South Dakota news anchor suspended for Tea Party participation

posted at 7:04 pm on April 28, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Let a thousand tu quoques commence!  For once, though, conservatives may have some impulse to defend a member of the mainstream media.  Shad Olson, a Rapid City, South Dakota TV news anchorman, will return to the air soon after completing a suspension received for his participation in a Tax Day Tea Party rally:

KOTA TV newsman Shad Olson will be back on the air soon, following a disciplinary suspension from his news anchor duties in the Rapid City coverage area because of his speech at a tea party rally.

Olson was taken off the air locally a few days after his April 15 speech at the Citizens for Liberty tax day rally in Memorial Park.

“Shad’s speech to the tax day rally was a lapse in ethics, so we took appropriate action,” KOTA news director John Petersen said.

Petersen said Olson will resume his anchor duties for KOTA at some point in the near future, but declined to offer a date. He also declined to discuss specifics of the disciplinary action taken against Olson.

Olson gave an impassioned speech at the rally, as reported at the time by the Rapid City Journal:

Featured rally speaker Shad Olson, a news anchor for KOTA TV, spoke of misconceptions about the makeup of tea party participants.

“Did you all forget your militias?” Olson said, referring to allegations of militia influence in tea party gatherings. “We must have forgotten to notify the militia.”

Olson also noted the absence of insulting, profane signs or misspelled slogans. He said most Americans agree with the tea party mission, once they understand its consistent place in American history.

“The point is, most people agree with us; they just haven’t been taught enough history to know they agree with us,” he said.

Olson said the group is “not radical.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch got Peterson to state that “a journalist should not participate … A journalist should report the news, not make the news.” Olson responded by pointing out that no one had discerned his politics after several years of anchoring the news, which demonstrated his ability to report without bias. Olson’s unlikely to press his case further, and his return will certainly be closely watched by KOTA management and his audience after this contretemps.

Will conservatives defend Olson? Dan Rather took a lot of heat for speaking at a Democratic fundraiser in Texas, which conservatives used to paint him as biased. Rather claimed that he didn’t know the event was a fundraiser, but as the Washington Post reported at the time, he wasn’t exactly contrite about it, either. His management at CBS had a different opinion, but didn’t suspend Rather, calling it an “honest oversight.”

Olson’s appearance didn’t involve fundraising, or even partisan identification. However, it still speaks to the basic problem for supposedly objective journalists and political activism. The Tea Party is at least philosophically opposed to the current agenda of the Democratic Party, even if its activists aren’t entirely sold on the GOP, either. A keynote speech would not be a problem for an opinion journalist, but for a reporter? I suspect that had we seen Brian Williams as a speaker at an antiwar rally in 2004, he’d still be hearing about it from conservative critics. While reporters are American citizens like anyone else and have the right to participate in the political process, their publishers/editors have the right to consider whether that erodes confidence in their product, too.

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