Neutrality and the News Media – Was Olbermann’s Suspension Fair?

After a brief suspension that caused him to miss two episodes of "Countdown With Keith Olberman," MSNBC's Keith Olbermann is set to return to the air Tuesday night. Olbermann was given the "timeout" for making political contributions to a number of Democratic campaigns without informing his bosses at  NBC.

The dust-up raises an interesting question for the modern age - should the news media even pretend to be objective?

Some argue that the days of the neutral fact-reporting newsman have passed and that new standards should be applied to meet the needs of an evolving technological and communications based society. The New York Time's David Carr wrote Sunday that “MSNBC is enforcing a set of standards meant to apply either to another entity — NBC News — or another era, when news people had to act as if they didn’t have political rooting interests. The game has changed, but the rules remain the same, at least at some media outlets.”

The rules at MSNBC allow on-air personalities to make political contributions, so long as their bosses are informed. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, supporting the decision to temporarily suspend Olberman while simultaneously calling for his reinstatement, stated that, "We are not a political operation. Fox is. We are a news operation. And the rules around here are part of how you know that.”

Fox News, which has no prohibitions in place on news personalities' political activities, had over 30 on-air personalities endorse or contribute to political campaigns in the 2010 midterm election cycle. News Corporation, the Rupert Murdoch owned parent company of Fox News, has openly supported Republican candidates, including a $1 million contribution to the Republican Governor's Association this past summer. Fox's open political support of the right has led the White House to characterize Fox News as "either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party."

In a time where political divisions in the United States run deep, some important questions remain unanswered. Where do we draw the line between objective neutral news reporting and unfiltered opinion in a way that viewers can clearly understand? And should we even be encouraging our supposed news-sources to share their often inflammatory opinions in the first place?