Let’s unravel the politics here. The most reasonable assumption is that the indefinite suspension of Keith Olbermann is not about ethics in journalism or corporate policy at NBC. When you suspend your big earner and 800-pound gorilla and, in a sense, raison d'être, it’s pure power play.
The story now reads like MSNBC president, Phil Griffin, is making a grab.
Griffin, a career network news guy, has risen at MSNBC as Olbermann has risen. It is Olbermann, after all, who has single-handedly remade MSNBC as liberal TV (or anti-Fox TV) and given it its brand and value.
Griffin and Olbermann have tag-teamed on-air and back office. More bluntly: Griffin works for Olbermann. Effectively so — perhaps even happily.
Griffin seems to have adapted to and even thrived on the basis of Olbermann’s hard-to-handle personality.
So what’s changed?
The background to everything that is happening at NBC is the transition to Comcast ownership. And right now there’s a power vacuum. There’s no more Jeff Zucker, to whom the cable news networks effectively reported (and cable was his primary success). Although technically, MSNBC reported to Steve Capus, the head of the NBC news division. It was always an awkward structure, with Zucker holding tight to the cable network. In fact, CNBC reported straight to Zucker.
Now Zucker’s gone. But Capus is still there.
The network news division may be in terminal decline, but it still exists as an instinctive — if ever-so-frustrated — power center.
Its values aren’t cable values. It’s old-fashioned news. Real news, as it were — as it was. Before Keith Olbermann.
The old news has many last gasps. Indefinitely suspending a cash cow and brand headliner is one.