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February 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Former NBC chief Jeff Zucker said Monday that he had tried to acquire the liberal-leaning Huffington Post and position it as an adjunct to cable network MSNBC. Speaking at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, he noted that currently does not share the “distinct point of view” of the cable channel but instead reflects the neutral position of NBC News. “Those two things didn’t really mesh,” he observed, “and what we wanted to do was develop a site that could go along with MSNBC, the cable channel, and we thought the Huffington Post was the nearest match to that. That was what we wanted to do strategically.” However, he said, “We could never agree on a price.” He congratulated AOL for pulling off its $315-million acquisition of the liberal website. Zucker declined to discuss the departure of Keith Olbermann from the network, intimating that he was barred by a legal agreement from doing so. (A report on the New York Times‘s website said today that Olbermann is moving to Current TV.) But he had no reluctance to discuss the departure of Conan O’Brien from NBC. Zucker noted that they had both attended Harvard together — he was editor of the Harvard Crimson while Conan was editor of the Harvard Lampoon. O’Brien’s Tonight show “wasn’t broad enough for us,” he said. He said that when the decision was made to return Jay Leno to the 11:30 p.m. spot, O’Brien told him that “he thought he was owed the 11:30 time slot. It was my belief that nobody is owed anything in television and he decided to leave. It was a very painful period for the company and for me personally … for the way it was portrayed publicly.” Nevertheless, Zucker insisted that he has no regrets about his actions at the time. “The mistake that we made was that when we made the decision to put Jay back at 11:30 … we let Conan stay there for two weeks and that gave Conan a platform to attack us and to attack Jay, and that was a huge mistake and it became a national soap opera … and the lesson I learned from that is that when you make that decision [he snapped his fingers for emphasis] take him off the air right away.”