MSNBC chief Phil Griffin suspended Keith Olbermann today for violating "NBC News policy and standards" by donating to three Democratic congressional candidates last month. But according to an NBC News source, MSNBCers have been exempt from those rules for years.
NBC News rules explicitly bar employees from making political donations without prior approval, which is ostensibly why Griffin suspended Olbermann. But according to one NBC News insider, it's common knowledge within the organization that MSNBC's increasingly left-wing programming and personalities aren't required to abide by NBC News' exacting rules—if they were, it would be a much less bombastic and politically charged network. So while Olbermann's donations may have run counter to the NBC News brand and Griffin's wishes, there doesn't appear to be a chapter-and-verse policy applying to MSNBC employees barring them.
"The standards department has told us that MSNBC doesn't answer to NBC News standards," the insider said. "They don't have coverage over MSNBC. They used to, back before MSNBC went political, but at some point it became too hard and MSNBC was taken out of their portfolio. As far as I know, there are no ethical standards at MSNBC. And if NBC says MSNBC is supposed to be living up to the NBC News standards, that's a preposterous lie."
We've asked Olbermann and an MSNBC spokesperson whether any rules specific to MSNBC were cited in the decision to suspend him. We're not exactly fans of Olbermann's fat-headed sanctimony, but if you're going to suspend a guy for breaking the rules, they ought to apply to him. Especially since the rule in question is designed to promote a notion of journalistic disinterestedness that Olbermann's show openly shreds on a daily basis.
[Photo of Olbermann via Getty Images. Photo of MSNBC studios via Wikipedia]