Everybody who’s shocked — shocked, you say! — that Keith Olbermann contributed to Democratic candidates, please stand up.
I thought so.
The problem with Olbermann’s contributions is not that he made them but that he hid them — it’s the coverup that always gets you in trouble [pace R. Nixon] — and that MSNBC made him hide them. The problem with MSNBC suspending Olbermann is that it heads down transparency road in exactly the wrong direction, toward continued opacity. And the problem with MSNBC’s policy that makes contributing to candidates a suspendable offense is that it prevents journalists from acting as citizens of the communities they are to serve.
It’s not as if Olbermann was objective. It was his job not to be. We all know where he stood. I say he should put his money where is mouth is. He just shouldn’t have hidden it or be made to do so.
And I agree with Matt Welch that news organizations should reveal the votes of their staffs. When I retweeted that thought, some tweeters twitted me, saying that keeping one’s vote confidential is a right. Yes. They should not be forced out. But self-respecting journalists should consider it an obligation to be transparent. Self-respecting news organizations should be honest with their communities and reveal the aggregate perspectives of their staffs. It’s relevant.
We have the ethic of journalism exactly reversed from what it should be: Journalists should be the most open, the most transparent, a model of honesty.
We have the relationship of the journalist to the community also inside-out: They should see themselves as members of their communities like anyone else but with the special privilege of being able to ask questions and get answers on everyone’s behalf.
Put those two together and you have true citizen journalists.
But liberal (yes, liberal) news organizations — MSNBC and NPR, not to mention the New York Times and others — have gotten this all bolloxed up lately, continuing to separate their journalists and commentators — Juan Williams and now everyone at NPR else out of fear — from their communities. They all refused to let their journalists attend the Rally to Restore Sanity, which turned out not to be a political event at all but a repudiation of media — including most of Fox News plus Olbermann himself… a lesson all their journalists should have heard.
They do this because they want to stand above Fox News as objective. What they do instead is stand apart from their communities as — what? — sterile, gutless, distant. Fox News comes off as caring to its audience (“Fox News speaks for us,” say the tea drinkers. “Fox News understands”). MSNBC comes off as… what? Don’t we liberals deserve our Fox News, but with intelligence, sanity, openness? That was its promise. But like NPR, it is now a place where opinions and action are verboten.
: LATER: Henry http://www.businessinsider.com/why-msnbc-suspended-olbermann-2010-11
on this as a bad business strategy.