On November 5, the same day Keith Olberman was suspended for making political donations against NBC News policy, Rachel Maddow noted that the NBC News rules forbidding political contributions are part of what distinguishes MSNBC from Fox News, whose anchors regularly contribute to political campaigns and solicit Republican financial support on-air.
Watch Maddow’s (somewhat long-winded) comments at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/40036897#40036897
Simply, Olberman screwed up. He didn’t announce his donations on air when he made them, which is a good thing. He was not soliciting funds (at least directly) for Democrats, although perhaps his on-air comments might get a viewer to dip into his or her wallet. His donations were apparently intended to be private. However, according to his employer’s policy, it was still wrong. Olberman reportedly said he did not know about the policy. Punishment short of firing should arguably be sufficient, especially if he was simply ignorant of the policy. I won’t comment on the ethics of the donations here, other than to say the journalists I have known take great pains to be neutral and would never donate to any party or politician; the “opinionators” of Fox News and MSNBC are certainly not journalists.
He should be allowed back after a short unpaid suspension — a suspension to send a signal throughout NBC News — simply because he is an entertainer preaching to his own choir, not a journalist, just like the other primetime talking heads on Fox and MSNBC. MSNBC at least must realize that and let him back in.
How is this related to marketing?
If and when Olberman is reinstated, his reputation will be somewhat tarnished. One of the network’s headlining brands — Olberman — has dropped in stature. It will take much effort to make people forget or forgive, and he is now a target for right wing commentators more than he was a week ago. Some of his loyal viewers will now lump him into the “oh, he’s just another cable network political shill” group that has been largely made up by the so-called “journalists” at Fox News. Brands — whether a logo or a person — must be protected at all costs. Olberman did not consider this. He damaged his own brand and his network’s, although perhaps he thought it wasn’t much of a big deal at the time.