Keith Olbermann’s P.R. Crisis: It’s The Hypocrisy

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 5, 2010 – 2:18 PM

Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann – the network’s highest-rated program – will not be on television for a while.

According to Politico, Mr. Olbermann donated to three Democratic candidates last week, a violation of NBC rules that prohibit employees from making contributions to political candidates.

No viewer of his show will be surprised that Mr. Olbermann favors Democratic candidates, so there’s no reputational crisis there.

It’s the hypocrisy that’s going to get him.

Mr. Olbermann recently blasted Fox News Channel CEO Rupert Murdoch for making political donations:

According to

“Olbermann, as well as MSNBC executives, was a vocal critic of the $1 million donation by Fox News’ parent News Corp. to the Republican Governor’s Association earlier this year, saying at the time, “We now have another million reasons Fox News is the Republican news channel.”

In a subsequent show, Olbermann also pressed House Majority Whip James Clyburn if there was a “legislative response” to a network that “starts to shill for partisan causes.”


Morally righteous crusaders like Olbermann have little margin for error when they do something that appears hypocritical. Just ask Rush Limbaugh, who mocked drug users on his radio program while wrestling with his own addicition. Or Eliot Spitzer, the self-anointed “Sheriff of Wall Street” who couldn’t even police his own zipper. Or Larry Craig, who rejected gay-friendly legislation while tapping his foot in an aiport bathroom.  

Mr. Olbermann may try to defend his actions by insisting he’s a commentator, not a journalist. And although he may be right, parsing hypocrisy rarely works. 

He does have a way out. He can issue an unequivocal, heartfelt apology. He should forthrightly acknowledge the hypocrisy, admit he made a mistake, and pledge never to do it again.

What, exactly, should his apology look like? He can look to his primetime colleague Lawrence O’Donnell, whose apology to RNC Chairman Michael Steele a few weeks back serves as a perfect model.

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Comments (4)

  1. By ManusFerrea:

    Wow… Lawrence O’Donnell’s apology to RNC Chairman Michael Steele was really good… new found respect…

  2. By Hypocrisy May Doom Olbermann - PRNewser:

    […] the “worst person in the world” because of his political donations.  According to the Mr. Media Training blog, “righteous crusaders” like Olbermann, Rush Limbaugh, and Eliot Spitzer, have little […]

  3. By Xenophrenia:

    Has Keith ever stated that he does not support a particular party over another the way Fox has? That’s the question … I don’t think there is any hypocrisy here – Fox claims to be unbiased and Murdoch’s contribution was shown as proof that it wasn’t – it was given under the News Corp. banner – Keith’s was a personal donation – big difference … has Keith made the byline ‘fair and balanced’ and claimed not to favor one party over another? Is Keith a media outlet unto himself? No.

    This is not hypocrisy on Keith’s part. It is a disgrace on the part of a news organization making a false stand to shut someone up who apparently was making too many waves. But that’s just my opinion …;-).

  4. By Brad Phillips:

    Xenophrenia – Thank you for your comment and for sharing your opinion.

    I’m not sure Mr. Olbermann was blasting Fox solely because they made a political contribution that betrayed their “Fair and Balanced” tag line. It seems to me that his criticism – at least in part – was that the news organization’s political gifts reflected the fact that Fox was a partisan operation. As such, Mr. Olbermann’s gifts opened MSNBC up to the same criticism. MSNBC’s management seems to agree with that, and Rachel Maddow even suggested as much during her comments last night.

    Anyway, thanks for stopping by the blog. You’re always welcome to share your views here.


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