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Editorial: You can't have your cake and comment on it, too

Nov. 9, 2010

Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist

MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann was indefinitely suspended from his position this past weekend after reports that he has donated to three Democratic candidates during the midterm elections.

However, he wasn't gone for long.

The network's president, Phil Griffin, reinstated Olbermann on Sunday night, saying he felt the weekend-long suspension was "an appropriate punishment for his violation of our policy."

When Olbermann returns tonight, we know what to expect -- left leaning, pro-Democratic commentary on the recent political events.

When the news hit that he had donated to Democrats, no one was surprised. Olbermann has always favored liberals in his "coverage," and we do not expect that to change.

There was no clearer way for him to prove the innate bias that infects his coverage than to monetarily support candidates.

Olbermann sided with liberal views before light was shed on his donations.

However, the monetary donations are documented statements of endorsements. Though Olbermann has always favored liberals in his coverage, his bias was always a matter of his critics' opinion. The donations make it fact.

His constant disregard for the values journalists strive to uphold is unnerving and proof that an ethical divide in the journalism realm is surfacing. The divide that exists is one that pits commentary against reporting.

Olbermann is a more than apt liberal commentator with high intelligence and skill with the spoken word -- but he should not be labeled a broadcast journalist.

A commentator has leeway. Commentators can and should provide factual information within their pieces while also analyzing events and providing personal opinion.

Commentators often tell readers or viewers what effects they think certain events will have or how a certain new piece of legislation will benefit viewers' lives for the better because of XYZ.

There is a place for commentators and a label for commentators and a purpose for commentators. Olbermann's label should most certainly be changed to a commentator and his purpose on the network should never be to provide straight news.

Olbermann was suspended because the network's policy was violated and that violation should be a clear sign to MSNBC that Olbermann is not using his current capacity in an ethical way.

Olbermann is being brought back tonight and the network should take the first step toward drawing a distinct line between political commentary and political journalism.

Accuracy and truth are possible in both commentary and journalism, and they are both relevant products of media outlets.

However, news networks should begin the process of clearly differentiating commentators from broadcast journalists, much like newspapers' demarcation of opinion pages.

Olbermann's move should be a lesson to all networks that there is a need for both commentary and legitimate journalism.

Media outlets should not perpetuate Olbermann's hazy form of opinion-infused journalism but should instead strive to provide clearly labeled and high quality reporting and commentary.

Olbermann's job, ultimately, is a commentator. If he wanted to be a journalist, that ship (along with his credibility) has sailed.