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

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.