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MSNBC bumps Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews amid charges of bias

September 8, 2008 |  8:01 am

NEW YORK — MSNBC executives are yanking Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, the cable news network’s most prominent on-air personalities, out of their anchor chairs for the remainder of the 2008 presidential election.

During news coverage of the debates and election night, Chief White House Correspondent David Gregory will replace the two voluble hosts, who have come to represent MSNBC’s embrace of opinion-laced coverage. The network's promotion of the outspoken commentators has drawn sharp criticism even as it has helped swell the audience.

The move comes after network executives spent months vehemently defending the dual roles being played by MSNBC’s prime-time hosts, who serve up unstinting commentary when they’re not anchoring election coverage.

But complaints about MSNBC’s approach have been mounting as election day nears, leaving NBC News vulnerable to arguments that the news division has been tainted by the cable network’s ideological slant.

Tom Brokaw, the network’s emeritus anchor who regularly offers analysis on MSNBC, was forced to defend its coverage at a panel discussion about the media at the Democratic convention, arguing that Olbermann and Matthews were “not the only voices” on the air.

The tension between the news division’s traditionally dispassionate role and MSNBC’s opinionated tone has taken its toll internally. During the Democratic convention, several of the network’s anchors quarreled on the air. A week later, Republican delegates in St. Paul, Minn., began a derisive chant of “NBC! NBC!” when Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP's vice presidential nominee, decried the media’s coverage during her speech.

The disparagement of the cable channel persuaded network executives this weekend to make a change, the New York Times reported today.

Olbermann and Matthews will continue to serve as on-air analysts during MSNBC’s coverage of the upcoming debates and on election night.

-- Matea Gold