March 14, 2013

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Ed Schultz and his eponymous show last night scored a significant scoop: an extended, no-stone-left-unturned interview with a man named Scott Prouty. Before his coming-out performance on the program, Prouty was just some faceless individual who had leaked a bombshell video to Mother Jones magazine. In that video of a Florida fundraiser last May, Mitt Romney made some disparaging comments about the “47 percent” of America that’s dependent on government and wouldn’t vote for him. Pundits all over the place insist it swung the election.

On his public debut, Mr. 47 Percent presented a compelling profile. He’s a regular guy, a bartender who wasn’t dead-set on taping Romney that night; he found Romney’s remarks about a Chinese factory spellbinding — the real news in the tape; he’s hoping to work with pro-labor organizations in the future; and he’s a man of greater empathy than Mitt Romney. It was all good television.

Yesterday the Erik Wemple Blog asked MSNBC how it had scored the exclusive with Prouty. After all, Mother Jones and Huffington Post had dueled it out last year in pursuit of the story. What had MSNBC done to score a big piece of it?

MSNBC spokeswoman Lauren Skowronski told us that the program would address that question, so no comment.

Prouty, however, commented. In his live interview with Schultz, he said: “I thank you for speaking out for workers all across America. That’s the reason I’m here today is because you have a voice that — I think we need more voices like yourself.”

Just not on weeknights in prime time.

Shortly after hearing those flattering comments from Prouty, Schultz announced to viewers that he’d be taking his act to the weekend — he’s no longer going to be holding down the pivotal 8 p.m. slot opposite Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly and CNN’s Anderson Cooper. In one of the more unconvincing Schultz proclamations, the host said:

I will be leaving this time slot at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and moving to Saturday and Sunday from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. I want you to know that I raised my hand for this assignment for a number of personal and professional reasons. My fight on THE ED SHOW has been for the workers and the middle class in this country.
This new time slot will give me the opportunity to produce and focus on stories that I care about and I know that are terribly important to American families and American workers. I am very proud of the work our team has done here at 8:00. But I have to tell you, sitting behind this desk five nights a week just doesn’t cut it for me.
I want to get out with the people like I did in Wisconsin. I want to get out and tell their stories all over the country. This show has been a show that has been a voice for the voiceless. That really was my mission when I came here to MSNBC, and it remains.
I’m going to be here at MSNBC for a long time. I’m not going anywhere. And I invite all of you to join me on Saturday and Sunday from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. And this show is going to start in April. I will continue to do my radio show. In fact, my goal is to do the radio show until the good lord takes me. That’s how much I love radio.

No one with the ego and the bombast and the blowhardiness of an Ed Schultz raises his hand to move from prime time to the weekend dinner hour. Such a scenario grinds against everything we know about Ed Schultz. Reading through his book “Killer Politics” — not to mention this Columbia Journalism Review profile – yields the portrait of a guy who worked long hours to clear his way into the big time.

The announcement of Schultz’s new and far less prestigious perch is a story that he himself suppressed months ago. The New York Times’s Brian Stelter reported in November that there was a “possibility” that MSNBC would replace Schultz with The Post’s Ezra Klein. And Schultz went ballistic, as Politico reported:

Here’s the first thing I want to say: Brian Stelter, is that his name? Yeah, S-T-E-L-T-E-R. He’s never talked to me. And if he were to talk to me, I would tell him that I have overperformed in my time period for the third quarter and on my way to do that in the fourth quarter of this year, which puts me in bonus territory. You know, money? I mean, that’s how well we’re doing at 8 o’clock. And so I have never interviewed with the guy, he’s never called me or asked me anything.

That was an embarrassment.

One of the hallmarks of Schultz’s tenure was haranguing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who last year prevailed in a brutal recall ballot. “Brutal,” in part, because of Schultz himself. In one broadcast, he said the reason Walker was being recalled was that “the guy sucks.”

When Walker won the contest to remain in office in June 2012, Schultz was visibly upset, parroting a liberal talking point that he “could very well be indicted in the coming days.” That was a reference to an investigation of some Walker aides dating back to his tenure as Milwaukee county executive. According to a Reuters report from this month, the probe is now closed, with no charges against Walker.

That was another embarrassment.

Another Schultz hallmark was his radio attack on Laura Ingraham. The liberal talker referred to the conservative talker as a “talk slut” and a “right-wing slut.” On his MSNBC show, he apologized exceptionally well – “I have embarrassed my family. I have embarrassed this company,” for instance — for the offense and endured one of those purposeless cable-news suspensions.

In some candid remarks at a New York media seminar, Schultz looked back on the slip-up:

You’re going to make mistakes. But if you drive hard and you believe in who you are and what you do and you live by that freedom of speech and you have character and you’re willing to stand up in front of a million people and say, ‘I did a terrible thing on the radio yesterday and I need to apologize.’ That moment will stick with me for the rest of my life, for the rest of my career.

Correct: Another embarrassment.

Sample some other Schultz quotes from that New York talk: “Believe me, I know what a hard lift is. Two stations, [inaudible] on the Internet, nine years later, here comes my arrogance: I don’t fly commercial anymore. I got two guys who fly for me at 45,000 feet. I’m proud of that. There was a lot people who said he couldn’t do it.”

More: “Here’s my goal. When those kids put me in the ground someday, I just want them to stand around that dirt pile and say, ‘You know, the old man stood up and he said something when something had to be said.’ It’s the legacy that we leave.”

Could a man possibly be fuller of himself?

Competitiveness, principle, personality, bluster and bombast have gotten Schultz quite a ways. They also may have limited the guy. That, along with MSNBC’s chase for younger viewers.

MSNBC announced this morning that MSNBC star Chris Hayes would be taking over for Schultz. Captain of “Up with Chris Hayes,” the newly elevated host has a reputation for thinking, as represented in the bio in MSNBC’s release:

He has written on a wide variety of political and social issues and his work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Time, The Nation, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Washington Monthly, The Guardian, and The Chicago Reader. He is a former Fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, a Bernard Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation and was a Schumann Center Writing Fellow at In These Times.

Perhaps not the sort of guy, in other words, who’ll score exclusives with the Scott Proutys of the world.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.