in show apology, in no time at all.

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