Columnist Stu Bykofsky of the Philadelphia Daily News, despite being quite the extrovert, rarely finds himself a news subject. It’s because he’s first a journalist, although with his in-your-face style, that might seem surprising. This week, however, Bykofsky has landed in the cable yaks war, “yaks” being those chat-show hosts on the 24/7 news/comment channels, with articles in major publications and blogs elsewhere.
A quick sum-up. Bykofsky in his Nov. 4, 2010, column gave the results of a content analysis he did on whether the right’s Bill O’Reilly on Fox News or the left’s Keith Olbermann on MSNBC showed more opposing views on their programs. “Byko’s” piece can be seen as an analysis following the general elections of Nov. 2. Olbermann he found had less dissent on his show. Olbermann was suspended Nov. 5–8 (crossing a weekend) for violating NBC News policy by making political campaign contributions.
Bykofsky wanted to write a follow-up and tried to contact Olbermann by e-mail. They had a testy written dialogue, which somehow came to be published at the blog Phawker.com. Those who know Bykofsky can just hear his sarcasm. The trouble is, Olbermann sounded to the columnist like he would sound, too, but he wasn’t.
Olbermann denied writing the e-mails. Conservative cable yak Tucker Carlson has confirmed he pretended to be Olbermann and wrote the e-mails to Bykofsky. Carlson bought the website keitholbermann.com, including the address firstname.lastname@example.org. Carlson told Yahoo News: “Could you resist? It was just too funny.”
I’m not sure who’s the worse off for this, except Bykofsky, maybe. Olbermann is innocent here. Carlson had a gotcha. Byko? Well, he did not print Olbermann/Carlson’s e-mails so he did not misquote. If somehow this didn’t get out, it would’ve just been a routine day for Bykofsky: calls, messages, deadlines.
Bykofsky wrote me the following:
I got punk’d, as part of my quest to reach Olbermann for comment. I made an honest effort, and the whole story wouldn’t have been had not someone leaked it out. I also did a Monday piece on the Olbermann escapade. As far as I can tell, he didn’t respond to ANY reporter seeking his side. Today, I answered EVERY media’s request, from the NYTimes to Forbes.”
There’s a lesson here for us scribes of both the reportorial and columnizing varieties. If Bykofsky wanted a second follow-up he might well have quoted Carlson-as-Olbermann. He says the tone sure sounded like Olbermann’s.
My Bykofsky quote from above. Was it really my friend of some seven years Stu? It sure sounds like him, and it’s the e-mail address I always use for Stu. It might be his wife writing while he’s watching a game on TV, or it might my former colleague Tucker, if he was a hacker or knew one to invade the newspaper’s servers.
We have to start being more careful when conducting online, e-mail or text-message interviews.
Personal notes. Tucker in around 1996 was an assistant editorial writer at my newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was in his late 20s then, pre–Weekly Standard and pre-cable yak. I liked him. He was a genuine preppy (I knew some while attending Stanford), as in having attended private boarding school, with quiet wit and urbanity. He was in editorial and me news so we didn’t hang out, just banter in the elevator etc.; also he already was beginning a family so he did not go to parties or bars like the rest of us. But I liked him. He showed elements of kindness and loyalty. Now? He’s in his early 40s so I try to picture where he’ll be when he hits 50. I can’t guess.
Stu is Stu. He’s a loud big-city newsman. As an Arkie I’m not used to those, yet somehow we hit it off from the start, through NSNC conferences. He’s a rascal, but his ethics are strong. If Stu was at fault in this, I’d be reporting it, though. Stu the newsman would understand.
A shorter-by-two-paragraphs version of this appears at columnists.com