Liberal radio talker Ed Schultz was eagerly anticipating his debut yesterday on Armed Forces Radio, which agreed last month to carry his program to nearly a million soldiers around the world.
But at 7 a.m., Schultz's producer got a call from Allison Barber, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary for internal communications, who said without explanation that the deal was off.
Perhaps, Schultz said in an interview, it was just a coincidence that he spent the end of last week chastising Barber for coaching a group of U.S. soldiers in Iraq before a teleconference with President Bush.
"It kind of floored us," Schultz said from his studio in North Dakota. "The fact is, they don't want dissenting voices or any other kind of speech unless it's going to be promotional for them. Obviously, these people are making sure they're not going to have any opinion other than the Rush Limbaughs of the world."
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) won approval last year for a nonbinding resolution urging Armed Forces Radio to offer more political balance in programming. Limbaugh strongly objected, noting that the network carries National Public Radio and declaring, "I am the political balance."
Late last month, Manny Levy, chief of the radio division for Armed Forces Network, told Schultz's distributor, Jones Radio, by e-mail: "AFN Radio has squared away everything on our end to begin carrying the first hour of 'The Ed Schultz Show' each day, beginning Monday, October 17, 2005."
Levy added: "I'm sorry that there were so many panicked, 'I need an answer soon' calls, false starts and unexpected delays on our end. An awful lot of people in the government had (or tried to have) a hand in [the] program selection process that ended with the decision to add 'The Ed Schultz Show.' "
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said last night that Levy "got ahead of the process" and that no decision had been made in a review of which programming to add to the network. When asked about Schultz's insistence that his criticism of Barber played a role, Whitman called that "an unfortunate misperception on his part. That has nothing to do with this."
Barber was seen repeatedly on television last week asking mock questions to soldiers in Iraq, who generally gave responses similar to those they would momentarily provide to the president. Schultz played some of these clips on his show. The Pentagon said the soldiers were not rehearsed but apologized for "any perception that they were told what to say."
Barber was traveling and could not be reached yesterday. Schultz says Barber told his producer she could not say when, or whether, Armed Forces Radio would carry the show.