Nov. 8 (Bloomberg) -- MSNBC will reinstate Keith Olbermann tomorrow, ending the “Countdown” host’s unpaid suspension for making political donations after two nights off the air.
“Suspending Keith through and including Monday night’s program is an appropriate punishment for his violation of our policy,” MSNBC President Phil Griffin said in a statement yesterday. “We look forward to having him back on the air Tuesday night.”
Olbermann was suspended indefinitely on Nov. 5 for giving $7,200 to three Democrats. The incident highlights a blurring of lines between journalism and advocacy as news networks such as MSNBC and Fox News try to attract viewers with partisan hosts. Olbermann, who promotes his political viewpoint on “Countdown,” also hosted MSNBC’s election-night coverage.
Including tonight’s show, the host will miss two installments of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” which runs on weeknights and is MSNBC’s most popular prime-time program.
Griffin decided to reinstate Olbermann “after several days of deliberation and discussion,” he said in the statement.
Olbermann’s fans waged a campaign on Facebook to bring him back.
“Greetings from exile!” Olbermann wrote in a Twitter message posted on the “Countdown” website. “A quick, overwhelmed, stunned, thank you for support that feels like a global hug.”
Newsroom policies vary on political donations. Some allow personal donations, including MSNBC rival Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The New York Times and Washington Post forbid newsroom employees from contributing.
NBC News, the parent of MSNBC, requires journalists to ask permission before making political donations or other activities that may “jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist,” according to the MSNBC.com website.
On the Web and in the media, some questioned whether the NBC rules should apply, given MSNBC’s shift to the political left in recent years.
“If NBC is worried about impartiality, then why put on a whole lineup of shows without even a fig leaf over the bias?” The Economist said in an op-ed.
In an MSNBC commentary on Nov. 5, host Rachel Maddow defended the rules that led to Olbermann’s suspension, and said they prove that the network is a “news operation,” while Fox News is “a political operation.”
MNBC’s lineup, led by liberal voices such as Olbermann and Maddow, has helped the network gain in the ratings, beating CNN for four straight months, said Brad Adgate, director of research at Horizon Media, an advertising company in New York.
The network’s shift to the political left has helped it compete with Fox News, which has became the leader on cable with a conservative viewpoint, Adgate said.
Olbermann contributed the maximum $2,400 each to three Democratic candidates in the Nov. 2 midterm elections. Arizona Representatives Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords received payments on Oct. 28, the day Grijalva appeared on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.” Olbermann also donated to U.S. Senate candidate Jack Conway of Kentucky, who lost to Republican Rand Paul.
“Countdown” runs weeknights at 8 p.m. New York time. This year, Olbermann has averaged 1.03 million viewers a night, according to data from Nielsen Co.
“The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News was the most-watched cable news program last week with more than 3.2 million viewers a night, Nielsen data show.
Journalists who cover government and politics at Bloomberg News may not make political donations or engage in activities that create the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Comcast Corp., the largest U.S. cable television company, is poised to take control of MSNBC as part of its proposed purchase of NBC Universal from General Electric Co. The deal is awaiting regulatory approval.
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