Maria Shriver leaves NBC News. California's First Lady found she could no longer avoid conflict-of-interest questions on ''Dateline''

By Gary Susman
Updated February 04, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

It’s hard to be First Lady of California and still keep your day job, especially if that job raises conflict-of-interest questions. Maria Shriver announced Wednesday that she will no longer try to juggle the two. ”After much soul searching, I have asked to be relieved of my duties at NBC News,” the ”Dateline” correspondent said in a statement. Nonetheless, she hasn’t completely severed her ties with the network and could return well before husband Arnold Schwarzenegger finishes his term in Sacramento. ”I am proud of the work I have done at NBC News, and I look forward to going back there sometime in the future,” Shriver said.

When Schwarzenegger ran for governor last fall, Shriver took a leave of absence from the network. Since his election, she has appeared twice on ”Dateline.” Despite her vow to steer clear of stories involving California politics, she said she would not be able to shake off concerns others might have about her objectivity.

Still, Shriver retains a first-look deal with NBC to produce news specials based on her children’s books for sister channels MSNBC and CNBC. (If they pass, she may sell the specials to PBS.) Her next book, which deals with Alzheimer’s disease, will be published in May, the Associated Press reports.

Maybe that’s why NBC News president Neal Shapiro refers to Shriver’s departure not as a resignation but as ”an extended leave of absence.” He said in a statement: ”I speak for all of us at NBC News when I say that we look forward to Maria’s eventual return.”