The New York Times‘ Brian Stelter has been at the tip of the spear in covering the mysterious rift between Countdown host Keith Olbermann and Current TV. Yesterday, the website WhatsTrending.com reported “Keith Olbermann And Brian Stelter Duke It Out On Twitter,” but what really happened was Olbermann pushed back at Stelter’s latest reporting, and Stelter ignored him. Among the charges leveled by Olbermann is that Stelter “threatened” him.
When I saw the “Duke It Out” headline, I was surprised (and disappointed I’d missed it), because while Olbermann is famous for his Twitter-warring ways, Stelter is about as genial a guy as there is. As it turns out, on Thursday, Brian Stelter promoted his reporting on Twitter (and actually avoided conflict with Olbermann by not using his Twitter handle), while Keith Olbermann pushed back on it. Here’s the timeline:
brianstelter: Keith Olbermann is famous for estranging himself from his bosses. At Current, he’s done it in record time: nyti.ms/z3Zywj 5 Jan
KeithOlbermann : 4) Best laugh? Lead of @BrianStelter NYT story. 2 of the 3 networks he claims I “estranged” myself from later asked me to rejoin them 5 Jan
The “threat” that Olbermann refers to appears to be his claim that he advised Stelter that there were “factual errors” in his story, but that Stelter “said he’d correct them only if I went on record w/him,” and accused Stelter of a double-standard, saying he “demanded it be explained on the record, while not demanding that of the source of falsehood.”
Without knowing the exact details, but based solely on what Olbermann is saying, Stelter’s actions don’t constitute a threat, but rather, standard journalistic procedure. If Olbermann is the sole source of the “factual” correction, he has to be “on the record” in some fashion in order for Stelter to print it. Additionally, the fact that Stelter “attributed” something to an anonymous source means that source was on the record, just not named. Olbermann doesn’t say if Stelter offered him a background attribution; I asked him, and he hasn’t responded.
It’s a serious accusation, but as Olbermann lays it out, Stelter did nothing wrong. I’ve had sources push bad information to me off-the-record (it’s called “guidance”) to try to get me to kill or alter a story, but if off-the-record information can’t be independently verified, it may as well not exist.
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