Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 3:10 PM ET, 11/19/2010

Joe Scarborough's suspension reveals how dumb NBC's policy is

By Greg Sargent

Okay, so now MSNBC has temporarily suspended Joe Scarborough because he made a bunch of previously-undiscovered political contributions without getting permission from the network president to do so, in violation of NBC policy.

This whole thing has become a farce. MSNBC has now publicly scolded a second personality whose job it is to have strong political opinions for putting his money where his mouth is -- all in the quest to appear even-handed!

But forget the absurdity of that. Can we just agree that the NBC policy itself is really, really dumb? Here it is again:

"Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Such activities may include participation in or contributions to political campaigns or groups that espouse controversial positions. You should report any such potential conflicts in advance to, and obtain prior approval of, the President of NBC News or his designee."

If it's NBC's belief that an on-air personality, even a highly-opinionated one, is compromised in some way by making political contributions, the people that really have the right to know about any such contributions are the viewers, so they can better evaluate the information and opinions that the personality in question is imparting to them.

But under NBC policy, the only person who has to be told about these contributions is the president of the network. Even if approval is asked for and received, viewers will never be any the wiser unless some reporter ferrets them out. What's more, if we accept that it's problematic for personalities to donate to politicians because it risks compromising their journalistic standing, how does private approval from the network president make the contributions any less problematic in this regard?

To be clear, I think political contributions from such personalities probably does cross a line. I don't think Keith Olbermann wants to be seen as a political operative or activist in an anchor's chair, and giving money to politicians does blur the line. At a time when many of the old journalistic categories are in flux, this kind of thing makes it tougher to gain acceptance for the idea that highly opinionated reporting, or reported opinion, can comprise real journalism that should be taken seriously.

But the answer isn't to demand that these personalities get daddy's prior approval before making contributions and to publicly spank them if they tried to keep daddy in the dark. Better to require these personalities to just disclose the contributions on the air, and to take action if they don't.

By Greg Sargent  | November 19, 2010; 3:10 PM ET
Categories:  Political media  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Senator John Ensign may support DADT repeal
Next: Sherrod Brown: Obama needs to fight harder and "sharpen message"


Sorry Greg, this is a non-story, imo.

Posted by: filmnoia | November 19, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

filmnoia, did I say otherwise?

Posted by: sargegreg | November 19, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

The story is the stupid policy not whats-his-name.

Posted by: mwamp | November 19, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

The network would have been better off firing Olbermann and Scarborough and replacing them with people who aren't condescending jerks.

Posted by: HansSolo | November 19, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

The big story is Politico's take on the big fight at the White House last night between Senate democrats and Obama.

To be fair to Greg, the some liberals did say that they wanted to be more liberal.

However, the main thrust of the heated discussion was that Obama is responsible for the poisoned atmosphere - Obama is inexperienced and unqualified, and it is showing.

The problem has been that Obama has been told time and time again - and all Obama does is show arrogance toward his own democratic Senators. They don't like Obama's attitude at all.

Obama has no idea what he is doing.

The only thing worse than someone who doesnt know what they are doing, is someone who is arrogant on top of incompetence.

And that is Obama - for some reason, Obama thinks it is appropriate to act this way - it isn't.

At this point, the democrats would almost be happy to see Obama gone with the 2012 election, and start to pick up the pieces from there.

That is much better than waiting out another term of Obama's incompetence.

ON Capitol Hill, that might be the ONLY thing that both parties can agree on.


Posted by: RedTeaRevolution | November 19, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

"filmnoia, did I say otherwise?

No, you say it's a "farce". I just don't understand why you spent about 7 paragraphs introducing it when there are so many other worthwhile issues during this lame duck session of Congress.

Posted by: filmnoia | November 19, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

The bigger story is Sen. Rockefeller his desire to use the FCC to shut down MSNBC and Fox.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | November 19, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of MSNBC:

Today on MSNBC, Sen. Rich Lugar (R-IN) urged Republicans such as Kyl to support the treaty and called on Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to hold a vote on it in this lame-duck session of Congress:

LUGAR: Please do your duty for your country. We do not have verification of the Russian nuclear posture right now. We’re not going to have it until we sign the START treaty. We’re not going to be able to get rid of further missiles and warheads aimed at us. I state it candidly to my colleagues, one of those warheads…could demolish my city of Indianapolis — obliterate it! Now Americans may have forgotten that. I’ve not forgotten it and I think that most people who are concentrating on the START treaty want to move ahead to move down the ladder of the number of weapons aimed at us.

Make them vote. It was passed out of committee with 3 republican votes. Schedule the vote of the full Senate and get the rest of them on the record.

Posted by: pragmaticagain | November 19, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

It is true that Senator Rockefeller and the democratic party has been steadily reducing their support for the FIRST AMENDMENT

This is in line with what Obama has done: Hire scores of people to be paid bloggers to harass and mock people who have opposing points of view.


I question Obama's support for the First Amendment.

Clearly, the democrats have LOST THEIR MINDS


Posted by: RedTeaRevolution | November 19, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse


I'm pretty sure the FCC does not regulate cable,and I'd be surprised if he doesn't know that. His wife's on the board for, I think, a PBS station in WV. I wonder if he's pandering?

Posted by: TrollMcWingnut | November 19, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

No half-way intelligent political observer would believe for a second that Joe would have been suspended over this if it weren't for trying to appear "balanced" after the KO fiasco.

The entire ordeal is just ridiculous.

Posted by: TheBBQChickenMadness | November 19, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

What’s the (START) treaty? Well, it safely reduces the quantity of Russian nuclear weapons while preserving America’s ability to verify what’s happening with the remaining weapons. In exchange, the US will dismantle some weapons but still have more than enough to preserve our deterrent. Extra nukes over and beyond what’s needed to deter credibly don’t do anything for the country—they don’t add inches to our national penis or anything—it’s just an income stream for certain firms and bureaucrats who deal with the nukes. Basically in exchange for giving up nothing, we’re reducing the possibility of something terrible happening with Russia’s stockpile. And the people who want to vote the treaty down will kill that. Their stockpile will stay big, and our ability to verify what’s happening with it will go away since the old treaty has declined.

Meanwhile, foreigners will wonder wtf has happened with US foreign policy and would-be proliferators will find their efforts somewhat boosted by the collapsing credibility of the disarmament process. And all for what? A cheap political talking point on a fourth-tier issue? A bit of extra pork?

Posted by: pragmaticagain | November 19, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of START, I posted this a couple threads ago, reposting:

-Russia to GOP: "WTF???"-

Russians are mystified. They can't quite believe the U.S. Senate might fail to ratify the nuclear arms treaty, and they see no good from such an outcome.

The list of possible harmful effects they cite encompasses a minefield of global concerns: no more cooperation on Iran, a setback for progressive tendencies in Russia, new hurdles for Russian membership in the World Trade Organization, a terrible example for nuclear countries such as China and India, dim prospects for better NATO relations. And to top it off, the United States and its president would look ridiculous.

"The result will by no means be nuclear catastrophe," said Igor S. Ivanov, a former foreign minister, searching for a bright note, "but there will undoubtedly be negative results, and not just for U.S.-Russian relations."


Russia would not backtrack on its refusal to sell Iran missiles, he added, but additional sanctions would not be supported. Nuclear countries such as China and India would have little reason to limit their own arsenals. Then there's NATO.

"It would be pretty difficult to expect true cooperation between Russia and NATO," he said.

Why does the GOP hate protecting America's national security?

Posted by: Ethan2010 | November 19, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Fine, you want Politico? You can have Politico. :)

Sherrod Brown goes on record, confirms Senate Dems are unhappy with Obama and want him to fight harder:

Posted by: Greg Sargent | November 19, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, you all, but this is indeed a story. NBC is taking punitive action against their hosts all the while being able to give unlimited funds to whatever PAC they wish while keeping it a secret.

Get it yet?

Posted by: suekzoo1 | November 19, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

The problem is less the donations themsleves than the lack of discosure and in Olbermann's case, the hypocrisy.

Scarborough probably should have disclosed his contributions on the air, even if they weren't connected to his opinions on the show. Olbermann certainly should have, as they were directly related to stories he covered.

He contributed money to a candidate he'd interviewed earlier that same night. That's way too close to home. He should have gone on the air the next night and acknowledged what he'd done. Not necessarily apologized but AT LEAST copped to it.

The hypocrisy comes from his repeated (and to my mind, appropriate) criticisms of Fox for claiming to be a legit news operation AND contributing to the Republican Governors Association.

He can't very well do essentially the same thing while attacking them for doing it.

Disclosure and ethical consistency are the issue here more than the contributions themselves.

Posted by: sydla | November 19, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Seeing as the candidates Scarborough supported were for local offices and never graced the airwaves via Morning Joe, I see this as an inept application of a flawed policy. A Republican personality contributes to Republican candidates from his hometown. Will the horrors never cease?

Posted by: TobyTucker | November 19, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

the policy is flawed indeed. Joe's donees were never interviewed or commented upon, and even Olberman's donee was interviewed before he was motivated to donate. all that's necessary is a disclosure, a' la Jim Cramer, that he owns a stock he's touting on his show.

Posted by: JoeT1 | November 19, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Joe who?

Posted by: clintt5 | November 20, 2010 7:18 AM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company