OLBERMANN SUSPENDED INDEFINITELY WITHOUT PAY…. Following up on an earlier item, there’s been a pretty big development in the “controversy” surrounding Keith Olbermann making three campaign contributions this campaign season.

MSNBC president Phil Griffin released the following statement Friday following the news that Keith Olbermann had donated to three Democratic candidates this election cycle:

“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.”

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the personnel policies of NBC News, but if Politico‘s account is correct, Olbermann really did seem to break the network’s rules. It appears to be a fairly minor infraction, but I suppose the host should have known better. A slap on the wrist, with a stern note about not doing it again, would probably be appropriate.

But an indefinite suspension without pay seems way over the top under the circumstances. We are, after all, talking about three checks — one each for three candidates. As we talked about earlier, the MSNBC host’s donations were made in his personal capacity; he disclosed his contributions; and he never encouraged others to support these campaigns.

As I understand it, the NBC News rule is intended to maintain a professional standard — media professionals on the NBC News payroll are supposed to appear politically neutral. That’s a noble intention. But the last time I checked, Keith Olbermann hosts a show with a point of view. His opinions are not only obvious, they’re a key part of his program, which happens to be the highest rated on MSNBC.

As a “Countdown” viewer, I can say with confidence that I’m not surprised he cut a few checks for candidates he liked; I’m more surprised he didn’t write more checks for other candidates he liked.

The network policy notes that the restrictions are necessary, because political activities may “jeopardize [employees’] standing as an impartial journalist.” But therein lies the point — those who watch Olbermann are well aware of his politics. Psst — no one considers him “impartial.”

Besides, if we’re going to be sticklers for such things, I can’t help but notice that Joe Scarborough has also contributed to like-minded candidates — identified on his disclosure forms as an MSNBC host — and Pat Buchanan has been writing some campaign checks, too. Neither faced suspension. (For the record, I don’t think they should be punished, either.)

And just to reinforce the contrast, let’s also remember that News Corp made multiple undisclosed donations to the Republican Governors Association, totaling at least $1.25 million, in addition to a $1 million contribution to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for its pro-Republican election-year activities. Fox News has helped GOP candidates raise money on the air; Fox News personalities are featured guests at Republican fundraisers; while other Fox News personalities continue to help generate financial support for Republican candidates now, even after the elections.

And Olbermann has been suspended indefinitely without pay for $7,200 in donations? Granted, NBC News and MSNBC are legitimate news outlets with professional standards News Corp and Fox News lack, but regardless, it’s a reminder that today’s punishment far exceeds his fairly inconsequential infractions.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.