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Despite bias charges, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews will lead inauguration coverage

January 12, 2009 |  3:17 pm

Msnbc3_jwo2s9nc Among the network anchors who will gather in Washington, D.C., next week to cover the presidential inauguration, MSNBC hosts Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews will have particularly prominent roles. Together with Rachel Maddow and Eugene Robinson, the two will lead the cable news channel’s coverage of inaugural events for eight hours on Jan. 20.

That’s no surprise, considering that Olbermann and Matthews are central figures in the cable channel’s revitalized lineup, which scored record ratings in 2008. But it also represents a quiet shift in MSNBC’s approach since September, when network executives made then-Chief White House Correspondent David Gregory the lead anchor during political news events after criticism that its outspoken commentators were helming the channel’s news coverage.

MSNBC weathered a storm of complaints throughout the campaign that the left-leaning viewpoints expressed by Olbermann and Matthews were tainting the cable channel and its sister broadcast network, NBC. The protests reached a peak during the Republican National Convention, when delegates angrily chanted “NBC! NBC!” after Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin complained about media bias in her speech.

At the time, MSNBC President Phil Griffin insisted he wasn’t swayed by the critique. Nonetheless, he said he concluded that Olbermann and Matthews “were being restrained” from sharing their opinions when they served as news anchors. To allow them to converse more freely, he made Gregory the lead news anchor for major politics events for the rest of the campaign. Olbermann and Matthews remained a major part of the coverage of the presidential debates and election night but were considered analysts, not news anchors.

Now that the election is over, that distinction seems to have blurred. Gregory, the new moderator of “Meet the Press,” will be contributing to the broadcast network’s inauguration coverage, while Olbermann and Matthews will once again be leading MSNBC’s coverage.

In an interview today, Griffin said he’s comfortable with the role that Olbermann and Matthews will play at the inauguration because it’s “a whole day of color commentary.”

“This is a day of watching the festivities and the pomp and circumstance,” he said. 

Griffin said he has “no problem putting our guys out to host programs on big events,” adding: “I want to highlight them.”

The MSNBC president said he would consider having someone like Gregory step in again as news anchor on a “case-by-case” basis, adding that he thought that would only be needed during political events like elections.

“There was a sense at the time that we wanted Keith and Chris to be able to be themselves and not hold back, and that’s why David was put in,” Griffin said. “And it worked beautifully, and if we’re ever in a situation like that, I would do that again.”

-- Matea Gold

Photo: (l-r) Chris Matthews, Keith Olberman.  NBC News

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