Keith Olbermann exits MSNBC; reasons why remain elusive

MSNBC host Keith Olbermann said he has taped his last "Countdown" down.

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Monday, January 24, 2011; 8:31 AM

Keith Olbermann has left MSNBC. As Paul Farhi reported:

Keith Olbermann, the combative left-leaning anchor of MSNBC's most popular program, "Countdown," surprised viewers Friday night by announcing that the show would be his last. Olbermann said he had been told by MSNBC that the cable network was ending his contract.

Although neither the network nor Olbermann publicly cited a reason for his abrupt departure, the relationship ran into trouble in November when MSNBC suspended Olbermann for two days for making campaign contributions to three political candidates, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was severely wounded in a Jan. 8 shooting.

There are no immediate answers to why the departure: As Paul Farhi reported:

Though neither side was talking Saturday about the events that led Olbermann to annouce his departure on his show Friday night, the split appeared to have been long in the making - weeks certainly, and perhaps months, given his suspension in November for campaign contributions that violated company policy.

Olbermann and MSNBC are operating under an exit agreement, the product of lengthy negotiations, that limits each side from commenting publicly, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions. The agreement also ties Olbermann to a "non-compete" provision that will prevent him from appearing on a competing TV network for an undisclosed period.

Olbermann did not return e-mails seeking comment and remained silent Saturday on Twitter, where he often voices his opinions.

In an interview Saturday, MSNBC President Phil Griffin - a frequent target of Olbermann's broadsides within MSNBC - declined to talk about the reasons for the sudden loss of his top-rated attraction. Instead, Griffin accentuated the positive, stressing that MSNBC had a deep enough talent pool to get along without Olbermann (Lawrence O'Donnell, who hosts the network's 10 p.m. program will take over Olbermann's prime 8 p.m. spot starting Monday).

"We're in great shape," Griffin said. ". . . I don't think we'll lose a beat." He added, "I love what we're doing and I love what we've achieved as a network. I'm confident about our future."

Jennifer Rubin offered a take from the conservative point of view:

It is remarkable, actually, that he lasted as long as he did.

For starters, the virulent anti-Bush sentiment that he championed, and around which the left-leaning network built its image, has played out. The country doesn't hate George W. Bush. In fact, undiluted pro-Obama sentiment has played itself out. Like 1970's wide ties, Olbermann is out of sync with the current political ethos. When Obama is moving to the center and political elites -- minus Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) - are making a fuss over civility, MSNBC is suddenly so yesterday. Actually, so 2006.

Greg Sargent offered one from the left:

Olbermann's departure signals no change of direction at MSNBC? As Keach Hagey notes, one of the odder things about his departure is that it comes just as MSNBC is "doubling-down on an attempt to build a loyal audience with a left-leaning programming strategy."

And: Olbermann may have been discussing his departure with network brass for weeks.


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