Tuesday’s recall election in Wisconsin marks the end point of MSNBC’s Ed Schultz’s 15 month-long mission to destroy Scott Walker. The conservative Republican governor’s attempt to fix that state’s budget crisis, by reigning in the public unions’ influence, sent Schultz on a rampage. The liberal talk show host turned his self-titled program, The Ed Show, into a hyper-partisan platform from which union activists, liberal journalists and Wisconsin state Democrats could join Schultz in his drive to oust the “radical” Walker out office.
From February 14, 2011 through May 18, 2012 anti-Walker guests dominated by a count of 237 (99.6%) to 1 (less than .5%). In that same span Schultz devoted a portion or a majority of 128 episodes to attacks on Walker.
Critics of cable news often suggest that MSNBC and Fox News Channel (FNC) are carbon copies of each other with FNC catering to the conservative side. However, over that same time period, Shultz’s 8 PM EDT time slot competitor -- FNC’s The O’Reilly Factor -- spent only 19 shows discussing Walker and those displayed a more balanced guest list with a total of 12 pro-Walker advocates (44%) to 8 (30%) Walker opponents, with 7 (26%) neutral voices.
Schultz began his obsessive assault on Walker when he opened his February 14, 2011 program by warning his audience that “There is a war brewing, folks...American wage earners are under a ruthless attack by a new group of cold- hearted Republican governors around the country. In the state of Wisconsin, newly-elected Republican Governor Scott Walker is trying to balance the budget on the backs of school teachers, prison guards, and snowplow drivers...Walker is also on a mission to destroy basic human rights, union rights that is, for public employees.”
The next day Schultz brought on the lone voice of support for Walker, GOP state senator Glenn Grothman, but from then on it was a steady stream of union activists, liberal journalists and Democratic officeholders as Schultz operated more like the Wisconsin Democratic State party chair than just your average cable news talk show host.
Democratic Solidarity Now!
When a group of “brave” and “patriotic” Democratic state senators – or as Schultz “affectionately” called them the “Wisconsin 14” – went into hiding, in order to stall Walker’s legislation, Schultz managed to track them down when he took his show on the road to Madison, Wisconsin. On his February 17, 2011 show Schultz absurdly portrayed members of the Wisconsin 14 as heroic resistance fighters: “Joining me now from an undisclosed location is Wisconsin State Senators Frank Risser and Mark Miller and nine other Democratic state senators who are standing up in solidarity for the workers of Wisconsin.”
Look for the Union Label
Schultz liked to invite union activists to The Ed Show as well. Rick Badger from AFSCME Wisconsin, AFL-CIO Wisconsin president Phil Neuenfeldt and Professional Firefighter of Wisconsin president Mahlon Mitchell, who defiantly proclaimed on the August 8, 2011 show: “We didn’t ask for this fight, but I guarantee we will finish this fight,” were treated to warm receptions from Schultz. This isn’t surprising given that, according to the Labor Department, Schultz’s broadcast company received nearly $200,000 from unions.
Walker's 'Racist' Agenda Against Kids
Schultz also brought on his brothers-in-arms in the media. On the February 16, 2011 Ed Show, Sirius/XM liberal talk radio host Joe Madison said the fight against Walker reminded him of “Martin Luther King and the reason he went to Memphis, Tennessee” and compared the pro-Walker forces to “Dixiecrats.” On the March 3, 2011 Ed Show, Schultz railed that Walker’s budget was “racist” because it was “picking on inner city kids.” Fellow MSNBC talker Al Sharpton then came on to agree that the proposal would “pick on” children, “take collective bargaining away” from their parents and “give a tax break to the rich.” John Nichols of the ultra-leftist magazine The Nation was a regular who, on the June 8, 2011 program, joined Schultz in a cartoonish portrayal of the governor as a kid hater:
SCHULTZ: I want to get your take on Governor Scott Walker. He reportedly has removed a portrait of low- income children from the governor’s mansion. And he`s replaced it with a picture of a Bald Eagle. What details do you have on this? Why did he do this?
NICHOLS: Well, as I understand it -- and this is something that’s been reported a good deal -- when the Walkers came into the governor’s mansion, they made it quite clear to the staff that they didn’t want this picture of these kids from Milwaukee in a prominent place in the mansion.
And so they asked that it be removed and taken over and put in a public space in Milwaukee, so that they could put up other pictures. It’s caused a real stir in Wisconsin. The artist who did the painting has expressed a lot of concern.
And frankly, a lot of other folks have asked why doesn’t this governor want to have pictures of low-income kids in the governor’s mansion? Is it because his budget and his policies are doing so much damage to kids like that?
Defending the Little Big Labor Guy
The day before Wisconsin voters were to vote on whether to have a recall GOP state senators, Schultz brought his act back to Madison, which gave him an excuse to spout anti-Walker rhetoric while adoring fans cheered on. On the August 8, 2011 Ed Show, Schultz proclaimed: “This is the eye of the storm for the fight for the middle class in this country...For eight months, Wisconsinites have been under attack by the anti-worker policies of Republican rookie governor Scott Walker, and his minions in the State Senate. Ten hours from now, Wisconsin voters will have a chance to go to the polls and recall six Republican state senators who voted to strip collective bargaining and take money out of the pockets of hundreds of thousands of middle class state workers” and “send shock waves into every Republican state house and congressional office in the country.” Schultz then proceeded to introduce, to applause from his live audience, two Democratic state candidates (State Representatives Fred Clark and Sandy Pasch) challenging the incumbent Republicans.
By allowing Ed Schultz to pay back his union buddies with hours of programming to attack Scott Walker MSNBC has demonstrated its willingness to move just beyond opinion journalism into outright campaigning for Democrats and their causes.
-- Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Geoffrey Dickens on Twitter.