There are a number of reasons I always have to chortle whenever Fox Republicans -- or for that matter, Jon Stewart -- try to portray MSNBC as a balancing counterpart to Fox News' overt display of propaganda. The first is that, regardless of the
November 20, 2010

There are a number of reasons I always have to chortle whenever Fox Republicans -- or for that matter, Jon Stewart -- try to portray MSNBC as a balancing counterpart to Fox News' overt display of propaganda. The first is that, regardless of the rise of liberal talk-show hosts on its broadcasts, MSNBC remains a real news organization that actually strives to be careful with facts and truthfulness, not to mention its ethical responsibilities -- something Fox long ago abandoned.

That was underlined a couple of weeks ago when the network actually suspended Keith Olbermann for having donated to political campaigns -- drawing a sharp contrast with Fox, where its anchors not only openly donate to campaigns, they actually help promote Republican candidates on-air and provide viewers fund-raising info, while News Corp. publicly donates large sums to partisan political campaigns. It's an old-fashioned standard at MSNBC, though a fairly typical one for a traditional news organization, as distinct from a propaganda operation.

The problem was with the network's dumbassery in enforcing the policy, particularly in suspending Olbermann as "punishment" for such a minor infraction. Not only was it an overreaction, it was also absurdly inconsistent, considering that other MSNBC had made similar donations -- notably Joe Scarborough, the Republican host of Morning Joe.

So now the network has just compounded the dumbassery by suspending Scarborough. From MSNBC's own account:

When Olbermann, host of "Countdown with Keith Olbermann," was suspended Nov. 5 for making donations to three Democratic congressional candidates, Scarborough acknowledged that two political contributions had been made in his name, but he said they had been made by his wife.

Griffin said in a statement that Scarborough informed him Friday that he had in fact made eight contributions from 2004 to 2008 to local candidates in Florida that he did not recall.

"He will be immediately suspended for two days without pay and will return to the air on Wednesday, November 24th," Griffin said. "As Joe recognizes, it is critical that we enforce our standards and policies."

In his own statement Friday, Scarborough he had "recently" been made aware of the contributions and told Griffin about them himself.

This just makes the network look amateurish. This is really all about MSNBC's corporate culture and its longtime aversion to being labeled the "liberal media" -- something it's had since its inception in the 1990s. It has always tried to blunt these accusations by hiring a number of overt right-wing ideologues, and for most of its existence its demographic strategy was geared at being "Fox Lite". Then, when it discovered that its tiny handful of liberal hosts were actually the greatest ratings successes, it shifted gears somewhat to more eagerly promote them.

This is the other reason I chortle at the MSNBC-is-the-opposite-of-Fox analogies: MSNBC has always been and always will be primarily a corporate entity and fundamentally conservative in its basic approach to broadcasting. I know this from having worked at the network for four years at its conception. It has found that liberal hosts bring it some bottom-line success, but that doesn't mean it will ever be a fundamentally -- or unapologetically -- liberal network.

So when Olbermann leaves an opening, these corporate masters will punish him to prove once again that they are NOT the "liberal biased media," as they did a couple of weeks ago. Then when its liberal audience is appropriately angered over the double standard, it tries to cover its tracks by over-punishing the conservatives who did the same.

MSNBC needs to revise its policy to allow its opinion anchors some partisan leeway, but it should maintain its usual standards for its straight-news reporters and editors. And then it needs to make the sanctions for violations reflective of the actual grievance.

But mostly, it needs to decide for itself what kind of news organization it is, set its own standards and live by them, and not get bullied by right-wing blowhards trying to work the refs. Or don't they ever notice how Fox deals with the accusations that it has a right-wing bias? It blows them off. MSNBC could use a little of that spine.

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