Williams and Olbermann have no ‘conflict of interest’

First Juan Williams and now Keith Olbermann. Indeed, both journalists were canned for alleged “conflicts of interest,” which supposedly inhibit their ability to be “impartial” and “objective” news analysts. But this alleged “conflict of interest” is utter nonsense; both men have been seriously wronged.

Olbermann’s case broke today after it was found that he had donated money to three Democratic candidates — Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway and Arizona Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords — during the just-now-concluded 2010 election cycle. As a result, Olbermann has been suspended indefinitely without pay.

Williams, of course, was fired by NPR after opining on Fox News about his fear of Muslims. “His remarks on The O’Reilly Factor…were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR,” the station explained in a prepared statement.

Williams’ credibility supposedly suffered because by voicing opinions on certain topics he allegedly undermined his “objectivity” and “impartiality” on those same topics.

Ditto Olbermann, we are told: By donating money to candidates, he tells viewers, in effect, that he is not fair, objective and impartial. News organizations like NPR and NBC depend on viewers’ belief that they are impartial and objective dispensers of the news.

That’s the rationale, anyhow, used to justify the firing of both men. But that rationale won’t wash, and here’s why:

First, everyone knows that objectivity is a myth; it doesn’t exist. After all, everyone, including reporters and journalists — heck, especially reporters and journalists! — has opinions. And these opinions simply cannot be divorced from a journalist’s work.

In fact, these opinions shape and influence a journalist’s story selection and focus, sources and reporting — and it is foolish and naïve to suggest otherwise.

To be sure, there is such a thing as fairness and balance. And, in a free and open marketplace of ideas, readers and viewers can and do judge for themselves whether a reporter is fair and balanced.

After all, the great thing about journalism is that it is in the public domain for everyone to assess, judge and criticize. Consequently, news consumers can and do scrutinize and analyze a journalist’s work.

News executives, then, should not short-circuit this market-driven process by falsely imposing upon journalists their own artificial sense of “objectivity” and “impartiality.” Their so-called standards represent nothing more than the executives’ own biases and prejudices.

Certainly, this is true in the case of Juan Williams, whose only sin seems to be that he voiced a politically incorrect sentiment on a network, Fox News, that NPR executives hate and despise.

Ditto Olbermann, whose political views have long been on public display every night during Countdown with Keith Olbermann. So the idea that Olbermann is a left-wing Democratic partisan will surprise and shock no one. Indeed, as John Podhoretz observes:

Olbermann [was] suspended because giving Democrats $100 million worth of free commercial time is ethical, but writing a few thousand [dollars] in checks isn’t. Hilarious.

That’s exactly right. And what’s more, it is by no means clear that “objective” journalists are necessarily any more successful at unearthing news and information and delivering said information to consumers.

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  • truebearing

    John, with all due respect, corporations have rights too. In a free market economy, the market (viewers) decide who they will watch, and that directly impacts advertising sales. If a particular on-air personality is seen as hurting the audience numbers, and he violates his contract, he effectively gives the management a golden, legal opportunity to can his annoying ass. Such is the case with Olbermann.

    Juan Williams situation was totally different, except for the fact that NPR was looking for an excuse to fire him. Williams wasn’t a drag on ratings, and didn’t actually do what they fired him for, and did nothing that other employees didn’t also do, only much worse.

    NPR fired Williams for ideological reasons. MSNBC suspended Olbermann because he is hurting ratings, is an embarrassment to the network, and to humanity in general.

  • Bsmooth

    Wow everyone has missed the point badly here. It is okay for corporations that control news organizations to donate large sums of money to candidates( i.e. the 1 million dollars News Corp donated), yet a normal person is not allowed to donate less than 10k total to multiple candidates?
    Our news has never been truly unbiased, and it has gotten worse the last couple decades. MSNBC was created to directly counter the conservative bias of Fox with a liberal one.
    Olberman has been stumping for liberal candidates and causes on air since day one just like O’Reilly and others on Fox has. To say these donations suddenly make him biased is crazy.
    An citizen should be able to donate to which ever candidate they like period.

    • Momma M

      No, You’re missing the point! The rules were known to him as part of his employment contract. Bottom-line.. He got EXACTLY what he asked for when he broke the rules of HIS contract!

      • grayzel

        I will bet BSmooth worked on that answer all day. He should send it to Keith O if that is not where he got it.

    • The_anniebanannie

      “MSNBC was created to directly counter the conservative bias of Fox with a liberal one.”

      Check your history, bub.

  • Austinn

    Horse squeeze. If you are hired for a job and have an employment contract that expressly forbids you from making campaign contributions as a condition of your employment, you should *absolutely* loose your job if you violate your contract. It’s not like KO didn’t know what was in his MSNBC contract. How many lawyers helped him negotiate this trivial little contract with MSNBC?? More than anything else, KO’s actions are indicative of the typical liberal elitist mindset. The *rules* only apply to everyone else. I’d bet $100 that if you asked him why he was fired he’d site 50 reasons, all of which would have nothing to do with his own personal behavior, 40 of which blame someone else. John Guardiano, I honestly hope you were half asleep when you wrote this piece. If indicative of your analytical abilities, you should be working as a writer for Keith Olbermann instead.

  • des1

    This column is dumb because it ignores the fact that MSNBC was putting Olbermann out as a journalist (not an entertainer) when they had him anchor debate and election coverage. He had a rule in his contract, he violated it, everyone quit whining about poor Keith being treated unfairly.

    The Juan Williams case is completely different because most NPR people appear elsewhere. They knew he was doing it, which means they tacitly signed off on him being able to do so. You can’t knowingly let an employee break a rule for years, then fire him citing the rule he’s been breaking. It’s not legally viable. Their situations are nothing alike, and the writer is a moron.

    • The_anniebanannie

      “and the writer is a moron”

      Reeks of hit-whoring.

    • mrscorie

      Am I the only one who doesn’t give a crap about this!

  • The_anniebanannie

    Although I didn’t always agree with Juan Williams’ point of view, he was always respectful and, most of the time, his point of view was well researched. Olberman was a bombastic, hatefilled, ill-mannered, snarky and biased b.s. artist. He had a list of “accomplishments” that could have been considered reasons for dismissal in any credible organization. Williams only fault, by NPR standards, was that he appeared regularly on FOX. To compare the two is absolutely reckless … and almost as ridiculous as saying an employee can, and should, violate a contract at will.

    “And these opinions simply cannot be divorced from a journalist’s work.”


    • Momma M