Gone from Sunday Night Football, Olbermann leaves NBC-U entirely

by Paul William Tenny

Keith Olbermann

Everyone knows by now that Keith Olbermann is out at MSNBC, probably for the last time. He was with the network in 1997 but quit the following year in protest of MSNBC's obsession with the Monica Lewinsky "scandal", saying that it had made him sick, depressed, and ashamed.

Though substantiated information is hard to find -- part of the separation agreement allegedly involves a period of silence from both parties -- it's easy to believe that some combination of those feelings led to his departure the second time around. Olbermann was suspended in November for making campaign donations without clearing them with management, an activity prohibited at NBC News but not MSNBC.

MSNBC never explained why it was suddenly holding one of its hosts to another division's ethics standards, why it hadn't done so until this past year, and why it suspended Olbermann initially but not Joe Scarborough, who had done the same thing years before.

Scarborough was later suspended after waves of criticism that Olbermann was being singled out.

There are plenty of people speculating about the how and why of this mess, with the only new information to come out since Friday being that Olbermann will have to say off the air for an unknown length of time. Apparently he was such a nuisance that MSNBC had to pay him a couple million dollars to quit, but he's so valuable that they couldn't possibly allow a competitor to pick him up afterward.

People immediately blamed Comcast, which just won approval from the Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission a few days prior to Olbermann's departure to buy a majority stake in NBC Universal, the majority owner of MSNBC. Others pointed out that Comcast hasn't yet fully realized operational control over NBC Universal (and probably won't for many months) and Comcast itself (through accountability-free anonymous statements) claims it was afraid that it would be blamed if Olbermann quit just before the buyout got the green light.

That would seem to imply that Comcast knew this was coming and knew it was going to take the blame no matter when the separation happened, but there's no proof of that or anything else at this point.

It's worth considering though that it's technically possible for Comcast to not have been directly responsible for the departure, while still being indirectly responsible.

Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC, has been at odds with Olbermann for several years and has never liked the liberal tilt of the network (but has never seemed to have a problem with a former Republican Congressmen hosting a three hour show every weekday) and didn't need much of an excuse to feel justified to act. It's possible that Griffin is trying to ingratiate himself with Comcast by removing what he sees as the primary target of outside criticism of the network, and someone that Griffin sees as a liability rather than an asset.

If not for Comcast, Griffin may not have felt that he could get away with firing the network's most valuable asset or may not have felt that he could professionally benefit from it.

Griffin's additions to the network in Ed Schultz and Lawrence O'Donnell haven't been nearly as successful as Olbermann and Maddow, and under Griffin's watch, the network just lost its highest rated program and a host so valuable that he regularly anchored the news desk during breaking news events, anchored the news desk along with Christ Matthews for some of the Republican National Convention coverage, moderated a 2008 Democratic primary debate, appeared on NBC's pre-game NFL show, and was contracted to make multiple appearances on the NBC Nightly News.

Oblermann was removed from Football Night in America last year without explanation, perhaps indicating that this move was not weeks in the making as has been claimed by anonymous MSNBC sources, but was set in motion months ago.

In the end, it's true that Olbermann left because he wanted to leave, and because Griffin wanted him gone -- neither side could have arbitrarily broken Olbermann's contract. And so we may never know more beyond that.

But what does the future hold?

Lawrence O'Donnel will move from 10pm to 8pm, causing MSNBC to make substantially less money from the lower rated program, which will also hurt Maddow's show from having to suffer a much weaker lead-in. Olbermann hasn't touched Twitter but is posting some things on his Facebook page and has hinted that some information will be forthcoming as soon as possible, just not what that information may be.

in Television


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