Morning Joe's special privileges: Why is MSNBC allowing him to help GOP raise money?

MSNBC's strange, selective application of its supposed ethics policy gets more and more confusing

Published April 8, 2014 10:11PM (EDT)

Joe Scarborough                (NBC/Today)
Joe Scarborough (NBC/Today)

Joe Scarborough, who is definitely not running for president, is going to New Hampshire next month to deliver the keynote address at the Chesire County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner. This follows another visit to New Hampshire last month, where Scarborough delivered a speech to the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference. Joe Scarborough would like you to know that he is not planning a run for president -- he just happens to enjoy New Hampshire, I guess, and who doesn't? (He also recently visited South Carolina.) But as the Huffington Post's Michael Calderone reports, this totally normal not-at-all presidential campaign-related New Hampshire visit probably violates MSNBC policy on hosts raising money for political parties or candidates. Because it is a fundraiser.

Maybe it doesn't make a ton of sense to allow hosts to advocate, on-air, for certain parties and candidates, but not to donate to or raise money for them, but those are the rules, and those rules are what got then-MSNBC host Keith Olbermann suspended in 2010, after Olbermann donated money to three Democratic candidates.

At the time, the question of whether NBC News' ethics policy even applied to MSNBC opinion personalities was disputed. Perhaps to help dissuade people from thinking that Olbermann was suspended for reasons other than the supposed violation, MSNBC belatedly suspended Scarborough for his own political donations. CNBC personalities who'd donated to campaigns and candidates, meanwhile, faced no sanctions.

This year, MSNBC forced liberal host Ed Schultz to withdraw from a Democratic Party fundraiser. This will be Scarborough's second Republican Party fundraiser of the year. He is delivering the keynote address, not merely moderating a panel. The money raised for the dinner will go to Cheshire County Republicans. It all seems pretty cut and dried.

As I said, I don't think the supposed MSNBC policy makes a ton of sense for an opinion-driven cable news channel, as opposed to a traditional "objective" network news division. What makes even less sense than the policy is the way in which it is selectively enforced. If Morning Joe wants to do political work, and feel out a run for office, and MSNBC rules forbid him from doing so, the channel ought to actually force him to make that decision. I hope he chooses to run, obviously, because it would be hilarious.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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