David Shuster, a former MSNBC anchor and fill-in host for Keith Olbermann, says he believes Olbermann worried "his wings would be clipped" under a new Comcast management structure that would have given NBC News more control of his show.
Olbermann announced on Friday's show it would be his last, one week before Comcast is expected to close its purchase of NBC-Universal.The new company's restructuring, Shuster said, will give the overtly objective NBC News more say over MSNBC, which has become the No. 2 cable network since Olbermann and other hosts starting offering a liberal tilt.
"I think Keith anticipated, perhaps justifiably so, that his wings might be clipped, that some of the special commentaries that he would be making, that there would be much more deference that would have to be paid to NBC News' standards and judgements," Shuster said on CNN's "Reliable Sources" on Sunday.
Shuster's take offers a more complicated twist on the conspiracy theory that Comcast forced Olbermann out — a notion the company denied Friday with a statement noting it does not yet own NBC-Universal.
Shuster, a former correspondent on "Hardball With Chris Matthews," said Comcast's new management structure calls for MSNBC President Phil Griffin, "who was very much a Keith Olbermann protector" to report to NBC News President Steve Capus. Griffin, Shuster said, had previously reported to NBCU President Jeff Zucker, who stepped down because of the merger.
Of course, Olbermann wasn't always on the same wavelength as his "protector": He was suspended in November after making contributions to Democratic candidates, including Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Howard Kurtz, host of "Reliable Sources, reported in November that Griffin threatened to fire Olbermann in November if he went to ABC's "Good Morning America" to complain about the suspension.
Shuster said Olbermann "felt that he had built this franchise for eight years, it was highly successful, he treasured his independence and he treasured the fans" who demanded his return to the airwaves after the suspension.
With the president's State of the Union address approaching, Olbermann's departure was barely a blip on the Sunday news shows, but it led the media-focused "Reliable Sources."
The New York Times noted Friday that Olbermann left a year to the day from NBC ending its deal with Conan O'Brien. O’Brien agreed not to return to television for nine months and not to grant interviews for five months, and executives involved in Olbermann's discussions told the Times he had a similar exit agreement.