Image: Keith Olbermann
Reed Saxon  /  AP file
Keith Olbermann, host of msnbc TV's "Countdown With Keith Olbermann," in a July 22, 2006 file photo.
msnbc.com
updated 11/5/2010 11:13:03 PM ET 2010-11-06T03:13:03

Msnbc TV host Keith Olbermann was suspended indefinitely on Friday for making campaign donations to three Democratic congressional candidates, apparently in violation of NBC News ethics policy.

The announcement came in a one-sentence statement from msnbc TV President Phil Griffin: “I became aware of Keith's political contributions late last night. Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay.”

The donations were first reported by the Politico website earlier in the day.

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Olbermann acknowledged the donations in a statement to Politico, saying he gave the maximum legal donation of $2,400 to Arizona Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords and Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, who waged an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate against Tea Party standard-bearer Rand Paul.

Like most news organizations, NBC News, parent of msnbc TV, prohibits political contributions by its journalists without prior approval of the president. (Msnbc.com, a joint venture of NBC Universal and Microsoft, also has a policy against its journalists contributing to political campaigns.)

"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,” the NBC News policy reads. “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."

The Wrap: Olbermann's got company: Scarborough and Hannity

Politico noted that the donations to Grijalva and Giffords were made on Oct. 28, the same day that Grijalva appeared on Olbermann’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” show.  Grijalva won re-election on Tuesday, while Giffords on Friday was clinging to a narrow lead over Republican Jesse Kelly in a race that the Associated Press has not yet called.

In his statement to Politico, Olbermann said he did not encourage his viewers or other staff members to donate to the candidates.

“I did not privately or publicly encourage anyone else to donate to these campaigns, nor to any others in this election or any previous ones, nor have I previously donated to any political campaign at any level,” he was quoted as saying.

On "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" Friday night, substitute host Thomas Roberts recounted NBC's reasons for Olbermann's suspension.

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Video: Rachel Maddow on the suspension of Keith Olbermann

  1. Transcript of: Rachel Maddow on the suspension of Keith Olbermann

    SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Joining me now with reaction is Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is back. Congresswoman, welcome back. REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA : Sean , thank you. Always a pleasure.

    MADDOW: That was from September 17th of this year, the host of FOX News Channel 's 9 p.m . Eastern Time show interviewing Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann . Two and a half weeks after that same host donated $5,000 to Michele Bachmann 's political action campaign. Mr. Hannity 's donation to Michele Bachmann was noted at the time. It was reported on by Salon.com in the article you see here. FOX News Channel 's executives responded to be -- quandary pointed out here by telling the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota that Mr. Hannity would disclose his $5,000 donation to Michele Bachmann 's political action committee on the air to his viewers when he interviewed Ms. Bachmann .

    HANNITY: All right. Congresswoman, good to see you. Thank you for taking time. We appreciate you being here.

    MADDOW: Despite FOX News Channel 's assertion that the host would disclose on air when he interviewed her that he had made those donations to Ms. Bachmann 's the political action committee , the host did not make that disclosure. The same host also maxed out his personal political contribution to a republican New York State congressional candidate named John Gomez . The host then interviewed Mr. Gomez after the campaign donations in late September of this year. FOX News hosts have also explicitly endorsed republican candidates, just from this election cycle. Here's one.

    HANNITY: I stand proudly in Kasich 's corner with an endorsement as long as it doesn't hurt you.

    JOHN KASICH, FORMER UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: We want all the help you can give us, Sean .

    MADDOW: Here is part of a press release announcing a whole lists of endorsements, the same FOX News host Mr. Hannity is touted by the Todd Tiahrt for Congress campaign from Mr. Hannity 's endorsement of Mr. Tiahrt . Here's another explicit endorsement of a congressional candidate named Michael Faulkner , and endorsement again by the FOX News host Mr. Hannity . Presumptive 2012 republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee . He's also a host at FOX News , he hosts the show there, I think, that's on the weekends. Making explicit political endorsements is essentially as Mr. Huckabee 's full time other job, besides being on FOX . When he is not making explicit political endorsements, Mr. Huckabee , the FOX News host, is appearing at political fundraisers for Republican candidates. FOX News , Republican fundraiser , FOX News , Republican fundraiser . That's what he does as a FOX News host. Same goes for FOX News host Sarah Palin . Ms. Palin hosts a TV show on FOX called " Real American Stories ." And when she's not working as a host at FOX News or doing her other TV show that I think that's kind of like a reality show , she is endorsing Republican candidates. Also headlining Republican fundraisers. FOX News , Republican fundraiser , FOX News , Republican fundraiser . It's what she does as a FOX News host. Here's the local press in Cleveland , very excited about FOX News host Sean Hannity headlining an expensive fundraiser for Republican candidate for Ohio Governor John Kasich . Sometimes, FOX News hosts save the travel budget and they just hold these fundraisers for Republican candidates right on the air.

    GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: How can I help you raise money ?

    BACHMANN: Well, people could go to MicheleBachmann.com . I need the help.

    KASICH: It is a very central race. And 11 times, Sean , they're coming after Johnny Kasich for 11 times, he's going to be here, it's amazing. People can come on our Web site at KasichforOhio.com . Sunday night at 6:30, we're going to talk about the damage the Obama agenda has done to us. And if you have any extra nickels or dimes, please send it our way. KasichforOhio.com .

    HANNITY: Well, I want to put this -- put some emphasis on this, because this is really important, to explain to people why we cannot afford to lose that race.

    MADDOW: Also, those nickels and dimes. In case it wasn't clear enough, this is from Mr. Hannity 's own website, from his photo album on his Web site . The Web site brags that this is Mr. Hannity headlining a National Republican Congressional Committee fundraiser . That fundraiser reportedly raised $7 million for Republican House candidates. Earlier this year, that took place, Mr. Hannity raising money for the NRCC , $7 million in one fundraiser , $7 million earlier this year. You may have heard today that my colleague and friend Keith Olbermann was temporarily suspended from his job hosting " COUNTDOWN " on this network because he made three personal political donations to candidates in this last election cycle. The reason that resulted in Keith 's suspension is that here on MSNBC , there is an explicit employee rule against hosts making contributions like that. You can do it if you ask in advance and management tells you OK. That's what I understand happened with our morning show host's political donations in 2006 under previous management. But if you don't ask in advance for an exemption from the rule, you are bound by the rule. For the record, the rule applies to us hosts here at MSNBC and to NBC News staff. CNBC is not under NBC News , so CNBC staffers are not bound by the same thing. I understand this rule. I understand what it means to break this rule. I believe everybody should face the same treatment under this rule. I also personally believe that the point has been made and we should have Keith back hosting "COUNTDOWN." Here's the larger point, though, that's going mysteriously missing from all the right-wing cackling and the Beltway old media cluck-cluck- clucking about this. This is what I think is missing. Let this incident lay to rest forever the facile, never true anyway, bullpucky, lazy conflation of FOX News and what the rest of us do for a living. I know everybody likes to say, oh, that's cable news, it's all the same, FOX and MSNBC , mirror images of each other. Let this lay this to rest forever. Hosts on FOX raise money on the air for Republican candidates. They endorse them explicitly. They use their FOX News profile to headline fundraisers. Heck, there are multiple people being paid by FOX News now to essentially run for office as Republican candidates. If you count not just their hosts but their contributors, you are looking at a significant portion of the whole lineup of Republican presidential contenders for 2012 . They can do that because there's no rule against that at FOX . They run as a political operation. We're not. Yes, Keith is a liberal, and so am I. And there are other people on this network whose political views are shared openly with you, our beloved viewers, but we are not a political operation. Fox is. We are a news operation, and the rules around here are a part of how you know that. Before it was politically safe to do it, Keith Olbermann attracted the ire of the right wing and a lot of others besides when he brought to light and raged against what he saw as the errors and sins of the previous presidential administration. Keith was also the one who brought to light Fox News ' water-carrying role for the Bush administration . He was one whose point-of-view journalism exposed and put exclamation points in the problems in the political operation disguised as news network model embraced by the guys across the street at Fox . Now, weirdly, once again it is Keith who's illustrating the difference between what he does on TV , what we do here at MSNBC , and what goes on across the street. Good night. THIS IS

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