MSNBC suspended host Keith Olbermann Friday only a few hours after Politico reported that the controversial cable TV personality had give money to three Democratic candidates that he and the channel had on his show during the recent midterm election.
MSNBC President Phil Griffin said Friday afternoon that Olbermann had been suspended without pay.
"Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay," Griffin said in a statement posted at msnbc.com.
The suspension could prove to be a major move by MSNBC based on how long it lasts. And I think MSNBC's sincerity and credibility will be measured in direct proportion to the length of time that Olbermann is off the air.
Even though Olbermann gets trounced in the ratings by a margin of two to one by Bill O'Reilly, of Fox News, he finishes ahead of everyone else at 8 p.m. Taking his show out of the lineup could have a disastrous effect on the prime-time shows that follow, which are hosted by Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell. Too bad CNN is stuck with dead-in-the-water "Parker-Spitzer" at 8 p.m. weeknights and doesn't have a show that could capitalize on the windfall Olbermann's stunning act of self-destruction just handed the last-place prime-time cable channel.
UPDATE 8 p.m.: Thomas Roberts was in Olbermann's seat at the start of "Countdown." It looks like MSNBC President Phil Griffin had to go pretty deep into the talent pool before he could find someone at MSNBC who hadn't contributed to a political candidate. The Wall Street Journal reported that MSNBC has first tabbed MSNBC contributor Chris Hayes as Olbermann's substitute, but then reversed that decision after finding out later in the day Hayes also had made political contributions.
But Hayes has a tweet up at Huffington that says: "OK: I'm not filling in on Countdown tonight because I didn't feel comfortable doing it given the circumstances."
Talk about a mess. I did not think I would live to see a cable channel having more misery at 8 p.m. than CNN has with the misguided "Parker Spitzer." But for one night anyway, MSNBC looks to be in every bit as much confusion and pain.
But no matter what the cost in prime-time ratings, MSNBC management had little choice but to suspend Olbermann.
First, Olbermann's contributions to three candidates were a clear violation of company policy -- and it is a policy that cuts to the heart of journalistic independence and the channel's credibility.
Second, Griffin has gone on the record in recent weeks attacking competitor Fox as a fund-raising arm of the Republican Party -- and saying his channel engages in no such partisan activities.
Third, there is unhappiness among several of the respected newsmen and newswomen at NBC News whose duties include appearing on MSNBC over the rude, hectoring, unprofessional behavior of Olbermann and his co-hosts on election night. Those co-hosts are: Maddow, O'Donnell, Chris Matthews and Eugene Robinson, associate editor of the Washington Post.
The bad behavior by the MSNBC team was directed at GOP candidates -- including one, Rand Paul, whose opponent Olbermann had given money to, according to the Politico report that triggered today's suspension.
Olbermann has been a moneymaker for MSNBC. Given the channel's business model, his second-place finish to O'Reilly still anchored a prime-time lineup that was profitable.
But his behavior has long bordered on out of control. Tuesday's night's embarrassing antics on the air were not the first on an election night that brought discredit to MSNBC and NBC News.
No definitive word yet on how Olbermann will be replaced. And no confirmation on what "indefinitely" will amount to -- only lots of uninformed online speculation.
But it is nice to see that there is a line of ethical and journalistic behavior left at NBC, which no one is allowed to cross no matter how much money they make for the company through their bad behavior on-air.
At this point, I have to say I respect Griffin and MSNBC for taking the action they have.