There was a big flap a couple of weeks ago about Keith Olbermann’s suspension for making political donations. Many blogs and articles were written about it, rumors abounded, and various campaigns were directed at MSNBC to restore him to the air. What bothered me about it was not that he was suspended. If there’s a company policy against something, and you violate it, you pay a price for that. That’s what most of us live with in our working life. What bothered me was that making it “indefinite” was just plain lousy management technique. If you’re going to suspend someone, you want to set a time frame on it. Otherwise, you either look like you caved if it’s a short time, or you’re being vindictive if it’s a long time. There is no “win” there. As it ended up, it was for two days. Keith returned to the air, and was notably not particularly contrite about it.
That’s why today’s announcement that Joe Scarborough has been suspended was interesting. He’s being suspended for the same offense – making political donations. What’s the difference?
MSNBC said Friday that it is suspending “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough for two days after he acknowledged giving eight previously unknown $500 contributions to friends and family members running for state and local offices during his tenure at the network, a violation of parent NBC’s ban on political contributions by employees without specific permission from the network president.
“I recognize that I have a responsibility to honor the guidelines and conditions of my employment, and I regret that I failed to do so in this matter,” Scarborough said in a statement. “I apologize to MSNBC and to anyone who has been negatively affected by my actions,” he said, adding that after he was made aware of some of the contributions, he called MSNBC President Phil Griffin “and agreed with Phil’s immediate demand of a two-day suspension without pay.”
It appears that Phil Griffin learned from the Olbermann fiasco. Yes, Joe broke the rules, but instead of slapping him with an “indefinite” suspension, he gave a fixed time. Which, one might note, is the same time that Olbermann served. It’s fair, it sends a message that the company rules are there and will be enforced, and it’s decisive. Which is exactly what he should have done in Olbermann’s case. Apparently the furor taught him a lesson he should have known in the first place, but experience is often a harsh teacher.
There’s something else that I notice. Unlike Keith, Joe accepted responsibility, apologized for the error, and accepted his punishment. Keith should learn something from Joe.