NEW YORK – It's not been a good week for MSNBC.
Its high-profile anchor and one of the key exponents of that cable news network's liberal politics, Keith Olbermann, was suspended
on Friday without pay for making contributions to three Democratic candidates this election season.
MSNBC's president, Phil Griffin, said in a statement, "I became aware of Keith's political contributions late last night. Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay."
What his suspension might mean to Olbermann's future was not clear.
Olbermann has acknowledged to NBC that he gave $2,400 to the campaign of Jack Conway
, the U.S. Senate candidate in Kentucky who opposed the eventual winner, Rand Paul, a Republican tea-party leader, according to The Associated Press. Olberbann also donated $2,400 each to two Arizona U.S. House members seeking re-election, Rep. Raul Grijalva, who won, and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, whose race was still too close to call.
NBC prohibits its staff from working on or donating to political campaigns. Olbermann's bosses found out about the donations only after they were made. The website Politico first reported the donations.
Olbermann has had a rocky career at MSNBC, where he hosts the channel's most popular program, "Countdown," at 8 p.m. But his intense and mercurial personality, both on and off the air, has drawn and at times repelled viewers.
His vitriolic on-air battle against his 8 p.m. counterpart on Fox News, Bill O'Reilly, has sometimes backfired, especially in the ratings, where O'Reilly leaves Olbermann in the dust.
Within the NBC and MSNBC News organization, Olbermann has been a volatile and polarizing personality. He has clashed with Chris Matthews, host of "Hardball," over air time and other issues, and he has also clashed with Griffin and other network managers over editorial decisions.
Olbermann was a co-anchor of the network's election coverage this week, which drew criticism for its hostile interviews of Republican Congresswomen Michele Bachmann and Marsha Blackburn.
But worse, MSNBC came out far behind in the ratings.
Fox News, its conservative archrival, drew the biggest election-night audience
overall, topping all cable-news and broadcast networks on Tuesday. Fox News averaged nearly 7 million viewers between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., according to Nielsen Co.
CNN averaged 2.4 million viewers and MSNBC averaged just under 2 million.
ABC's coverage brought in the most viewers among broadcast news but fell behind Fox News. Nielsen data released Thursday showed an average of 6.8 million viewers tuned in to the ABC telecast. The coverage, anchored by Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos, got a boost from its lead-in, "Dancing With the Stars."