MSNBC suspends another host for political gifts

NEW YORK Fri Nov 19, 2010 3:42pm EST

Joe Scarborough, host of ''Morning Joe'', takes part in the NBC News Decision '08 panel at the NBC Universal summer press tour in Beverly Hills, California July 21, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

Joe Scarborough, host of ''Morning Joe'', takes part in the NBC News Decision '08 panel at the NBC Universal summer press tour in Beverly Hills, California July 21, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Fred Prouser

NEW YORK (Reuters) - MSNBC television suspended conservative morning host Joe Scarborough for two days for giving money to political candidates, meting out the same punishment given to liberal host Keith Olbermann two weeks ago for a similar offense.

Scarborough said the donations went to his brother and three longtime family friends and he wrongly believed the personal nature of the gifts exempted him from the NBC News policy on campaign contributions.

"This morning Joe Scarborough informed me that he made eight contributions of $500 each to local candidates in Florida between 2004-08," MSNBC President Phil Griffin said in a statement.

"Since he did not seek or receive prior approval for these contributions, Joe understands that I will be suspending him for violating our policy."

Scarborough will return to his "Morning Joe" program on Wednesday.

The policy is adopted from that of NBC News, MSNBC's broadcast partner, which attempts to protect the news organization's image as unbiased.

But MSNBC has become a mostly liberal counterpart to conservative rival Fox News, especially during the evening lineup of news shows in which Olbermann serves as the face of the cable network and often criticizes Fox, as he did when Fox's parent company, News Corp, donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association.

Scarborough is a moderate conservative voice and host of the less politically skewed "Morning Joe."

Olbermann and other commentators criticized the MSNBC policy as out of step with modern television journalism, in which cable networks have taken on a distinctly political bent. Olbermann makes no pretense of being impartial.

Scarborough supported the network's effort in "maintaining the integrity of its highly respected brand."

"These contributions were nothing more than simple acts of friendship," Scarborough said in a statement. "To be blunt, I had no interest in their campaigns other than being kind to longtime friends."

Days before the November 2 congressional elections, Olbermann gave contributions of $2,400 each to Jack Conway, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, and to two members of the House of Representatives from Arizona, Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords.

MSNBC and NBC News are part of NBC Universal.

Comcast Corp is in the process of buying a majority stake in NBC Universal from General Electric Co, which would give it control of the NBC TV network.

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)