Olbermann, economics, and voting

Keith Olbermann was suspended from reporting for MSNBC, where he has a prestigious job delivering the news in front of a camera. The company had a clause stating that all donations had to be run past the bosses, so the question isn’t whether or not they had any reason to do this. The question is:

How is Olbermann giving money significantly different from stating his opinion on who’s a good candidate and who’s not?

@nozaku noted:

According to my ethics prof, only giving money is direct support

But I contend that the division between direct and indirect support is an artificial distinction. What we really should be asking is what kind of a difference something can make. Campaign contribution rules use this very logic: everyone gives dollars, and putting a cap on the number of dollars is a very easy way to limit how much of a difference each person can make.

Keith Olbermann’s word, on his program, is worth millions of dollars. This is an economic reality (consider the cost of ads in that time slot, which are not exactly the same thing, but can establish a ballpark figure.) Since he is already throwing the equivalent of at least $2.4 million behind whatever candidate he supports, what is the point in raising a fuss over another $2400, or 0.01%? It’s a small number compared to what is already going on – no matter what, he exhibits disproportionate influence over voters.

If we are truly concerned with equity we should assess the economics of coverage, and the influence a few people have over millions of voters. Sure, the networks can make up their own rules and then follow them doggedly, in an attempt to convince us that this shows their ethical backbone. But this is game-playing according to arbitrary rules they made up for themselves, plain and simple, and we shouldn’t dignify the farce.

Published in: on November 6, 2010 at 3:55 PM  Leave a Comment  
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