This week at ESPN is for the birds. After a turkey vulture flew into Stephen A. Smith’s office window Tuesday (and prompted quite the response from Smith), Keith Olbermann wound up going after a turkey hunter in a tweet later that day, calling the hunter (Hunter Waltman) “a pea-brained scumbag” and saying “we should do our best to make sure the rest of his life is a living hell.” That tweet also called Brian Broom, the writer of the story that featured Waltman’s hunt for a rare white turkey, “a nitwit clown,” and said he “should be fired.” On Wednesday, Olbermann tweeted again, saying his intent wasn’t to threaten, and “I unreservedly apologize to Mr. Waltman for this tweet”:
I am an opponent of trophy hunting and remain so, but nobody should feel threatened. This was anything but my intent, so I unreservedly apologize to Mr. Waltman for this tweet.
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) March 27, 2019
Olbermann’s initial tweet was eventually removed by Twitter for violating its rules, but was preserved by Steven Ward of The Clarion-Ledger (in Jackson, Mississippi), the paper that initially ran the story Olbermann was reacting to. Here it is: “It be rare and beautiful so me should kill it. This pea-brained scumbag identifies himself as Hunter Waltman and we should do our best to make sure the rest of his life is a living hell. And the nitwit clown who wrote this fawning piece should be fired.” That led to the 22-year-old Waltman telling Broom in a follow-up piece Wednesday that he was receiving further verbal attacks after Olbermann’s tweet, and to him calling for Olbermann’s job:
Waltman said he is receiving verbal attacks due to Olbermann’s actions. While no one directly threatened to harm him, some said they hope harm comes his way.
“I didn’t like the idea of that too much,” Waltman said. “I don’t think a lot of people would like to be called out on social media like that, especially (by someone) with so many followers.
“They text me all kinds of stuff. If he (Olbermann) hadn’t done that, none of this would have happened.”
Waltman said he had never heard of the ESPN commentator and former MSNBC political host prior to Olbermann’s attack on Twitter. Waltman said now he considers Olbermann a threatening individual.
“To tell you the truth, it seemed like a threat to me,” Waltman said. “Make (my) life ‘a living hell?’ That seems like a threat to me. I’d be glad to see him fired. He went overboard.”
Meanwhile, Clarion Ledger executive editor Sam R. Hall also shot back at Olbermann and defended Broom:
“Keith Olbermann says Brian Broom should be fired for writing this story,” he wrote. “What was I thinking? I guess I should have fired our outdoors writer for writing about a hunter killing an unusual turkey during turkey hunting season.”
Hall followed up on Wednesday with a written statement.
“Keith Olbermann‘s tweet was recklessly irresponsible,” Hall wrote. “Someone with his following needs to understand the possible impact of his words.
“Telling over 1 million people to make someone’s life a living hell could have seriously dangerous consequences. In our newsroom, that would be a fireable offense, not writing a story about a hunter bagging a turkey.”
Olbermann is a long-standing animal lover who regularly tweets about dogs who need homes and other animal welfare subjects, and it’s understandable that seeing a story on a hunter killing a turkey would upset him. But his response felt way over the top here, especially when it came to “we should do our best to make sure the rest of his life is a living hell”; you know it’s not a great tweet when even notoriously-lax Twitter feels compelled to take it down. And it’s not great that that led to further threats towards Waltman. Also, while Olbermann himself disagrees with trophy hunting, it’s legal and it has some popularity, so calling an outdoors writer “a nitwit clown” who “should be fired” for doing his job feels unnecessary and excessive. (And Olbermann did not apologize for that.)
The difference in public profiles also feels notable here. This wasn’t Olbermann attacking a famous trophy hunter who also had millions of followers, like Donald Trump Jr. or Eric Trump . It wasn’t even a prominent former athlete known for trophy hunting (amongst other things) like David Booth, who has over 57,000 followers. He went after a 22-year-old hunter who wasn’t really a public figure before this story, and encouraged his followers to do the same. As Hall said, “Someone with his following needs to understand the possible impact of his words.”
It doesn’t sound like there’s going to be any ESPN discipline for Olbermann here, as the company responded to his actions with a statement of “We have spoken to him about not making personal attacks.” And his “but nobody should feel threatened” in his apology does sound like he may change his approach a bit. It will be interesting to see if Olbermann comments on hunting again in the near future, and if so, if he does so in a different manner.