Olbermann to return, NBC policy still incoherent

Network to lift Olbermann's suspension Tuesday, but CNBC hosts still getting a pass on donation rules

Published November 8, 2010 3:55PM (EST)

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann

(UPDATED)MSNBC President Phil Griffin announced Sunday that Keith Olbermann will be back Tuesday night following his suspension for making donations to Democrats:

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.

Olbermann, who had been silent beyond acknowledging the donations since the story broke Friday, tweeted yesterday: "Greetings From Exile! A quick, overwhelmed, stunned THANK YOU for support that feels like a global hug & obviously left me tweetless XO"

NBC over the weekend told the Times that morning host Joe Scarborough had asked for permission before making donations to a Republican candidate in 2006, and that therefore he did not run afoul of network rules. NBC has not explained why it believes that political donations jeopardize the impartiality of its hosts but pre-approved donations do not. (We've put in a request for clarification on that rule, and will update this post if we hear back.)

Salon reported last week that several prominent CNBC hosts, including Larry Kudlow, have given money to Republican politicians with no apparent consequences. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, addressing the episode on her show Friday evening, said: "For the record, the rule applies to us hosts here at MSNBC and to NBC News staff. CNBC is not under NBC News, so CNBC staffers are not bound by the same thing."

The distinction that CNBC is "not under NBC News" may be true on NBC's organizational flow chart, but it is entirely lost on viewers. MSNBC shows regularly do cross-promotions for CNBC, checking in with the business network's personalities like Maria Bartiromo. And CNBC regularly covers politics (check out the show page for The Kudlow Report). So if, in the view of the NBC brass, it's a grave ethical breach for an MSNBC host like Olbermann to make political contributions, why would it be OK for a CNBC host?

UPDATE: CNBC spokesman Brian Steel tells Salon, "We have a policy and, we are in compliance with that policy." He declined to say what the policy is.

Finally, here's Maddow's segment on the Olbermann issue from Friday night, in which she cites Salon's reporting on Sean Hannity's donation to Rep. Michele Bachmann: 

UPDATE II 4:30 p.m.: Steel, the CNBC spokesman, tells Salon that the following policy applies to CNBC "journalists": "If you participate in or contribute to a political campaign or a group that espouses controversial positions, you should report any potential conflicts in advance and obtain the prior approval of the managing editor."

By Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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