Brian Stelter: CNN’s offer was ‘Irresistible’

By Gail Shister 

“I would not leave the Times for a television job” doesn’t occupy the same pantheon as “Read my lips, no new taxes” or “I never had sex with that woman,” but it still presents a bit of sticky wicket for Brian Stelter, who debuts Sunday as host of CNN’s ‘Reliable Sources.’

In late July, Stelter told The Washington Post that he wouldn’t quit his day job as media reporter for The New York Times if he were chosen to succeed longtime ‘Reliable Sources’ host Howard Kurtz, now with Fox News. During his CNN tenure, Kurtz had juggled full-time jobs elsewhere with his ‘Reliable Sources’ gig.

So what prompted Stelter’s change of heart?


“I meant it when I said it,” he says. “Everyone at CNN imagined that the next host would be part-time.“ After Stelter’s third stint as guest host, however, “a part-time job became a full-time job. I had never imagined what CNN sketched out, and it was very appealing.”

In addition to hosting the weekly ‘Reliable Sources,’ senior media correspondent Stelter files daily for and does live hits on other CNN shows. Had it been a full-time anchor job, he wouldn’t have been as interested.

“I’m a writer and reporter at heart,” says Stelter, 28, who as a college freshman created the site that became tvnewser. “I think I can become more of an expert in the field by writing and reporting than I can by anchoring. It’s how I’ve grown up. I fell in love with print.”

As luck would have it, two big media stories broke on Stelter’s first day on the job last week — Lara Logan’s forced leave of absence from CBS and Alec Baldwin’s dismissal from MSNBC. Stelter did four live hits and wrote a story for the website.

He hasn’t stopped since. Stelter left for L.A. late yesterday to tape an interview today with ubiquitous TV/radio host-producer Ryan Seacrest. Stelter labels him as “a king of media” and “one of the highest-profile media makers in the world.” He hopes to run the piece Sunday.

Stelter’s schedule “sounds frantic, but it’s been a breeze so far,” he says . “I’d rather be busy than bored.”

Under his stewardship, Stelter wants ‘Reliable Sources” to include a “wider swath of stories and broader range of guests. To me, Netflix is interesting, as well as the White House policy toward photographers.”

Stelter joined the Times seven years ago, right out of college. “I would have worked there the rest of my life,” he says, but CNN’s offer was “irresistible.” His new salary is higher than his old one, he says, “but it’s not a major raise. It wasn’t about the money at all. I told the Times that.”

Not that the extra Benjamins wouldn’t come in handy. Stelter and his fiancée, Jamie Shupak, a traffic reporter for New York’s NY1, are planning their wedding for February in Philadelphia.

Stelter proposed on the roof of their apartment building, with a freelance photographer hidden nearby to capture the moment. (Stelter had asked the Times photo editor for a recommendation.)

Showing uncharacteristic techno-restraint, Stelter waited “three whole days” before posting the news on twitter and facebook.