With less than 60 days until the election, MSNBC is replacing Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews as co-anchors of prime time political coverage and replacing them with NBC White House correspondent David Gregory.
For months the network has been criticized for allowing Olbermann to anchor election coverage while he continued to host “Countdown” where his opinion was made clear in segments and “Special Comments.” In a story in tomorrow’s New York Times, Olbermann calls his situation as being, “not utterly neutral.”
For MSNBC president Phil Griffin the shift to the left is less ideological and more bottom line. “In a rapidly changing media environment,” he tells the Times’ Brian Stelter, “this is the great philosophical debate…the bottom line is that we’re experiencing incredible success.”
But that success, more limited than “incredible”, is coming at a cost. In recent months, the network has received letters of criticism ranging from Hillary Clinton’s campaign to the Bush White House. And since MSNBC is now so closely tied to NBC News, the critics started seeing the two entities as one.
Last month John McCain’s campaign requested a meeting with NBC News president Steve Capus over something correspondent Andrea Mitchell said on Meet the Press. McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis wrote, “We are concerned that your News Division is following MSNBC’s lead in abandoning non-partisan coverage of the Presidential race.”
During the RNC last week, which Olbermann co-anchored from New York, insiders from both NBC and MSNBC opened up to TVNewser, most speaking on background. “It’s a completely untenable situation,” one MSNBC insider said. And, in what now seems prescient, added, “It’s not going to be workable forever, to have two anchors like that. It’s just too bizarre.”
It’s not known when Chris Matthews was made aware of the changes. Matthews, who was in St. Paul for the RNC dismissed reports he and Olbermann don’t get along. Matthews told TVNewser Wednesday, “Don’t you see that we get along? Forget the scuttle, don’t you see how we get along? I think it’s pretty obvious we get along.”
Matthews and Olbermann will continue to be analysts during coverage and Matthews’ Hardball will continue at 5pmET and 7pmET as will Countdown at 8pmET. In fact, Olbermann’s show is expected to be the lead-in for the three presidential and one vice presidential debates which will air at 9pmET beginning with the first on Sept. 26.
As for Olbermann, he returned to the NBC airwaves tonight for the season premiere of Football Night in America. He kept politics out of the pre-game show, but during halftime, while reporting on the New Orleans Saints Reggie Bush and his game-winning touchdown, he took a line from Countdown’s “Bushed” segments. Olbermann stretched out Reggie’s last name saying the Tampa Bay Bucaneers got “Bushhhed.”