Former MSNBC anchor David Shuster and erstwhile friend of Keith Olbermann appeared on Reliable Sources on Sunday to add some insight to the sudden departure of the network’s biggest liberal mouthpiece.
Shuster told host Howard Kurtz that Olbermann’s November suspension played a bigger role than anyone realized after numerous fans called for his reinstatement and that “Keith was mesmerized and flattered beyond belief by the 250,000 people who signed the petition.”
According to Shuster Olbermann was hoping to leverage that support with his superiors at MSNBC and when that failed he decided to take them with him elsewhere.
Partial transcript of the show from CNN
Let me follow up with you, David, because you worked at MSNBC for a long time. A bit of full disclosure, you got into a dispute with management and you were taken off the year last year, and your contract has run out. Right?
SHUSTER: It has.
What are you hearing from your former colleagues? Is there anything that we haven’t heard beyond Olbermann perhaps sometimes going over the top, Olbermann being in a virtual state of war with the top executives and NBC and MSNBC? Is there any other factor here that may have led him to jump even as maybe he was getting a gentle nudge?
SHUSTER: Well, a couple of things. I mean, all the staff that I have spoken with have suggested that this whole event of him giving donations and the reaction to him being pulled off the air was a much bigger story than people think. Not so much in terms of how MSNBC and NBC executives viewed Keith, but in terms of how much Keith viewed his own sort of following.
Keith was mesmerized and flattered beyond belief by the 250,000 people who signed the petition. And he and his new agents who he picked up for the last year felt that that had certain value. And that when MSNBC made it clear that, no, it does not have the value that you think it does, Keith and his team felt like, OK, let’s try to take this base of support, let’s try to take this loyal fan following, and let’s take it to a forum where I’ll have the kind of independence that I’ve always wanted, and I’ll be able to do the sort of reporting and analysis without having my wings clipped by NBC News.
KURTZ: Independence, but he was being paid $30 million over four years. Did he want more money from MSNBC?
SHUSTER: Keith has never been about money, and he’s not somebody who’s sort of obsessed with it.
KURTZ: I would agree with that.
SHUSTER: I think what he felt like is he wanted to be paid what he felt he was worth, and he wanted the respect that he felt his 300,000 fans who signed the petition deserved.
KURTZ: And wanted to be able to say what he wanted without having a Jeff Zucker or a Steve Capus or a Phil Griffin rein him in?
SHUSTER: Yes, or without the possibility in the future that his special commentary scripts might have to be approved by somebody else other than somebody on his show, that they might have to be run through management levels to sort of shake it out and make sure it fits, and what people want. And I think that’s where Keith was very anxious.
I wouldn’t put it past Olbermann to be so caught up with himself that he thought he could somehow overcome the suspension because 250,000 lefties signed a petition. But considering what he was being paid exactly who did he think would even come close to that salary if he chose to leave the network on his own volition?
Shuster’s insights are interesting and he probably has a lot of empathy for Olbermann since he was suspended from MSNBC in April of last year after he filmed a pilot for CNN while still under contract. The indefinite suspension eventually led to his departure from the network but with less fanfare than Olbermann.