Comcast ‘Not in Any Way Involved’ in Keith Olbermann Suspension Decision

By Alex Weprin Comment

Comcast, which is attempting to acquire a controlling stake in NBC Universal from General Electric, says it was “not in any way involved” with the decision to suspend Keith Olbermann last week.

When news of the suspension first broke on Friday, Comcast was fingered by some as a possible culprit in the incident. Today, B&C’s John Eggerton has a comment from the company, firmly denying that it had anything to do with it:

“Comcast is not in any way involved with decisions made currently by NBC News,” the company said in a statement. “We have pledged that when the transaction is concluded, Comcast will abide by the same policies for NBC’s news and public affairs programming that have been in place since GE acquired the company in 1986. Comcast is committed to the independence of NBC’s news operations.”

Indeed, while Comcast may be an easy target for critics, there a re a litany of reasons why it would want to stay far, far away from the incident.

The single most important fact is that Comcast does not yet own NBC Universal. The company announced its intention to buy a controlling stake, but it still needs to get regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice.

Making personnel decisions beyond the CEO and the people in charge of individual business divisions is strictly prohibited, and would put the deal at risk. For example: even though Comcast has announced that Steve Burke will become CEO once the deal closes, Jeff Zucker will remain in place until it does.

Earlier this year, when NBC pushed Conan O’Brien out the door, Comcast was also accused of being involved.

The company has a team of lawyers vetting every move it makes, with the ultimate goal of acquiring NBC Universal. If Brian Roberts or Steve Burke want to fire Keith Olbermann, they can do so once the deal closes. Making any move before it gets government approval would only draw scrutiny to the deal, with the potential to kill it.

Comcast is known to be a “conservative” company, but that isn’t limited to politics. It generally dislikes controversy, and wants to be on the good side of the regulatory agencies that will have oversight over it. Telling a company it does not yet own to suspend one of its employees would be the last thing it would ever do.