SOME HELPFUL CONTEXT, DETAILS ON OLBERMANN FLAP…. Last night, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow addressed the controversy surrounding Keith Olbermann’s suspension, and shed some light on the subject.

For example, there was ample discussion yesterday, here and elsewhere, about MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough making campaign contributions without punishment, but Rachel noted last night that the “Morning Joe” sought and received permission from network management to do so. Likewise, many have noted that CNBC’s Larry Kudlow has been a generous Republican donor, but Rachel added that NBC News restrictions don’t apply to CNBC hosts.

But of particular interest was Rachel taking the time to explain in detail a point that we talked about briefly yesterday. It’s “the larger point,” she said, “that’s going mysteriously missing from all the right-wing cackling and old media cluck-cluck-clucking about this.”

Rachel explained, “Let this incident lay to rest forever the facile, never-true-anyway, bull-pucky, lazy conflation of Fox News and what the rest of us do for a living. I know everybody likes to say, ‘Oh, that’s cable news, it’s all the same. Fox and MSNBC, mirror images of each other.’

“Let this lay that to rest forever. Hosts on Fox raise money on the air for Republican candidates. They endorse them explicitly; they use their Fox News profile to headline fund-raisers. Heck, there are multiple people being paid by Fox News now essentially to run as presidential candidates. If you count not just their hosts but their contributors, you are looking at a significant portion of the whole lineup of Republican presidential contenders for 2012. They can do that because there’s no rule against that at Fox. They run as a political operation. We’re not.

“Yes, Keith’s a liberal, and so am I, and there are other people on this network whose political views are shared openly with you, our beloved viewers. But we are not a political operation. Fox is. We are a news operation. And the rules around here are part of how you know that.”

That’s an important point, because it’s inevitable that some will use the Olbermann incident to reinforce the already-common media perception: MSNBC is the comparable bookend to Fox News. Except, of course, it’s not, and the tired talking point has never made any sense anyway.

The Olbermann story doesn’t reinforce the lazy media assumptions about the two networks, it debunks them.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

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.