By Greg Sargent
Check out the fine print of what NBC policy said, as of 2007, about political activities on the part of NBC employees:
"Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Such activities may include participation in or contributions to political campaigns or groups that espouse controversial positions. You should report any such potential conflicts in advance to, and obtain prior approval of, the President of NBC News or his designee."
Emphasis mine. This is a bit difficult to parse. But this does seem to say that those who are worried that their "standing as an impartial journalist" would be jeopardized by political activity should report it. Last time I checked, Keith Olbermann doesn't pretend to be an "impartial journalist."
Likewise, neither do Joe Scarborough or Pat Buchanan, both of whom have also given political contributions. It seems possible that none of these three would think they may have violated company policy.
Odder still, an anonymous NBC insider told Gawker that it's common knowledge within the organization that MSNBC's left-leaning personalities aren't necessarily required to follow NBC News rules. That makes sense, since MSNBC is pushing the envelope politically in a way NBC, obviously, isn't.
Again: We don't know yet what happened here. MSNBC's P.R. department is not responding to inquiries about whether Scarborough or Buchanan notified MSNBC brass before making their contributions. But it's certainly fair to ask, if they're axing Olbermann.
The fact that it's not even crystal clear that Olbermann violated NBC policy suggests that this could be a pretext for getting rid of him because he has difficult relations with management, or worse, because MSNBC is terrified of critics who claim it's becoming the lefty version of Fox News.
Until we learn more, the network's case against Olbermann is looking increasingly tenuous.