We’ll need to wait for the facts to come in before we know exactly what was behind Olbermann’s departure. But there have been signs for some time that he and MSNBC might part company, starting with the hiring of Lawrence O’Donnell to host what had been a 10 p.m. rebroadcast of Olbermann’s 8 p.m. show. (I hadn’t seen much of Keith since the move.) New York Times reporter Brian Stelter tweets that the O’Donnell hire was a “hedge” against the possibility that Olbermann would leave.
Given Olbermann’s reputation for being volatile and difficult, I thought he might quit after he got suspended last fall for making political donations without permission. He came back, but he seemed diminished after that. In recent months, Rachel Maddow has emerged as the face of MSNBC, hosting a series of public events at the 92nd Street Y*. Her hour-long exchange with Jon Stewart was the most intelligent conversation about the news that I saw in 2010.
Cable giant Comcast, as we all know, just won approval for its acquisition of NBC Universal, which includes MSNBC. Could this be one of those Comcastic moves we all love? Not likely. For Comcast executives to move against Olbermann so quickly would suggest an unimaginable political tone-deafness. And I can’t picture Olbermann signing off without saying anything if that were the case.
MSNBC executives tonight should be thanking their stars that Olbermann came along when he did. It was he who led the way toward transforming the operation into a liberal alternative to Fox News — a profitable network that, though still far behind Fox, kicks CNN’s tail in the ratings.
Maddow, who’s friends with Olbermann, will be live on Bill Maher’s show in a few minutes. I don’t subscribe to HBO, but perhaps she’ll shed some light on what happened.
*Correction: I originally referred to the “92nd Street YMCA.” In fact, it is affiliated with a Jewish organization, the YMHA.