MSNBC to Keith Olbermann: Pontificate, But Don't Donate

November 8, 2010 § 1 Comment

Popular MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann was suspended over this past weekend after a report by Politico revealed Olbermann’s donations to several Democratic candidates days before last week’s Nov. 2nd election.

Olbermann, a former ESPN talking head turned MSNBC talking head, had donated $2,400 each to the campaigns of Jack Conway (Kentucky Senate), Raul Grijalva (Arizona House), and Gabrielle Giffords (Arizona House).

The donations, which were set at the maximum legal amount allowed by individual donors according to the Federal Election Commission , were in direct violation of MSNBC’s ethics guidelines, which Politico scraped from a 2007 article, which states that all possible conflicts of interest, including political contributions, should be reported to the NBC News President.

The New York Times reported that the suspension, which began on Friday, ends on Tuesday, allowing the commentator to resume his nightly show, “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” which is the highest-rated program on the 24 hour news network.

I make it a point to avoid as many talking heads as possible, which often translates into skipping over MSNBC, Fox, and sometimes CNN. Though, admittedly, I do make an exception for Mr. Bill O’Reilly, whose Youtube hits remain a particular penchant of mine.

While corporations were given unbridled freedom to donate towards political advertising as a result of the landmark Citizens United decision, and as evident by theĀ  recent Chamber of Commerce piece in the Times, it’s interesting to note that individual contributions can still make a ruckus.

Perhaps part of it is that Olbermann make the donation to Grijalva the same day the politician happened to appear on his show. Or the fact that the issue sheds a hypocritical spotlight on Olbermann, who has been a staunch critic of Fox News’ political donations to the G.O.P.

Nevertheless, in a market that has become over-saturated with polarizing commentary, pseudo-experts, and a never-ending stream of Facebook updates and Twitters from viewers like you, it’s hard to believe that there’s any credibility left to destroy.

The ‘punishment’ also doesn’t really seem to fit the crime. A suspension that starts on Friday and ends before Tuesday night for a weeknight show seems like the media equivalent of sending a bad teen to bed after dinner with no dessert. [Bad teens never care for dessert anyhow.]

And when I consider the nature of his job, like many others on both MSNBC and Fox, I can’t help but see a thin pane of glass where there should be a brick wall.


Jon Pessah: Sports as a Mirror of Society

September 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

Let me start off my saying that I know almost absolutely nothing about sports.

I know enough to get by, but rarely will you ever find me watching a game on television. In the rare instance that you ever do, there will probably be a very short time interval between when I feign interest to when my eyes begin to glaze over.

It’s not that I hate sports, it’s just a matter of sticking to what you know. Which is exactly why I found myself thoroughly surprised and delighted when sports writer Jon Pessah came to speak in one of my journalism classes.

Jon Pessah

[To be fair though, he spoke specifically about sports journalism and anyone who knows me knows that I can listen to just about anything in the context of journalism.]

While he had some choice words for the NCAA and LeBron James’ recent stint as a free agent, Pessah spoke mainly about the entertainment-heavy and profit driven motive of modern day sports reporting.

Formerly of the Washington Star, the Hartford Courant, and Newsday, Pessah’s experience with covering sports has given him a front row seat to both the changing industry of journalism as well as the domination of sports coverage by ESPN, the sports equivalent of 24-hour cable news networks like CNN.

And just like CNN, ESPN is subject to scrutiny when it comes journalistic integrity.

The sports juggernaut: ESPN

ESPN, which was brought to life as a father-son collaboration by NBC-affiliate sports writer Bill Rasmussen in 1979, was initially conceived as an outlet to provide additional sports coverage in Connecticut. It wasn’t until the marketing genius of VP John Walsh and the miracle of Sunday Night Football that ESPN began to draw the following that it has now.

Since then it has hired a host of retired athletes and talking heads to serve as anchors and commentators and dictated the shift of sports reporting to a primarily entertainment-based genre.

So what’s the big deal if sports reporting panders to the more profitable elements of the entertainment industry instead of straight news?

Well, it’s all in the numbers.

For instance, I had always written off steroid scandals, chalking them up as a fact of athletic life that some athletes use steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. From baseball to biking, it didn’t really faze me.

Steroids have become a fixture in sports.

However, Pessah pointed out that the way the government treats sports steroid cases is different than the way it treats any other controlled substance by targeting athletes instead of distributors. And when you start realizing that an illegal substance is intrinsically tied to a multibillion dollar business, steroids becomes no laughing matter.

According to Pessah, the use of steroids, along with the fact that billions of tax payers’ dollars have gone on to build stadiums instead of rebuilding communities, are some of the issues that sports reporting no longer addresses. The investigative elements of sports journalism have seemingly fallen to the wayside.

Pessah was asked by a student whether or not he thought the demand for hard-hitting sports journalism existed. He retorted by asking whether or not young reporters going into sports journalism will be willing to avoid the financial temptations of the easy route of entertainment sports.

MLB keeps a tight lid on access for reporters.

Industry giants like the MLB and NFL, which keep a tight lid on access to its athletes and information, are another deterrent to hard-hitting sports journalism.

While I have no idea what lies ahead for the state of sports journalism, I’ve never been more interested in sports journalism than I am now.

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