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Keith Olbermann laughs it off upon return to MSNBC

November 9, 2010 |  6:29 pm

The opening shot of Tuesday night's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" showed only a dark, empty desk and a still screen. After a few seconds of quiet, curious buzzing, Olbermann peeked in from the left side of the frame. He was making a point.

"Oh ... hi. So, uh, what's new?" Olbermann asked. He promised he would get to his "little adventure" later in the show. "But I need to address one thing right now," said Olbermann. "I read in a couple of places that this has to have been a publicity stunt. This was not a publicity stunt. If I had known that all this would happen, I would have done this years ago!" He didn't seem too upset.

Olbermann raised his voice, but he was smiling, probably in part because he knew that for more about his suspension — and make no mistake, many were tuning in for that reason alone — he was going to make you watch the entire show.

"So how was your weekend?" Olbermann teased. Then he dealt with the news — President Obama in India, former President George W. Bush's interview Matt Lauer and Wall Street reform. But substance was beside the point; the people were waiting for drama. Instead, they got mostly jokes.

On Friday, Olbermann was "suspended indefinitely" by MSNBC for making campaign donations to three Democratic candidates without first seeking approval. Network President Phil Griffin announced on Sunday that the host would be allowed to return to "Countdown" on Tuesday, though some love was clearly lost. Over the weekend, it was reported that Olbermann may have refused to apologize on air, a claim Olbermann denied in a statement on Monday, while also pushing back against the network. He called the donation rule "inconsistently applied" and insisted he was "assured that no suspension was contemplated," only to find out via the media that he had been punished.

On Tuesday night's "Countdown," in the show's final segment, Olbermann addressed the situation for the first time on camera. But first he joked: "The good part about being suspended? I got to write my 798-page book about being suspended," he said, complete with a graphic mocking President Bush's new book, "Decision Points." Olbermann's version? "Suspension Points."

"Just my luck, I get a four-day weekend after the World Series is over," he said later.

When he finally got to it, Olbermann seemed both smug and grateful for having received more than 21,000 tweets and 300,000 petition signatures in response to his suspension. He boasted about invites to appear on "Good Morning America," "Late Show with David Letterman" and "Larry King Live."

"It was kind of a surprise," he said. "I'm stunned and grateful, and it still feels like a universal hug."

Olbermann also apologized for three things: first, the drama of the entire situation. He said he was sorry for not knowing "by observation" about the donations rule, though he claimed it is not in his contract and may well be illegal. His third apology was for not disclosing his donations right away on-air, though he clarified that his give to Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona was made after the politician appeared on "Countdown," not before.

Olbermann closed, counterintuitively in his estimation, by praising transparency in political donations. "I gave and you found out and you judged me for good or for ill, as you felt appropriate," he said. From there, it was the usual Edward R. Murrow homage, "Good night and good luck," and the MSNBC waters were placid again.

— Joe Coscarelli