The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

06 November 2010

Olbermann Suspension Likely Of His Own Making


Keith May Have Pushed New Employer Too Far


When news breaks as quickly and mysteriously as Friday's sudden suspension of MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, readily-accepted theories on the cause can prove wildly incorrect. It's a strange story, particularly as a few conservatives object to his removal on these grounds (which bothers some media lefties).

That's why it's worth sniffing around a bit for some real answers. Was the primetime cable talker really yanked from the airwaves as a result of undisclosed campaign contributions?

According to one inside source in the cable news industry, it may be just part of the reason. First, Olbermann's long been known for primadonna antics behind the scenes, including frequent threats to quit for reasons that may seem quite silly to the rest of us.

With new owners in place, what may have been excused by one company is not tolerated by another. Comcast may well be sending Olbermann a message that his behavior must change.

In addition, according to the source, Olbermann created his own conflict by placing himself above others, claiming objectivity. Of course, it's absurd to think of an analyst that way, he's a talk host, not a news anchor. But somehow, Keith expects us to believe he's above all of that. He's long portrayed himself as a journalist, which is absurd.

MSNBC hasn't helped matters by allowing him to sit in the anchor's desk on election night, blurring the distinction between news and talk.

And further muddling the picture is fellow host Rachel Maddow, who laughably claimed Friday evening that the cable talk channel "is not a political operation". Cable blogger Johnny Dollar recently blew that assertion to bits, providing examples of on-air activism for candidates.

Many have already made the comparison between Olbermann and Fox News Channel counterparts who have also contributed to candidates. But Fox has its own set of policies and it's up to that network to enforce them if there are violations.

The issue at hand is between Keith and NBC. At the same time, the latter has certainly not uniformly enforced its standards. But that's their problem, isn't it? Does that demand a sudden and sweeping new crusade against political activism in broadcasting that threatens nearly everyone in the medium?

In the meantime, MSNBC has a mess on its hands: how many other of its on-air personalities have donated to candidates? Joe Scarborough has, was that disclosed? Are the standards uniform?

Talk radio mostly settled this debate many years ago: hosts who have roles in campaigns shouldn't talk about the race on the air. Contributions to candidates aren't considered a big deal because talkers serve as advocates and it's only natural to assume they'd back that up with their pocketbooks.

The bottom line: it's easy to over-analyze network management's motives when it's more likely to be a case of new owners unwilling to shell out big money for a huge ego and see no ratings payoff.

Could Comcast decide MSNBC as a whole is no longer worth the trouble? Such a decision could prove a relief to NBC itself, where some are said to find it embarrassing.


  • I have a feeling that there might be some at NBC-U who feel Olbermann is not worth the headaches he causes. He has a long history of diva behaviour & burning bridges. He has 2 years left on a contract that pays him about $8million a year, & maybe Comcast would'nt mind getting rid of him for cause & save themselves about $16million for a guy they did'nt hire. Maybe he's gone for good, & as much as I want him gone, my guess is he'll be back.

    By Anonymous danybhoy, at 07 November, 2010 08:18  

  • I don't really care if he donates to candidates. The whole channel is a 24/7 Democrat campaign anyways.

    By Blogger United Citizens Council, at 07 November, 2010 17:58  

  • Keith is a known quantity. We know what's what with him. At least with Keith, I wouldn't be afraid to step into an elevator with him. Ed Schultz is another story. I'd be afraid for my life. His msnbc promo says it all:

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10 November, 2010 17:29  

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