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Breaking: Olbermann, MSNBC split, ending 'Countdown'

Keith Olbermann, the firebrand host for MSNBC and the most successful host in the network's history, has been dumped by the network. In a brief statement, MSNBC said:

"MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of 'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC's success and we wish him well in his future endeavors."

And in a somewhat longer statement, Keith said at the end of Friday night's show:

"I think the same fantasy has popped into the head of everybody in my business who has been told what I've been told: That this is going to be the last edition of your show. You go directly to the scene from 'Network,' complete with the pajamas, and the raincoat, and you go off on an existential otherworldly journey of unutterable profundity and vision. You dam the impediments and insist on the insurrections and then you admit, Peter Finch's guttural resonant, 'so . . .' And you implore, will the viewer go to the window, open it, and stick out his head and yell . . . ? Well, you know the rest."

Calls to MSNBC were not returned, but Olbermann's end at a network he's called home, on and off for the past decade, is not a total surprise. He was abruptly suspended by the network in November for making contributions to political candidates (including Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot Jan. 8) but was reinstated after a few days (the weekend, to be exact.) At the time, MSNBC president Phil Griffin said, "I became aware of Keith's political contributions late last night. Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay."

Olbermann's firing comes just as Comcast's purchase of NBC, which passed through a gauntlet of government scrutiny, was consecrated just this week.

Olbermann -- colorful writ large and "difficult" writ that way as well --  is not and was not an easy employee. For years he has had tempestuous relationships with management, viewers, colleagues and owners. He was fired by ESPN for disparaging the hometown of the network, calling it a hellhole or words to that effect in an interview.  He went to Fox, clashed with Rupert Murdoch (who was attempting to launch a competitor to ESPN), was benched -- or specifically couched -- and spent a year on Murdoch's payroll without doing anything. (At the time, he said he spent a year laying on his couch, watching TV.)

He later joined, then unjoined, MSNBC. To say he was a popular figure there would be an overstatement of considerable proportions. Tom Brokaw had problems with his extravagant editorializing,  and there was a concern his outspoken views (all fairly hard left-wing) would somehow compromise NBC News' editorial independence. 

The left-leaning cable network's most popular personality acknowledged  last fall  that he had donated  $2,400 apiece to the campaigns of Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway , Arizona Reps. Raul Grijalva and Giffords. NBC News prohibits its employees from making political donations unless an exception is granted in advance by the network news president. (Joe Scarborough was also briefly suspended for such contributions.)

In that instance, Olbermann's bosses didn't know about them until being informed by a reporter. "We look forward to having him back on the air Tuesday night," Griffin said in a statement  at the time. Liberal groups had taken on Olbermann's suspension as a cause. An online petition calling for his reinstatement, run by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Michael Moore had tweeted his support.

His program, "Countdown with Keith Olbermann," was launched in 2003 on MSNBC and, in time, became the struggling network's top-rated program. He feuded with Bill O'Reilly on Fox, labeled certain individuals (O'Reilly included) "the worst people of the week;" and gained fans and enemies. He leaned sharply left when other pundits leaned right, and was an aggressively vocal critic of George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. He was also a huge supporter of  President Obama, and used his program to actively build support for the national health care initiative -- in at least one instance, speaking for an entire edition  about why the bill should be passed.


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