Why Keith Olbermann’s "Apology" Stinks

After being suspended by MSNBC for making donations to three Democratic candidates in violation of the network’s policy, Countdown host Keith Olbermann is scheduled to return Tuesday night. He issued a written statement to his viewers this evening that stopped short of accepting responsibility for his actions:

“Your efforts have been integral to the remedying of these recent events, and the results should remind us of the power of individuals spontaneously acting together to correct injustices great or small….
I also wish to apologize to you viewers for having precipitated such anxiety and unnecessary drama. You should know that I mistakenly violated an inconsistently applied rule – which I previously knew nothing about – that pertains to the process by which such political contributions are approved by NBC… Certainly this mistake merited a form of public acknowledgment and/or internal warning, and an on-air discussion about the merits of limitations on such campaign contributions by all employees of news organizations. Instead, after my representative was assured that no suspension was contemplated, I was suspended without a hearing, and learned of that suspension through the media.”
You can read the full apology here.

There are at least three reasons his “apology” stinks:

1. It Doesn’t Address Perceived Hypocrisy: Mr. Olbermann’s statement doesn’t deal at all with the biggest part of this incident – his hypocrisy. As I wrote on Friday, he has vociferously (and rightly, in my view) criticized the Fox News Channel for making political gifts. But by making a political gift just weeks after lambasting Fox, Mr. Olbermann ceded much of his moral high ground.

Click here to read Friday’s original article, “Keith Olbermann’s P.R. Crisis: It’s The Hypocrisy.”

2. It Pleads Ignorance: Mr. Olbermann puts the blame almost entirely on MSNBC’s management for a rule he “previously knew nothing about.” But primetime partner Rachel Maddow said on Friday:

“Here at MSNBC, there is an explicit employee rule against making contributions…I understand this rule. I understand what it means to break this rule. I believe everybody should face the same treatment under this rule.”

How did Maddow, a relative new hire, know the rules while Olbermann didn’t?

3. It’s Overwrought: Olbermann’s line that, “…the results should remind us of the power of individuals spontaneously acting together to correct injustices great or small” reeks of megalomania. Mr. Olbermann has brilliantly exposed true injustices, such as the millions of Americans living without access to health care. A multi-millionaire anchor suspended for two days for violating his network’s rules doesn’t rank as an injustice.

Mr. Olbermann regularly demands responsibility from politicians reluctant to take it. He has a great opportunity to lead by example when he returns to Countdown Tuesday night. By accepting full responsibility for his suspension, apologizing to his network for violating its rules, and promising never to make another political donation without prior approval, Mr. Olbermann can move on from this controversy with grace.