Nothing concrete, but scratching an ego this fragile might well cause it to crack and fall apart.

Olbermann, who signed a four-year, $30 million contract extension in Nov. 2008, has left MSNBC once before.

In the late 1990′s, Olbermann had a program on MSNBC called “The Big Show.” In 1998, he left the network after protesting the incessant coverage of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He ended up joining , of all places, Fox Sports. Olbermann was wooed back to MSNBC during the run-up to the Iraq War when MSNBC had a show called “Countdown: Iraq” hosted by Lester Holt. That show morphed into “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.”

Insiders we’ve talked to say Olbermann won’t be back. The question is whether he’ll leave or MSNBC keeps him off the air.

Remember, this is the guy who once said of MSNBC President (then Senior VP) Phil Griffin — the same exec who suspended him today — “Phil thinks he’s my boss.” Having now received a humiliating reminder that Phil really is his boss, the modern-day Murrow may conclude that a man of his stature simply can’t bear the indignity of a chain of command, and thus off he goes. Which, under these particular circumstances, would actually be too bad, because this whole “scandal” is ridiculous. Over to you, Bill Kristol:

MSNBC’s suspension of Keith Olbermann is ludicrous.

First, he donated money to candidates he liked. He didn’t take money, or favors, in a way that influenced his reporting.

Second, he’s not a reporter. It’s an opinion show. If Olbermann wants to put his money where his mouth is, more power to him.

Third, GE, the corporate parent of MSNBC, gives money to political organizations. GE executives and, I’m sure, NBC executives give money. Why can’t Olbermann?

What bugs me about suspending Olby for “ethics” infractions is that, if only in a nominal way, it lets MSNBC go on pretending that its commentators are journalists. It’s like when a major paper runs a “news” story that’s obviously slanted to the left and which happens to contain a spelling error. They’ll happily issue a correction for the misspelling but the bias goes unmentioned; that’s their way of signaling to readers that they’re scrupulous about accuracy even while they’re dropping hatchet jobs on conservatives while professing impartiality all the while. As Ed noted earlier, it’s a sick joke to suggest that Olby throwing a few thou to Democratic candidates is an unpardonable journalistic sin while that horror show that MSNBC happily aired on Tuesday night is just good reportorial funsies for the viewers at home. I don’t care how many posters of Murrow Olby has on his wall: He’s not a reporter, he’s not a journalist, and no one but no one but no one thinks that he is, so why are journalistic ethics being applied to him? Remember, this is a guy who once donated to Bill Clinton’s charity, on camera, while interviewing Clinton. If MSNBC’s worried about the appearance of objectivity, I’m afraid that ship sailed years ago.

What this is really about, of course, is Fox:

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.

Yes, MSNBC is forever trying to distinguish itself from Fox as a “real” news organization — and forever failing miserably. Again, compare the coverage on Tuesday night. (Mediaite did!) A few weeks ago, Griffin noted that Fox lets its guests fundraise on air and crowed, “Show me an example of us fund-raising.” Whereupon Johnny Dollar quickly compiled a bunch of examples. Media Matters has also been whining on MSNBC’s behalf about Fox giving too much airtime to particular candidates, like Rand Paul. Johnny Dollar turned that one around too in a big way. It’s not that one network has a slant and the other doesn’t; it’s that, as Jon Stewart said the other day to Chris Wallace, MSNBC is “double-A ball.” And suspending Olby for this nonsense is a weak, transparent attempt by them to convince people that they’re not.

The big question now: If Olbermann walks, who replaces him? Chris Hayes of the Nation was set to guest host tonight, but that idea was quickly scrapped. As of this writing, I’m not sure who’ll be sitting in, but I can think of an obvious replacement — one who’ll soon be available to work as often as MSNBC needs him. Dude — is it time?

Update: The boss emeritus, once infamously described by Murrow-mann as a “mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick,” is not aboard the “Save Olby” express:

Olby’s defenders say it’s wrong to punish opinion journalists for supporting candidates and causes.

But:

1) MSNBC has always promoted and allowed Olbermann to preen as an award-winning journalist and broadcaster of Edward R. Murrow’s caliber — above the fray and superior to the rest of us in the print/broadcast media who are open and honest about our political and ideological biases.

2) Whatever NBC’s guidelines may be, it was the basic journalistic failure of the Murrow wanna-be to disclose the donation on the night he hosted one of his cash recipients that seals his fate and undermines whatever iota of credibility his station has left.

Good night and good riddance.