Keith Olbermann's "indefinite" suspension ends after just four days

by Paul William Tenny

Keith Olbermann

There's not much to this part of the story, other than to say that the New York Time's TV reporter, Brian Stelter, reported on Twitter (laugh it up) that Keith Olbermann's "indefinite" suspension will end after Monday, November 8th. That means it will have lasted a grand total of two business days, or less time than you might miss with a bad cold.

It was never possible that Olbermann would be fired. First and foremost, he recently renegotiated upwards an already expensive contract with MSNBC that would keep him with the network through 2012, worth at least $30 million. The "suspended indefinitely without pay" statement was misleading for two reasons.

It wasn't indefinite because MSNBC would have been forced to bring back Olbermann after a short time once Countdown's ratings crashed, and it wasn't without pay because all contracts (except in the NFL) are guaranteed. Even if the network benched Olbermann for the remainder of his contract, they'd still have to pay him. And Countdown is the network's highest rated and therefore most profitable program. More than that, Olbermann is directly responsible for recruiting the host of its second highest rated program, Rachel Maddow.

Olbermann is said to be more important to MSNBC than Phil Griffin because of what he's done for the prime time lineup(that Griffin hasn't done) and what MSNBC has intimated about his importance through his contract perks. Among those perks was several short appearances on the flagship product NBC Nightly News, and for a short time, a regular spot on NBC's pregame NFL show, hosting a 2008 Democratic presidential debate, and anchoring the news desk during the Republican National Convention.

With all this debate over whether or not NBC's journalistic standards applied to Olbermann as an opinion host (it appears they didn't and were selectively and inappropriately applied only to Olbermann), it's ironic that most of Olbermann's appearances behind the news desk came because MSNBC wanted to spread around their most popular and successful host to other parts of the network schedule.

Not because it's what Olbermann wanted. To the contrary, Olbermann stated he was relieved to have been pulled from news duty during the RNC - and agreed with the decision - so that he could return to doing analysis and sharing his opinion.

The question now, according to Stelter - and I have no problem believing this - is whether or not Olbermann will make the decision to return.

I don't believe that Keith Olbermann is the person he used to be, that would walk away from MSNBC and Countdown over something like this. He's allowed a great deal of latitude on what he can say on that show and it seems likely that if he returns, he'll take advantage of that privilege.

Olbermann has plenty of venues in which to share his thoughts already. He has 145,000 Twitter followers (which he thanked for their support but has said little else) and an account on Daily Kos. Should he wish to, I'm rather certain Olbermann could be published in any newspaper's op-ed section in the country or appear on David Letterman's show at-will, especially given the magnitude of this idiotic scandal.

That he's gone quiet tells me that either he's been trying to decide how best to respond to this without blowing up and having nothing good come of it, or that he's been working behind the scenes this entire time to put an end to it as soon as possible.

If Olbermann intended to walk, there would be little reason for him to stay silent about it. I think we all know that it's not in Keith Olbermann's nature to internalize and shut down, and it's now clear that MSNBC is caving on this SNAFU as hard and fast as they can.

Update: Here's NBC's press release on this. Sounds like Phil Griffin either got heat from above, from every possible direction, or realized on his own what a stupid mistake he had made. (h/t Think Progress).

Update 2: Rosa Sow, community manager at wrote me about a video they put together discussing Olbermann's suspension. It's mostly a compilation of cable news reports, but it gives all the necessary background to this event that is lacking from this post and this site. It's embedded below:

in News, Television


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Phil screwed the whole thing up. Now Keith's back, but Ed Shultz is still there. And crazy. His promo for the network says it all:
Olbermann returning Tuesday is a victory for the First Amendment and the power of viewers to have their opinions heard.
The only thing that could make this better would be if MSNBC found a permanent full-time role for fill-in anchor Thomas Roberts, who was dropped from CNN after refusing to hide the fact that he is gay.

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