The question becomes whether it’s right. The Olbermann incident highlights the murky line between what daytime cable is and what prime time cable has become; and, for NBC, what a network news channel is, and what its cable sister is becoming. Looking at that landscape, it seems that news conglomerates may need to address the differences between their parts, and reassess their policies on conflict-of-interest and bias issues like political donations for staffers who are paid to offer their opinions, not subsume them. (According to this Gawker article, they have been doing just that, with an “insider” saying that MSNBC does not fall under the same strict guidelines as NBC and has “no ethical standards.”)
While it makes sense for NBC to have a blanket rule banning political donations for its straight news reporters—we don’t want Brian Williams cutting checks anytime soon—and to punish those who violate, the line is blurrier at MSNBC, where the prime time personalities have hewn success out of a strong ideological point of view. It’s why no one was surprised to read the Politico story today. Nighttime MSNBC has become a kind of evil twin, a different entity from the straight-laced NBC, where an Olbermann would never be tolerated in the first place. It’s also a different entity from daytime MSNBC.
For the sake of viewer trust, broadcast integrity, and employee discipline, we understand the implementation of the no donations rule across all of those entities. But as the media is transitioning, so are its standards. We expect with the fallout that’s about to come, and the mix of praise and ire heading their way, there is going to be some soul-searching about the ways in which NBC and MSNBC are self-regulated. And there may be questions whether their rulebooks should remain identical.
Already, those questions are continuing to bite. After announcing The Nation’s Chris Hayes would be filling in for Olbermann tonight, MSNBC changed course after it was pointed out that Hayes had donated to Democratic political campaigns in the past.
NBC created a kind of Frankenstein’s monster over there at 30 Rock; dealing with it will likely force hard calls like the one Griffin made today.