MSNBC’s suspension of Keith Olbermann for contributing to the re-election campaign of Rep. Raul Grijalva, D, Ariz., and two other Democrats has been the occasion for much discussion about the issue of journalistic standards. Rachel Maddow, for example, said MSNBC’s ban on partisan contributions by its news people shows the superiority of its standards to those of Fox News, which is an open propaganda outlet for the Republican Party. Much of the corporate media charges that Olbermann has been hypocritical in criticizing the partisan role of Fox when he is giving money to Democrats.

Underlying these criticisms of Olbermann is the false notion that journalistic standards require neutrality, not partisanship. But there is no virtue, journalistic or otherwise, in neutrality. The aim of journalism is to tell the truth, to be objective, and the truth is rarely neutral.

Olbermann, Maddow, Ed Schultz and other journalists are clearly partisan.  They are partisan to democratic and progressive values. They are passionate in their opposition to racism, sexism, homophobia and attacks on organized labor. When they expose the endless and highly coordinated campaigns of lies, hatred and bigotry emanating from Fox, the Republicans and their billionaire backers they are courageously representing the highest standards of journalism. It is only natural that Olbermann would make financial contributions to Grijalva, the target of a racist, anti-immigrant hate campaign by fascist-like elements in the Republican Party.

It would be inconsistent with the democratic and progressive ideals he promotes not to support Grijalva.

To be neutral between democracy and fascism reflects either moral bankruptcy or extreme opportunism. Yet that is exactly how most of the corporate media behaves when it is not openly partisan to the ultra-right, like Fox and its kind. The ultra-right, euphemistically called “conservatives,” must be given equal time and respect allegedly to preserve journalistic standards and “neutrality.” In reality, this reflects craven subservience to the dominant right-wing section of corporate power and those who own and fund the corporate media.

The fact is, democratic, progressive voices like those on MSNBC are extremely rare in the corporate media. That is why Olbermann’s suspension provoked such an immediate and outraged reaction from some 300,000 people who signed an online petition that won his reinstatement within a few days.  MSNBC was threatening to shut down and sacrifice one of the few and most outspoken media defenders of democracy and progress to uphold a fraudulent standard of journalistic neutrality.

The response by Olbermann’s supporters demonstrates the massive hunger for truth, clear and partisan, in a sea of lies packaged with a veil of “neutrality.”


Rick Nagin
Rick Nagin

Rick Nagin has written for People's World and its predecessors since 1970. He has been active for many years in Cleveland politics and the labor movement.