MSNBC’s Latest Acquisition, Ed Shultz, Is Roiling Rustic on Populist Mission

edschultz 1 MSNBCs Latest Acquisition, Ed Shultz, Is Roiling Rustic on Populist MissionOn Monday evening, for the third time in less than a month, progressive radio host Ed Schultz filled in for David Shuster as the host of MSNBC’s 6 p.m. show 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

About 10 minutes into Monday’s telecast, Mr. Schultz reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a blue credit card. Looking into the cameras, Mr. Schultz directly addressed U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

“This is the only credit card my wife and I have,” said Mr. Schultz. “I’d like to know, how is it that the rates can go from 9 percent to 29 percent, overnight?”

“Mr. Geithner, I’m on your team,” he continued. “I hope this works. But this is what average Americans are talking about. They don’t get these credit card rates. And we need a break in the middle class.”

Who was this folksy Rush Limbaugh look-alike, wagging his finger at the greedy corporate union-busters, and asking with head-bobbing exasperation, ‘What gives?’

As The Observer first reported on Friday, March 20, Mr. Schultz is currently negotiating with MSNBC brass about the possibility of joining the cable news network on a full-time basis.

What exactly Mr. Schultz would do for MSNBC remains to be determined—much of the speculation to date has focused on him taking over the 6 p.m. hour (currently anchored by David Shuster) or the 10 p.m. hour (which currently features a repeat of Countdown With Keith Olbermann).

And Mr. Schultz comes to MSNBC from the small (but expanding!) corner of the universe known as liberal talk radio. In that world, Mr. Schultz has grown into a big deal in recent years. His eponymous show, which started in Fargo, N.D., in January 2004, is now syndicated by the Jones Radio Network on more than 150 stations around the country.

But much of the local response to our item asked the question: Who is Ed Schultz, anyway? Forgive us New Yorkers, America. We don’t know radio.

On Monday evening a discounted copy of Mr. Schultz’s 2004 book, Straight Talk from the Heartland, was available at a half-price discount.

As it turns out, Mr. Schultz is 55 years old, stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 250 pounds. Over the years, he has had a dog named Buck, a business manager nicknamed Bank Shot and a pale Norwegian producer with a “black belt in liberalism” named Homey.

He’s a guy who listens to his gut, and his gut tells him many things of political significance, often having to do with how greedy corporations are running roughshod over America’s hardworking middle-class citizens.

The book, which is heavy on autobiography, football anecdotes and populism, includes chapters titled “Government by the Rich for the Rich,” “Corruption is Killing the Middle Class and the Economy,” and, “They Call Me Angry.”

Mr. Schultz, who describes himself as a “jockstrap who reads a little bit,” grew up in Norfolk, Va., played quarterback in high school alongside a friend improbably named “Moose Battle,” went to college at Moorhead State University in Minnesota and got into broadcasting after failing to be picked in the 1978 NFL draft (an experience that the author describes as the worst of his life).

Until the late ‘90s, Mr. Schultz was a self-described “hard-charging, what’s-in-it-for-me conservative radio talk show host” who was “a shade right of Attila the Hun.”

Then in 1998 he went on a date with a “beautiful, blue-eyed blonde, who managed a homeless shelter.” Eating a baloney sandwich in the Salvation Army cafeteria, Mr. Schultz experienced a political epiphany of the maybe-I-shouldn’t-be-ridiculing-poor-people variety and subsequently converted to liberalism. 

To this day, Mr. Schultz considers himself an entertainer, not a journalist. He enjoys getting into scraps with the big, conservative boys who dominate talk radio.

Witness his recreation, in “Straight Talk,” of a sample “conversation” with Sean Hannity:

    Hannity: Yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda

    Me: Idiot

    Hannity: Blither, blather, blither, blather!

    Me: Dumb ass

In recent months, a number of pundits who got their start in talk radio—including MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Fox News’ Glenn Beck
have pulled in large TV audiences not long after debuting new shows on cable. So perhaps it should be no surprise that MSNBC’s president, Phil Griffin, is potentially looking to add another talk radio vet to his network. And Mr. Schultz, with his rustic delivery, blue-collar bona fides and copious hunting references—would presumably add some heartland credibility to MSNBC’s wonky cosmopolitan lineup without disrupting the lefty story line.

In the meantime, evidence suggests that Mr. Schultz is already taking a page or two from the MSNBC playbook.

On Monday evening, he mixed it up with a couple of U.S. senators over newsy topics of the day (see Matthews, Chris), he took a jab at a competitor at Fox News with much higher ratings (see Olbermann, Keith), he effusively praised NBC elder statesman Tom Brokaw (see Gregory, David) and he wore a purple tie (see every MSNBC host except Maddow, Rachel; but expect it shortly).

Perhaps most importantly, given the current trend in cable news, Mr. Schultz seemed comfortable taking advantage of the much-touted New Populist Outrage.

“Mr. Geithner, would you call me? I could find some people,” said Mr. Schultz on Monday evening. “I know some people in the financial sector who would step up to the plate for this country. Stop asking the people on Wall Street to fix Wall Street. We need some real new blood. Whether it be from Washington or New York.”

Or Fargo, N.D.