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Metro

Alum breaks Olbermann donation story

By
Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, November 7, 2010

A handful of Brown alums were thrust into the spotlight late last week when the suspension of MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann ignited a firestorm of controversy over media bias.  

Olbermann was suspended Friday after Simmi Aujla ’09, a reporter for Politico and a former Herald editor-in-chief, broke the news that the outspoken host of MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” had donated the maximum legal amount to three Democratic candidates during this election cycle, in violation of MSNBC’s employee policy.

In a statement, Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC, said he had suspended the anchor “indefinitely without pay” after discovering the donations. The network announced Sunday that Olbermann would return for Tuesday’s show.

Immediately following the suspension, MSNBC announced that Chris Hayes ’01 would be replacing Olbermann on Countdown Friday evening. The network later stated that Hayes, Washington editor of the Nation, would no longer be hosting that night.

Like Olbermann, Hayes also made recent political contributions — though Hayes’ dated to 2008 and 2009, prior to his work at MSNBC — according to the Village Voice’s blog.

One of the candidates whom Hayes supported was Joshua Segall ’01, a former leader of the Brown College Democrats, whose 2008 bid to represent Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives was unsuccessful.

“A lot of us would basically do anything for Josh,” Hayes told The Herald in February 2008 for a story about Segall’s candidacy.

In a Twitter post Friday afternoon, Hayes wrote that he would not be substituting for Olbermann that night because he “didn’t feel comfortable doing it given the circumstances” and not due to his campaign contributions.

Politico’s Mike Allen reported Sunday that Olbermann’s suspension stemmed from his refusal to apologize on the air for the contributions, which would have permitted him to remain as the program’s host. 

Olbermann has been a leading progressive voice in a media landscape increasingly dominated by opinionated news commentators who have strayed from objective reporting and garnered higher ratings in the process. On “Countdown,” Olbermann had criticized News Corp., the parent company of MSNBC rival Fox News, for its $1 million donation to the Republican Governors Association.  

Olbermann’s donations to unsuccessful Kentucky Senate candidate and state Attorney General Jack Conway, who was defeated by Tea Party favorite Rand Paul, and to members of the Arizona delegation Reps. Gabrielle Giffords and Raul Grijalva have raised questions about media ethics. The contributions occurred the same day Olbermann interviewed Grijalva on his program.

Olbermann said in a statement to Politico, “I did not privately or publicly encourage anyone else to donate to these campaigns, nor to any others in this election or any previous ones, nor have I previously donated to any political campaign at any level.”

Aujla did not return an e-mail request for comment.

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