Saturday, November 6, 2010

Restoration of Sanity Fails: MSNBC Suspends Olbermann Over Political Contributions

NBC has suspended Keith Olbermann for donating money to Democratic political candidates without receiving permission from the network. According to several media reports, NBC requires journalists to seek prior approval from the network before making political donations. Other reports, however, suggest that the network has selectively enforced this requirement or that MSNBC commentators (like Olbermann) are actually exempt from the requirement.

Because NBC is a private company -- rather than a government employer -- it can place restrictions upon its employees' speech. Accordingly, absent some state or federal law on this issue, NBC's alleged contractual provision does not deprive Olbermann of any rights he has. The First Amendment does not apply to private, nongovernmental restraints on speech.

Nevertheless, NBC's decision to suspend Olberman is very troubling. Recently, Dissenting Justice criticized NPR's decision to fire Juan Williams after he made bigoted statements about Muslims. Although I found Williams's comments offensive, I believe that the decision to fire Williams resulted from a growing intolerance of controversial speech and ideas among the media.

The dismissals of Shirley Sherrod, Juan Williams, and many other individuals for isolated moments of controversy conflict with the American ideals of political debate and free speech. Although many liberals cheered NPR's decision to release Williams, I argued that NPR's position was not necessarily progressive. NBC's treatment of Olberman demonstrates that progressives should not tolerate kneejerk and intolerant behavior.

Clearly, room exists for employers to fire individuals when their private views impair their ability to execute their job-related responsibilities. In many instances, however, the decision to discharge or suspend individuals results from capitulation to controversy and momentary passions, rather than rational deliberation and judgment. NBC should reinstate Olbermann (I suspect he will soon return to the airwaves), and Americans should grow a lot more tolerant of ideas with which they disagree.


Matt P. said...

This is the most ludicrous decision I can imagine. There must be something else going on because this certainly isn't about speech. I mean it's not like anyone with a brain in his/her head would think that Olbermann is anything but a crazed, liberal partisan. I mean this comment on Scott Brown gave me a hint to his politics but his political donations are now the proof I required...? Silly.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Matt: I disagree with your characterization of Olbermann as a "crazed liberal," but as a progressive, I tolerate it. :)

Matt P. said...

Fair enough Darren. I must respect the marketing. But since I am Jewish, please do not call me conservative or right wing. I think neocon is the appropriate term. :)

lacochran's evil twin said...

I agree with Matt P. Olbermann is a crazed liberal and that's why I love him. MSNBC pays him to be that crazed liberal and to pretend that he is anything but is bizarre on their part.

GabSoFab said...

It is extremely disappointing when a “progressive” writes what essentially is a “kumbaya, can’t we all just get along with controversial statements,” regarding what is truly hate speech. Juan Williams was hired by NPR to give relevant political analysis on political issues, not his personal opinion on Muslim Americans. In order for his comment regarding (paraphrasing) “Muslims who self-identify as Muslims over being Americans,” he would have had to use a less specific “someone,” or “some paranoid person who thinks that...,” but no. Mr. Williams chose to make it personal by using the very specific, “I.” That was not what he was hired by NPR to do, and his firing was not only justified but necessary. Had he said the same thing about any other group (Blacks, Christians, Jews, ...), it would’ve been very bad for NPR (take the example of conservative backlash towards ACORN). Mr. Williams gave hate speech, not a “controversial statement.” His situation is in no way comparable to Keith Olbermann’s unjust suspension for making a PERSONAL political contribution (not on behalf of his employer, MSNBC) without prior permission from his employer. This is undemocratic and very dangerous for any political commentator, and this is truly controversial. Juan Williams is no victim of “the liberal agenda.” He is a victim of his own stupidity and ignorance. But Keith Olbermann is truly a victim of corporations having more rights than private citizens. And this very dangerous reality deserves NO tolerance whatsoever!

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Gabsofab: I disagree with a lot of what you said. The post was not meant to be a kumbaya moment. Instead, I am tired of the political games and resistance to anything that looks controversial.

Yes, Williams made a bigoted statement, but I would not call it hate speech. He was expressing his opinion -- however flawed. Regardless, I do not think one event of that magnitude should cost someone a job.

I agree that Olbermann and Williams did two different things, but I think that their employers' responded for the same reason: to avoid controversy at all costs. This, I believe, is an unfortunate situation.

My position is indeed progressive because true progressives will consistently say things that are controversial and threatening to the status quo. Accordingly, if we allow simply controversy to dictate outcomes, then we threaten progressive speech.

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