The search for a single standard

THE SEARCH FOR A SINGLE STANDARD…. In 2007, MSNBC.com ran an interesting report based on extensive research of Federal Election Commission records. The goal was to identify media professionals who “made campaign contributions from 2004 through the first quarter of 2007.” The investigation found a total of 143 journalists.

One of the 143 was MSNBC’s own Joe Scarborough, a former Republican member of Congress, who joined the network in 2003. Three years later, in the 2006 midterms, Scarborough contributed $4,200 to a Republican congressional candidate in Oregon named Derrick Kitts, in apparent violation of network policy.

And what was the network’s response at the time?

A spokesperson for NBC, Jeremy Gaines, replied to questions sent to Scarborough. “Yes, he did make a donation to Derrick Kitts. Kitts is an old friend of Joe’s. Joe hosts an opinion program and is not a news reporter.”

Scarborough faced no suspension. Indeed, he wasn’t punished at all.

And I’m fine with that. Scarborough is not a reporter in the traditional sense, and his opinions permeate his program. I don’t expect independence or neutrality from Scarborough, and whether he donates to one candidate or a hundred candidates is irrelevant. As MSNBC said at the time, he “hosts an opinion program.” The donations don’t affect viewers’ perceptions of him as impartial, since no one considers him impartial.

So, why suspend Keith Olbermann indefinitely without pay?

Part of me can’t help but wonder if MSNBC is upset with its top-rated host for some other reason, and is using this as an excuse — a la NPR and Juan Williams — to punish him.

Otherwise, this whole story just doesn’t make any sense.