The Corner

Olbermann’s Ethics Problem

Look, I understand why everyone is pouncing on Olby. And given his sanctimony and hypocrisy, not to mention the fact that he seems to have broken the clear rules of his own employer, I have no problem with him getting whipsawed.

But there are two problems with these kinds of journalistic ethics “scandals.”

The first is that they aren’t a scandal. So Olbermann gave money to some Democratic candidates. Ostensibly the rules against this are intended to prevent journalists from giving the appearance of bias. Whether or not such rules make sense for actual reporters, such rules are silly for someone like Olbermann. Does anybody, and I mean anybody, suddenly trust Olbermann’s opinion less because of this news? I’m waiting. Does anyone think he’s less biased? More biased? Un-biased?

Second, the larger problem with these kinds of rules is that they do little to prevent media bias and a great deal to hide an important form of evidence of it. Banning liberal journalists from giving money doesn’t prevent them from being liberal, it just gives them a bit more plausibility when they deny it. Now, I can see the argument that someone who makes a donation would be more interested in protecting their investment, as it were. So I don’t think the policy is completely misguided. But at a certain level banning donations is like NPR barring staff from attending the Jon Stewart rally. It doesn’t fool anyone, but gives the accused a lawyerly rebuttal to accurate accusations.

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