Keith Olbermann’s departure from MSNBC creates headache for Comcast

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That Keith Olbermann’s exit from MSNBC comes just days before the news channel’s parent NBC Universal is to be taken over by Comcast Corp. has got conspiracy theorists speculating that Olbermann jumped before he was pushed by his new bosses.

In a statement, MSNBC said Olbermann’s departure had nothing to do with the network’s new owners. Olbermann has long clashed with the brass at MSNBC, most recently over political donations he had made without alerting his superiors. Olbermann has also had run-ins with management at other outlets he’s worked at, including ESPN, CNN and Fox Sports.


Comcast said the company ‘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.’

If Olbermann was looking to hurt MSNBC and Comcast’s reputation, the only way he could have timed his announcement better is if he had quit on the day Comcast took official control, which is likely to be a week from today.

Olbermann is a lefty and it is no secret that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and his No. 2 Steve Burke (who will run NBC Universal) have donated to Republicans on occasion.

However, David Cohen, a top Comcast executive and the man who guided the deal with NBC Universal through the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department, held a huge fundraiser for President Obama in 2008. Comcast’s Roberts has also often donated to Democrats.

When it comes to politics, many corporate chieftans are more pragmatic than ideolological. They grease the wheels that need to be greased to help their bottom line regardless of political affiliation, and often hedge their bets by donating to both parties. Since Republicans tend to favor less regulation, media companies often back them.

That said, even if Comcast had nothing to do with Olbermann leaving, his exit does remove a potential headache for the new owners. Olbermann draws a lot of heat and Comcast likes to fly under the radar as much as possible. For now, that may be wishful thinking.

-- Joe Flint

For the record: This post was updated to acknowledge that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts has also donated to Democrats.