By BRIAN STELTER AND BILL CARTER
3:08 p.m. | Updated Keith Olbermann, the top anchor on MSNBC, was suspended on Friday after the channel discovered that he made campaign contributions to three Democrats last month.
The MSNBC president, Phil Griffin, issued a statement saying: “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.”
Politico had reported Friday morning that Mr. Olbermann’s contributions were in apparent violation of MSNBC policy.
In a statement to Politico, Mr. Olbermann, the longtime host of “Countdown,” acknowledged donations of $2,400 to the campaigns of Representatives Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and Attorney General Jack Conway of Kentucky, who lost his Senate race to Rand Paul.
Several hours later, Mr. Griffin released the statement about the suspension.
No one at NBC News, MSNBC’s parent, would speculate about what this might mean for Mr. Olbermann’s future, though one NBC executive privately suggested this was not a step toward firing him.
In suspending Mr. Olbermann, NBC appeared to be trying to differentiate itself from the Fox News Channel, a unit of the News Corporation. NBC executives privately said that they saw a chance to draw a distinction between the journalistic standards of their news division and the standards of Fox, a favorite of Republicans. Media Matters, a liberal media monitoring group that opposes Fox, noted on Friday afternoon that two Fox News hosts, Neil Cavuto and Sean Hannity, had given money to Republican politicians in the past.
The News Corporation also came under scrutiny this year for a $1 million donation to the Republican Governors Association — a donation that Mr. Olbermann has been sharply critical of.
In Mr. Olbermann’s absence, Chris Hayes, the Washington editor for The Nation magazine, will fill in as the host of “Countdown” on Friday, an MSNBC spokesman said. Bloggers immediately pointed out that Mr. Hayes had made contributions to Democrats just like Mr. Olbermann had, but Mr. Hayes is not an MSNBC employee.
Mr. Olbermann’s “Countdown” is the most popular program on MSNBC. He worked at MSNBC in the late 1990s and rejoined the channel in 2003. He routinely draws more than a million viewers a night, and his show is seen as a leading forum for liberal politicians.
He has long been a volatile figure inside MSNBC, in part for his polarizing points of view. He has sometimes clashed with Mr. Griffin and other managers over editorial decisions, and he has been publicly critical of some of his former bosses.
Mr. Olbermann did not immediately respond to a request for comment after the suspension was announced Friday afternoon.
There was some head-scratching about MSNBC’s decision, since it is well known that Mr. Olbermann is a liberal newsman. There were defenders, including a writer for the libertarian magazine Reason, Michael C. Moynihan, who wondered why MSNBC had a “one-size-fits-all policy” about contributions.
Mr. Moynihan asked, “Isn’t it unfair to hold Olbermann, who is one of the most partisan people on television (if not of Earth), to the same standards as, say, Brian Williams? Countdown exists to promote Democratic candidates and liberal policies, which is just fine by me. So why shouldn’t Olbermann, as a private citizen, be allowed to donate money to those candidates he plumps for on television?”