Programming

MSNBC Drops Olbermann, Matthews as Election Anchors

Outspoken duo demoted to analysts for debates, election-night coverage. 9/08/2008 08:25:00 AM Eastern

Keith Olbermann's and Chris Matthews' often-controversial tenure as co-anchors of MSNBC’s election coverage came to an end. Instead, David Gregory, NBC News’ chief White House correspondent, will anchor election night, the three presidential debates and the one vice-presidential debate.

Olbermann, the outspoken host of Countdown, will continue to host his primetime show and will be available as an analyst for the remaining events, as will Matthews.

NBC News spokeswoman Allison Gollust said in an e-mail message to B&C that relieving Olbermann of his anchor duties “clarifies” Olbermann’s role.

“It doesn’t diminish his role on Countdown or its importance to MSNBC,” she wrote.

According to a report in The New York Times, executives at NBC News and parent company NBC Universal made the switch after growing concerns that Olbermann, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, and Matthews were affecting perceptions of NBC News as an impartial news source.

When VP nominee Sarah Palin criticized the media during her speech at the Republican convention, delegates began chanting, “NBC.” Olbermann’s co-anchor, Matthews, a somewhat lesser target of Republican ire, was also demoted to the role of analyst.

It didn’t help that Matthews and Olbermann engaged in on-air squabbles and put-downs during coverage (watch a clip below) of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. The two were separated when network executives decided to keep Olbermann in New York to quarterback MSNBC’s coverage of Hurricane Gustav rather than sending him to St. Paul, Minn., for the Republican National Convention.

The tipping point apparently came last week when Olbermann took issue -- during MSNBC’s Republican National Convention coverage -- of an RNC video showing scenes from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, including video of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center.

“I found it ironic and instructive that I could have easily said exactly what I did say, exactly when I did say it, if I had been wearing a different hat, and nobody would have taken any issue,” Olbermann told The New York Times.

MSNBC has received persistent complaints from the campaigns of Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

During the hard-fought Democratic primary between Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Clinton, the Clinton campaign accused MSNBC of bias and specifically denounced comments made by Matthews and correspondent David Shuster, who mused that Chelsea Clinton was being “pimped out” by her mother’s campaign. Matthews’ “thrill going up my leg” line about Obama became the tag line of a McCain-campaign Web ad purporting media bias in favor of Obama.

Countdown, which was launched in 2003, is the network’s top-rated program and an intended left-leaning counterweight to Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly and his The O'Reilly Factor.

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