The soap opera of the suspension of Keith Olbermann ended with a whimper as MSNBC President Phil Griffin put out a Sunday night statement announcing that Olbermann will be back on Tuesday. Once again Keith Olbermann showed everyone who the real powerful force at MSNBC is, and it isn’t Phil Griffin.
In his Sunday night, a.k.a. news dump, statement, Griffin said, “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.” It certainly sounds like Griffin blinked. I don’t fault Olbermann here. If he is problem for his bosses, he is a problem that they created.
They have enabled Keith, and given him what he wanted quite often, because most of the time it was good for the network. Once they established a culture which allowed this behavior, they should not be surprised that it escalated, and for those who think that Olbermann is an angel or an innocent victim, you might want to check out his stormy employment history. He is neither the demon, nor the innocent victim, in this situation. Griffin made a huge mistake when he decided to release a statement and make the situation public. He set himself up for a firestorm of weekend criticism.
The Olbermann suspension highlights just how partisan our media has become, and how antiquated the rules of objectivity are in today’s media and political environment. David Carr had a great piece in today’s New York Times where he discussed the Foxification of the media. Carr wrote, “MSNBC is enforcing a set of standards meant to apply either to another entity — NBC News — or another era, when news people had to act as if they didn’t have political rooting interests. The game has changed, but the rules remain the same, at least at some media outlets. MSNBC ended up in a fight that resembled nothing so much as a brawl within a political party, with the base — in this case the audience — pushing back against the leadership.”
Looking back on it, I don’t think MSNBC, or myself for that matter, completely understood that viewers have come to embrace and accept the partisanship. Like Bill O’Reilly is for the right, Keith Olbermann is progressive comfort food. Whether, they realize it or not, their rebellion on behalf of Olbermann was also a revolution against impartiality. People don’t want objective facts anymore. They want the news delivered to them in a way that supports their views and makes them feel good.
In another era, Olbermann would have been roundly criticized for his lack of objectivity for donating to any candidate that he also interviewed on his show. Today’s viewers have accepted the inherent bias, and were outraged that Olbermann was disciplined at all. I don’t know who is right or wrong, or if Olbermann should apologize. What’s clear is that the opinion journalists are now the kings and queens of cable news, and if Phil Griffin didn’t understand this before, he certainly does now.