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Saturday 6 November 2010

Phil Griffin’s Dilemma

It might surprise some in the UK, but most of the USA’s broadcast media operates to a well defined code of conduct, which includes a ban on employees making donations to politicians or their parties. That code was also behind the actions of National Public Radio (NPR) when they barred their staffers from attending the Rally To Restore Sanity, unless they were covering the event.

So on that basis, it was not a surprise when MSNBC head man Phil Griffin suspended top rating host Keith Olbermann yesterday, after learning that Olbermann had made donations to three Democrats prior to last Tuesday’s mid-term Elections. However, that the suspension was declared “indefinite” and without pay has raised eyebrows, and brought forthright condemnation from all sides.

Even Eliot Spitzer, co-host of CNN’s newly launched Parker Spitzer, has weighed in – and that show goes out directly against Olbermann’s Countdown on weeknights. The thought has entered that Griffin may be trying to demonstrate to his not always cohesive array of hosts that he’s the boss, but if so, he is playing a dangerous game.

Countdown is MSNBC’s only show that regularly pulled in over a million viewers last month, and its weeknight line-up is underpinned by Olbermann’s presence at 2000 hours. This overtly liberal presenter sets the tone and helps the audience for the two hosts who follow his show: Rachel Maddow at 2100, and Lawrence O’Donnell at 2200. Pulling out that underpinning would undo all the hard work displacing CNN as the second most popular cable channel.

That last point has not been lost on Maddow, who partly owes her presence on MSNBC to Olbermann’s advocacy. She openly voiced her support for him on her show yesterday, and made the comparison between the standards of MSNBC and those of the current top cable network, where hosts soliciting donations and appearing at party fundraisers is not only tolerated, but apparently encouraged.

No prizes for guessing the identity of that top cable network: it is, of course, our old friends at Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

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