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Keith Olbermann was nearly fired from MSNBC after donating to three political candidates — and threatening to make the morning talk-show circuit rounds to discuss it, according to a detailed new report in The Daily Beast.
Tensions between MSNBC president Phil Griffin and Olbermann came to a head while the Countdown host was still suspended “indefinitely without pay.” Griffin called Olbermann’s manager, Michael Price, who said his angry client was considering invitations to appear on Good Morning America, the Late Show With David Letterman and Larry King. Fumed Price: “Why are you putting us in the position where you’re daring us to do this?”
Griffin’s response? “If you go on GMA, I will fire Keith.” [Related: Inside Griffin and Olbermann’s long-standing feud.]
Minutes later, NBC released a statement that Olbermann would return to Countdown on Tuesday, a day later than he asked for. Price called Griffin again: “What compelled you to do that in that way?”
“We are at war,” Griffin said. Griffin and NBC News president Steve Capus have not spoken to Olbermann, who is halfway through his four-year, $30 million contract, since the controversy erupted.
The Daily Beast says that several of NBC’s big stars, including Tom Brokaw, were concerned that Olbermann has damaged MSNBC’s reputation for political independence, and staffers there have described Olbermann’s dealing of the situation as a “scorched-earth policy” and “totally narcissistic response.”
Olbermann felt unfairly singled out, according to sources quoted by the Beast, and that he deserved more recognition for ratcheting up the network’s ratings.
The host felt his suspension was an overreaction. “You don’t understand the pressure I’m under here,” Griffin said, adding that he wanted a written apology from the host. When that never arrived, Griffin announced Olbermann was going off the air.
The two continued to argue about the missing apology, and even discussed Olbermann’s Twitter message thanking his liberal base: “Greetings From Exile! A quick, overwhelmed, stunned THANK YOU for support that feels like a global hug.”
Instead of giving the apology to MSNBC, Olbermann released it to media outlets, saying he was sorry for the “unnecessary drama” for “mistakenly violating an inconsistently applied rule” about the political donations. (Indeed, he pointed out that Morning Joe’s Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressmen, gave $5,000 to a state candidate the previous spring.)
Executives were also displeased with the apology Olbermann made at the end of his show the first day he returned to air, feeling he was trying to hurt NBC, slighting his staff by not mentioning them and making it all about himself.
At a post-show meeting, Olbermann was confronted by members of his own staff, who said his donations had tarnished the network.
But now, relations are thawing. Price apologized for Griffin for shouting during their phone call about going on morning shows, and NBC paid Olbermann for the days he was suspended.
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