Keith Olbermann, MSNBC's best-known anchor and lightening
rod broadcast his final show on the network Friday.
In an on-air farewell on Countdown, Olbermann said he had been told that this was his last
show, which might indicate he'd been fired by NBC Universal, which had
suspended him in November for making campaign donations to Democrats. But he
also said there had been times that "all that surrounded the show . . . were too
much for me."
The reason for the departure was not immediately clear. "MSNBC and Keith
Olbermann have ended their contract," said the network in a statement
released as Olbermann went off the air. "MSNBC thanks Keith for his
integral role in MSNBC's success and we wish him well in his future
NBCU this week moved a step closer to being controlled by Comcast Corp., with
the FCC approving the cable giant's transaction with General Electric, NBCU's
current owner. The deal is expected to be finalized Jan. 28.
Given Olbermann's outspoken persona and his anti-establishment views, there has
been speculation that Comcast would be less tolerant of his behavior on-air and
behind the scenes with management.
One insider said that Comcast was informed of the deal made to terminate
Olbermann's contract before it was announced, but that it was not involved
in the decision.
Comcast spokeswoman Sena
Fitzmaurice confirmed: "Comcast has not closed the transaction for NBC Universal
and has no operational control at any of its properties including MSNBC.
We pledged from the
day the deal was announced that we would not interfere with NBC
Universal's news operations. We have not and we will not."
An MSNBC spokesman would not comment on the situation beyond the network's
Comcast said back in November it had no role in the suspension or reinstatement
"Comcast is not in any way involved with decisions made currently by
NBC News," the company said in a statement in November. "We have
pledged that when the transaction is concluded, Comcast will abide by the same
policies for NBC's news and public affairs programming that have been in place
since GE acquired the company in 1986. Comcast is committed to the independence
of NBC's news operations."
MSNBC had to shuffle its lineup in the wake of Olbermann's exit, a move made
easier by the emergence of Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell as anchors
whose shows on some nights draw more viewers than Olbermann's program
On Monday, The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell will move from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m.,
with The Ed Show will move from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Countdown had been airing at 8-9
p.m. The Rachel Maddow Show remains at 9 p.m. O'Donnell will repeat at 11 p.m.,
replacing an Olbermann rebroadcast, and Cenk Uygur, MSNBC contributor and
host of Web show "The Young Turks," will fill in as host of the 6
Olbermann helped MSNBC build viewership by taking on President George W. Bush
and Fox News, attacking both with features such as "Worst Person In the World."
He particularly went after Fox host Bill O'Reilly. The tension between the two
hosts required high-level intervention from executives at both GE and Fox News
parent News Corp.
Olbermann also created enemies inside and he was close to being fired a few
times in addition to the campaign contribution issue in November. In his
farewell broadcast, he thanked a large number of people, but did not include either
NBC News President Steve Capus or MSNBC boss Phil Griffin.
Of Olbermann's departure, Adam Green of the Progressive Change
Campaign Committee said, "Keith Olbermann did real journalism and spoke truth to power during the
Bush years when most reporters fell down on the job. For that, he is a
hero to many Americans -- including the 300,000 people who signed our
BoldProgressives.org petition to put Keith
back on the air last November." Olbermann had donated to two candidates endorsed by Green's PAC.
"A lot of people are trying to figure out if this was truly
voluntary or not, with some noting that the Comcast-NBC merger was
approved by President Obama's FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski just this
week," Green added. "We'll see what develops. But regardless,
Keith: Good night and good luck."