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TMV Interview with Progressive Talker Ed Schultz
The Moderate Voice
by Joe Gandelman
October 17,2005

IMPORTANT NOTE TO READERS: At 2 a.m. this morning we posted a verison of this post below with the headline that progressive talker Ed Schultz would begin to be carried today on Armed Forces Radio. The peg to our post was that his debut on Armed Forces Radio mean that there would be a countervailing voice to Rush Limbaugh, who is basically the main political talk show host people in the military get to hear on that network.

We learned a few hours later that the show had been told that the debut would not happen. SEE OUR POST ABOVE for confirmation that it will indeed NOT debut today. As a result, we're restoring a quote we cut dealing with the apparently nixed debut.

In the world of talk shows, some consider The Ed Schultz Show the wave of the future. Amid suggestions that conservative talk shows may be getting tired, Schultz's show has been purchased by two major broadcasting executives who were instrumental in developing Limbaugh and Clear Channel, it's now on 105 stations in 9 of the top 10 radio markets (it started on two small stations in January 2004 and within a few months it was on 25 stations) versus Air America's 95 stations, two satellite feeds — and its style differs from both Air America's and conservative talk shows.

The 50 year-old Schultz is occasionally blasted by both left and right. He show is packed with callers offering different viewpoints (he says he only screens calls for audio quality). And he'll sometimes set aside politics to zestfully discuss sports for a few minutes, a natural since he's a former All-American quarterback and a 17-year TV sportscasting veteran. His bio is here.

Schultz was in the news a few weeks ago when a tip from him to Media Matters.com led to a major controversy over comments former Education Secretary and talk show host Bill Bennett made about African-American babies. Bennett's comments sparked a mini-firestorm, with some defending and blasting Bennett and the White House making it clear that it didn't agree with the comments.

In an hour-long telephone interview with The Moderate Voice from his Fargo, North Dakota base, Schultz:

  • explained how his talk show is different than others on the right and left, gave his view of conservative talk radio and its impact.
  • detailed and defended his role in bringing Bennett's controversial comments to the forefront.
  • predicted three indictments in the Plamegate leak case.
  • predicted Harriet Miers will be confirmed to the Supreme Court and that she will vote to overturn Roe Versus Wade - and contends that the Democrats are being snookered.
  • expressed disdain for talk shows of the left and right that are only "based on hating" somebody.

Here are excerpts from the interview. Due to length, some have been edited:


TMV: How is your show different from the conservative talk shows and Air America shows? How do you see the difference between what you do and what they do and how you do it?

Schultz: The conservative ones that I've heard have an underlying theme of hate all Democrats and hate all liberals. Their entertainment is making fun of Democrats and liberals. They're not fair about anything when it comes to compromise or middle of the road. They almost have a scorched earth policy....And I don't think that's where America is right now. I think you've got 15 percent of the people off to the right and 15 percent of the people off to the left and you've got a bunch of people in the middle in this country who just want a fair chance at having a good life.

TMV: There seems to be a shake up going on in the talk radio industry. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly have reportedly had problems in some cities. Other reports center on Air America's financial problems and suggest their ratings aren't great, either. What's going on? Are people tiring of talk shows geared to partisan activists or is something else happening. If so, what?

Schultz:You've got to do a good radio show. If you're not entertaining, informative, if your show doesn't move, if it's not compelling, you're not going to make it. And this notion that the industry came up with that liberals can't talk and there's no room for progressives on the radio — that was all part of the talk-down culture that the conservatives were engaging in because they didn't want any competition on the radio dial.

The radio dial has been safe haven for conservatives for well over a decade. It's been their battleground to win issues. And when you've got 450 conservatives in front of microphones on a local, regional and national level and they're reaching millions upon millions of people daily and they're all saying the same thing, what kind of impact do you think this is going to have?

They created this monster called Tom Daschle. An obstructionist, calling him anti-American....I know Tom Daschle. If you had a chance to pick your next door neighbor, it'd be Tom Daschle. And that's what infuriates me about this hatred for Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton. These are people who have been elected to office by other Americans. And I think conservative talk has done nothing but divide this country. It's taken time to do it. They haven't done it overnight.

When Schultz is asked about other talk shows on the left and right he gives this answer:

Schultz: You can't run a radio show with an underlying theme of hate...(or) hating a President. The show has to be more than that. It has to be what I consider a well-rounded information package that is delivered in a way that will be interesting to Americans...The President has done some good things in five years. He signed a farm bill and he signed No Child Left Behind...

Schultz doesn't mince words when asked about the dministration:


TMV: There are all kinds of stories about the Plamegate scandal and each one seems worse for the White House. One suggests Vice President Cheney's aide Scooter Libby and Karl Rove could be indicted. Based on your own contacts with politicos, your callers and your own analysis and gut feelings where is this all going?

Schultz: I think there'll be three indictments: on (Karl) Rove, Ari Fleischer and Scooter Libby. I also think that it's going to lead us to the Vice President. There's an awful lot that's going to happen in the next three years with this administration. A year is an eternity in politics so the last thing the Democrats need to do is to start to believe their press clippings, so they need to continue to work to connect with the American people... Obviously, there's a mood shift in the country.

I think there's a parallel here, that this propaganda (the teleconference call) shot with the soldiers parallels with town halls and social security, how they ran their campaign with having people sign loyalty oaths, having people arrested who had certain bumper stickers on their cars, having people escorted out who didn't have favorable t-shirts. They're organized in everything they do. What happened with Valerie Plame and what they're doing fits the way they do business.... They play for keeps and with this complete power that they have with the White House, Senate and House I believe they've gotten sloppy and made some mistakes and they've gotten themselves in a predicament....

...I think across the board the Republican leadership is in peril. They're completely defocused, out of touch with the American people, they spent way too much time on trying to reform Social Security when the people weren't in the mood to have that happen. And they've ramrodded tax cuts on the country. For what? For the top 2 percent? I'm all for tax cuts but I'm not for sky-rocketing debt and foreign debt because it does some long range damage to the country. This is not a liberal or conservative issue....

TMV: Do you see the GOP coalition being further fractured or remaining cohesive?

Schultz: I don't think there's any question they'll mount an offensive. They have the infrastructure to mount an offensive. They'll eventually make this Valerie Plame's fault....

I said it three months ago on the air: I think George Bush is the worst president we've ever had. And I'm not saying that because I dislike the guy. I don't hate anybody. I just look at the state of the country, where we are, what is unfolding in front of our eyes....


TMV: You and your show are credited or blamed for helping bring Bill Bennett's comments about aborting black babies to the media forefront. How did you discover his comments, what did you do about it and precisely what happened after that?

Schultz explains that he and his wife were making the 50 mile commute from their lakeside home in Minnesota to his studios in Fargo when he heard the end of Bennett's program and was aghast.

Schultz: I called our producer and asked him, "Did you hear that?" And he said., "Yeah, I heard it." (We) couldn't figure out a guy (saying) something like this... So I said, "You ought to give Media Matters a call and see if they heard it." And that was my involvement. I've never been one to pay much attention or to go after any other kind of talk show host. But I'm not going to let something like that go by.

TMV: You were also blasted in some conservative quarters for taking Bennett's words at face value when he and his defenders insist it was merely a hypothetical. What do you say to those critics?

Schultz: There's nothing hypothetical about what he as saying. He said the word "true." He said. "I do know." If you say "I do know" it's not hypothetical.

TMV: But what about those who say this was all political correctness?

Schultz:…Freakanomics, (which) is what he was also talking about, makes a poverty argument: "Poverty causes crime." Bennett made a race argument: Blacks are more likely to commit crime. These are two vastly different arguments and two that should not be confused.

TMV: What individuals and groups have gone after you on this, and have you responded to them?

Schultz: I don't know about all these groups after me. All I know is that one talk show host who has made an issue of it just happens to be in the same company that syndicates Bennett. Did you hear some of my on-the-air comments about Bennett? First of all, he's not a professional talker. You can't say all of a sudden, "Hey, I want to do a talk show because I used to be secretary of this or secretary of that…I'm just going to jump into radio."

TMV: It certainly didn't work for Mario Cuomo…..

Schultz: The only reason it's working for Bill Bennett is that he has a company hard-bent to the right, Salem Radio Network. They don't syndicate any progressives….There's an infrastructure in place to give Bennett a lot of support. He's got a stable of talkers out there.. I also talked about Al Campanis. Remember when he got fired? And Jimmy the Greek. Remember when he got fired? Well, tell me how their comments are different from what Bennett said, other than Bennett running around saying he was taken out of context….

The fact is, the climate today has changed quite a bit. The conservatives have an audio culture set up to give pushback on any of their people that get in any kind of trouble. There's an infrastructure there....

TMV: Do you think there's any truth about "talking points" or do you think they're all listening to what they're all saying?

Schultz: Well, I believe there (are) talking points there. I believe there's an infrastructure that filters to all 450 of these meatheads.

Bennett was not taken out of context and I predicted (what happened next). He had a stable of talkers backing him up, number one. He goes to Fox News and gets safe haven, and he attacks Ted Kennedy. This is so in their playbook. They attack where they're weak and they try to make other people the target....…(Bennett) is trying to massage the comments and I think it's absolutely an abomination of talk radio and humanity that he can't admit he made a mistake. So what's in his heart?

TMV: When you're attacked by conservatives this way — or by people on the Democratic left in the case of your comments about Howard Dean — what impact do you think this has on your show, your future attitudes towards these groups and what they advocate, and — the bottom line — on your show's ratings?

Schultz: There is no group that will ever have an effect on what I say.....My opinions belong to me, and nobody else. They don't belong to the Democratic party or they don't belong to any conservative group. I'm not going be owned by anybody.


TMV: You call yourself a progressive radio host. Do you see it as classic progresive, center, center right, center left. I hate labels but…

Schultz: If you had to describe my show, it's a hard line drive to left center.


TMV: The Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination has battered the Republican coalition. What's your view about what's going on in the Republican party — and how do you think this will end? Do you have any inside info from anyone about this?

Schultz: I would be shocked if her name is withdrawn because I think this is all part of the plan. I think this is all a big head fake.

I think President Bush has held true to his word and he has delivered for the conservative right exactly what they want — a pro-life judge. In fact, I think he's hit the trifecta: he's going to take care of abortion, pro-business and also somebody to protect the executive. Because who knows what kind of problems are going to come down the road for Bush.

You have to understand the faith of Evangelical Christians. If you were a true believer, there is no constitutional law that will trump God's law. That's how they think..live...(and) what they believe. And I think the fact that the President is putting an Evangelical Christian on the bench who has unparalleled loyalty to the President, when he says "I know her character and I know her heart," he's telling the Christian conservative community who put him in office, I'm delivering to you all the goods.

TMV: And the Democrats?

Schultz: Well, I can't speak for the Democrats. I don't know what their strategy is. I think what they're doing right now is that they're sitting back and letting these hard-right conservatives and conservatives go back and forth at one another (but) I think it's a big head fake. I think the conservatives are well-orchestrated and I think that they're pretending that there's this huge division within the party to dumb down the Democrats. I think she's a wolf in sheep's' clothing.

TMV: Certainly in the blogosophere some of the stuff is heartfelt, with law professors going at each other…

Schultz:...James Dobson this morning (reported) this conversation with Karl Rove that there was a short-list and some of these judges didn't want their names on the short-list because, according to Dobson, they said that the process has become so vitriolic and mean-spirited…And my question to that is: What was so gut-wrenching about the Roberts hearings?

TMV: There was a story out about a possible battle in the White House between Andrew Card and Karl Rove…some split within the White House...

Schultz: I'll guarantee you that, if Karl Rove has go to serve one up for the team, he'll do it. ...

TMV: So you feel there's no way this nomination's going to be stopped?

Schultz: When has Bush ever backed down on anything? He views backing down as a sign of weakness and he views standing strong even if you're wrong on an issue as a sign of leadership. In my opinion he has very jaded view of leadership.


TMV: What's the impact in general of progressive talk radio? They were shell-shocked after the last election. ..

Schultz: Well, I don't think you can make an impact in less than a year. Let's be honest about this. You've got to have critical mass. If you don't have critical mass, it's going to be hard to have an impact. That's just the radio business.

You know, I'm not on the air to make sure somebody gets elected. I'm on the air to do a great radio show. I'm part of a business plan. I'm not part of an election plan. I happen to be a progressive and liberal on many issues — and centrist on quite a few as well....I'm on a mission to do a great radio show and tell the truth.


TMV: You've been somewhat critical of the way Howard Dean has been raising funds and the way the Democratic leadership has responded in some ways. Where do you see the Democratic party going in 2006? Just being against the Republicans may not be enough...…

Schultz: My criticism of Howard Dean was strictly based on the Democrats not understanding the power of audio, not being accessible in the audio world. The Democrats are still in this culture that if they talk to inside-the-beltway media that they're going to be able to get their message out. They've got to get out of that framework.

I used to tell Tom Daschle this: "Tom, when you come out of that chamber and meet those microphones those sound bites are inside the beltway and they're on CNN for 10 seconds. The Democrats are not talking to the heartland. They're not talking to the American people." He said "Well, I don't have a vehicle to do that." Well, now they do. There's no excuse for them not being accessible...(and) not being aggressive with audio. Either they're going to get in this fight and talk to the American people, or they're not.

This big deal about Karl Rove having a conversation with James Dobson before some of the Senators on the judiciary committee knew. What is so surprising about that?

Why should the White House be concerned about one Senator from one state when they can solidify the base and talk to James Dobson and hit 28 million people in a week?

The Republicans have figured it out. They've got Rush, Hannity, Dobson. When they want to talk to America they go to talk radio. They go to Fox. The Democrats don't do that. The Democrats don't have the audio infrastructure to communicate with the American people.

And let me tell you something. When you've got 450 conservative talk show hosts on the air and they're all saying the same thing, believe me, the Republicans are communicating to the country. The Democrats are not. The basic theme of the conservative audio chamber in the country is to hate liberals, to vilify Democrats, to constantly say that they're wrong. And this has chipped away from the Democratic party and the moderate voters.

But now the conditions are such that a lot of people on their own are figuring this thing out, without having to be told all the time. Basically, the Republicans have got to explain too much about what's going on right now. They can't simplify it like they used to.

The Democrats and liberals have got to get aggressive on their message. Not only what they're saying but where they're saying it.

If I was Howard Dean, I'd be on Ed Schultz's show every week. He's not there. I'm not going to beg Howard Dean to come on. Buddy, you're running the DNC, not me...There are some Senators that know how to talk to their constituencies.

What's the first thing the Republicans and Bushies do? They solidify the base. No matter what happens, you have to solidify the base....


Schultz: You can talk about the political climate of the country all you want, but the fact is, we're in business to sell advertising. And that's what I want. I've got to be client-friendly and I got to be a radio guy first. We talked a lot about baseball today....

TMV: What about cable TV? Have you ever tried to get a cable TV show?

Schultz: They don't want a progressive on the air....I'm never going to get the opportunity because I'm too left. I was doing TV sports and play-by-play and outdoor shows for almost 18 years. I think I'd do a great job on these talking heads but I never get an opportunity.. Very seldom. Could I do MSNBC? You're damn right I could. I could do any of those shows. It's a matter of getting an opportunity and someone believing you could get it done….

TMV: What has been your best experience and your worst experience on cable TV?

Schultz: My worst experience was Scarborough because it was a three-on-one there and he cut my mike off. Told me to hurry up. I obviously didn't get equal time. I called the producer back and said don't ever call me back. I don't have time for that. All the rest of them, I think I've done a fine job.

I'm kind of fighting this Fargo thing, too. They think that because you're from Fargo you don't play well on any of these shows. I think if I had an opportunity to anchor one of those shows they'd be more than pleasantly surprised. Anchoring a TV show is not brain surgery, believe me....

TMV: Michael Savage didn't have a good experience, did he…

Schultz: That's because he's not a good TV talent...


TMV: A final question. Who was your inspiration in broadcasting and why did you go into it?

Schultz: I could tell you who had the greatest job in the history of broadcasting who I always admired: Curt Gowdy. That guy did the NFL games, he did all the playoff games, he did the Super Bowl, the American Sportsman. He had the best hunting and fishing in the world. He had the World's Fair.

I really admired Howard Cosell. I met Howard a few times early in my career back when I was working in Houston in 1980. I was working for an ABC radio station and I met Howard a few times when he was in Houston doing Monday Night Football. He told me "If you want to be great in television, do a lot of radio." I never forgot that. I watched him do a few of his radio shows and thought he had tremendous recall, tremendous command of what he wanted to say. I thought Howard Cosell was a real talent. In radio you've got to be able to communicate and you learn the communicative skills (and you have to)...know how to put it all together. So when you ask me who influenced me, those were the guys early on who I respected..

ON HIS ARMED FORCES RADIO DEBUT (which was apparently cancelled)

Schultz: My wife Wendy and I went down to Gulfport, Mississippi a few days after the hurricane (Katrina) hit. And we had an opportunity to go out on some resupply missions with a Black Hawk helicopter. We were flying with guys out of the Florida National Guard. They had just gotten back from Iraq. Wendy and I were down there producing a radio show on Labor Day. We got to talk to the military guys.

The liberals do not have a good relationship with military people. It's all a lot of what they've been told and what they've heard. I really view this as a real important step foward for our show to have an opportunity to tell the troops and those listening to Armed Forces Radio about how we fight for veterans' benefits and how we care about injured soldiers, proper armor, complete equipment and proper funding. All of those things, they never heard on conservative talk radio. All that has been on Armed Forces is ONE side of the story. It's no wonder the Democrats have an image problem with the military.

This is the first in an ongoing series of TMV original comprehensive reports and interviews.