Clarify Who Should Follow the Rules

Dave Garroway (left) and Fred J. Muggs (right) had to follow the rules.

The role of a journalist is to report what has happened and provide the facts to explain how it happened, and who was involved. The difference between an article and a column in a newspaper is clearly defined.  An article is a story or a report of the facts and events.  A column is a piece of writing that usually offers commentary or opinions.

After a two-day “suspension”, MSNBC will reinstate Keith Olbermann after learning that he made political contributions to Democratic candidates without clearing it with his bosses.

The main idea of this story should be that Olbermann didn’t follow the rules and he got into trouble.  Rules are rules no matter where you work at.

However, the issue of much scrutiny is whether or not media professionals like Olbermann, Bill O’Reilly, or any other commentators on television are “journalists.”   WHO-TV‘s Dave Price, who covers the political beat, offered his thoughts on the matter on his blog, “Price of Politics.”

Dave Price
WHO-TV’s political reporter/anchor Dave Price. Courtesy of WHO-TV.

Price writes that Olbermann is not a “reporter” because he makes commentaries and inserts his opinions throughout his show.  The question is should he and others who are commentators should be exempted from the rule that no journalist should make political donations to candidates?

As someone who is not in the journalism/media business, I feel that that “commentators” and “columnists” fall under the auspices of “journalism” and should adhere to all of the rules that “reporters” abide by.  They represent their employers, just as much as we do at our respective workplaces.  If we break a rule, we are subject to suspension, punishment, or in extreme cases, termination.

Also, it becomes a potential conflict of interest that could invoke serious credibility questions if it’s learned that a candidate received donations from an employee of a media entity.

It’s not like Keith didn’t know what the rules were.  He’s been in the media business for over 20 years.  If he wasn’t sure what MSNBC’s policies were in political donations, it wouldn’t have hurt him to ask.  Nevertheless, Olbermann will return and continue doing his show.

This isn’t just a pass for him, but to all individuals who are employed by media outlets to offer opinions and commentate, and the media outlets themselves.

Define and clarify what the rules are, who is subject to the rules, and apply them when needed. The lines should not be blurred to the point where we have no idea exactly what a “journalist” is.

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