The news that MSNBC is removing Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews from its anchor desk for political night coverage has been well reported with solid context by the Associated Press, but there are layers and layers to this story.
The political war-room operation that author David Brock termed "The Republican Noise Machine" in his book of the same title has tried in the past to target CNN anchors Wolf Blitzer and Campbell Brown in an effort to fire up hard-core conservative supporters. The machine in its present incarnation went after Brown last week during the GOP convention because she dared to ask follow-up questions of Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for Sen. John McCain. She had every right to keep asking the question she did until she got an answer.
But the attacks on CNN have largely failed, because Jon Klein, the cable channel's president, has insisted that his reporters and anchors report stories and do interviews by "playing it straight down the middle," as he has termed it in recent interviews with me.
MSNBC, on the other hand, has all but abandoned a journalism of facts and verification in favor of propaganda and ideological bombast with Olbermann -- and now, Air America's Rachel Maddow. And the cable channel has become no better than Fox News on the right with Bill O'Reiily.
The great danger is that MSNBC's move to the left has already done damage to the NBC News brand it shares by nature of such first-rate and balanced journalists as David Gregory appearing there on a regular basis.
This Presidential election is a once-in-lifetime political event with audiences measured in the tens of millions, and it looks like MSNBC has blown its chance to be a credible and trusted source of news and information by letting Olbermann rule the roost.
I think the cable channel executives have made a big mistake -- and one that is ultimately going to hurt NBC in the corporate pocketbook. Replacing Olbermann and Matthews with Gregory was an excellent choice, but it might be too late.
(NBC Photo of Keith Olbermann by Chris Haston)