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November 08, 2010

Keith Olbermann: "Phil Griffin Thinks He's My Boss"
Phil Griffin: "I Guess I Don't Think That Anymore"

Keith Olbermann threatened to walk -- a silly threat, considering he's got nowhere else to go -- to get MSNBC management to drop its demand he apologize on-air for his breaking of the rules.

At Hot Air, MSNBC caved.

Olbermann will be tomorrow night, more unhinged than ever, as he knows that he can do whatever he likes without management taking any kind of action against him.

Suspend him? Heck, Bathtub Boy loves suspensions. He gets to cry his his bath and strike the pose of maligned martyr while doing so.

MSNBC says Keith Olbermann will be back on the air Tuesday, ending his suspension for violating NBC’s rules against making political donations after two shows.

MSNBC’s chief executive Phil Griffin said late Sunday that after several days of deliberation, he had determined that two days off the air was “an appropriate punishment for his violation of our policy.”

Most of the rightward commentary centers on whether this prohibition even makes sense in the first place, given that Olbermann donates a hell of a lot more than $2400 to Democrats every night in terms of partisan advocacy.

That's true enough. It's also an example of an effect written about by Glenn Reynolds.

One of the longest-lasting residues of Watergate is the vetting industry: a mountain of regulations, committees, consultants, and special prosecutors dedicated to detecting and/or eradicating something called the appearance of impropriety. But for all this effort, it's hardly true that people in government and business are more ethical than they used to be. That disconnection is the point of departure for this book. The problem that Peter Morgan and Glenn Reynolds address is that the notion that all this energy is directed toward--the appearance of impropriety--is horribly obscure (Is it a conflict of interest, Michael Kinsley once wondered, to have a second child?). It's also subject to political whims and fads and, most important, not all that connected to what we should really be bearing down on: actual impropriety.

"Ethics," in modern practice, basically consists of taking what the law would term mala in se offenses (bad in and of themselves; the sort of thing that people have a visceral, morality-based reaction to) and turning them into fairly minor mala prohbiata offenses (bad only because they're prohibited by state action).

More importantly, though, the nature of the prohibited behavior is seriously mutated: Don't be partisan, unfair, and biased in reportage becomes merely Don't get caught donating to a political party. And a clean bill of health on the latter is taken to be a clean bill of health on the former-- which, of course, it's not.

This is of course self-serving nonsense. "Ethics" in modern practice has simply become a method of evading actual ethical behavior by creating a checklist of Don'ts which are almost entirely unrelated to the actual ethical transaction; compliance with this silly list of Don'ts allows actors to violate the real ethics of the profession like there's no tomorrow.

The whole nomenclature of "appearance of impropriety" gives the game away-- only the appearance of impropriety is barred, while genuine impropriety is allowed (and, in fact, encouraged).

It is noteworthy that not only is actual impropriety encouraged, but they've now given up entirely on even policing appearance of impropriety, too.

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