Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the media watchdog group that goes by the appropriate acronym FAIR, invariably sets the right standard when it comes to debates over journalism and media.
And they have hit the mark with their response to the controversy that has spun up following NBC’s decision to place MSNBC host Keith Olbermann on indefinite suspension after it was learned that he had made campaign contributions to three Democratic congressional candidates. Olbermann was set to return to the airwaves Tuesday, but the issues associated with the suspension remain valid and significant.
Fair gets to the core question when it asks: "If Olbermann’s Donations Are Bad, What About GE’s?"
Here is FAIR’s analysis:
MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has been placed on indefinite suspension without pay in the wake of a Politico report (11/5/10) that revealed Olbermann had donated $7,200 to three Democratic candidates, in violation of NBC‘s standards barring employees from making political contributions. A journalist donating money to a political candidate raises obvious conflict of interest questions; at a minimum, such contributions should be disclosed on air. But if supporting politicians with money is a threat to journalistic independence, what are the standards for Olbermann’s bosses at NBC, and at NBC‘s parent company General Electric?
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, GE made over $2 million in political contributions in the 2010 election cycle (most coming from the company’s political action committee). The top recipient was Republican Senate candidate Rob Portman from Ohio. The company has also spent $32 million on lobbying this year, and contributed over $1 million to the successful "No on 24" campaign against a California ballot initiative aimed at eliminating tax loopholes for major corporations (New York Times, 10/1/10).
Comcast, the cable company currently looking to buy NBC, has dramatically increased its political giving, much of it to lawmakers who support the proposed merger (Bloomberg, 10/19/10). And while Fox News parent News Corp‘s $1 million donation to the Republican Governors Association caused a stir, GE had "given $245,000 to the Democratic governors and $205,000 to the Republican governors since last year," reported the Washington Post (8/18/10).