MSNBC and radio show host Ed Schultz made a firm statement this week on his cable news program The Ed Show saying “I support workers in every workplace in America when it comes to fair share, collective bargaining, and the vote.” The statement was nothing if not interesting.
If you are a regular viewer of The Ed Show or at all familiar with Mr. Shultz this statement would seem to go without saying. Ed Schultz is perhaps the most well know trade union advocate in corporate media today. His MSNBC program led the coverage of the Madison, Wisconsin protests against Governor Scott Walker’s successful attempt to bust public worker unions in the state. Schultz has also been the go-to TV show for union spokespeople before and since the Madison protests – a friendly venue to get their message out not only uninterrupted but supported.
So why is Ed Schultz telling viewers to look him in the eye as he pledges fealty to workers rights? The answer is due to a little known labor dispute going on within the NBCUniversal/Comcast media empire that has some on the left questioning Schultz’s commitment to workers.
Chief among the critics are Mike Elk, Josh Eidelson, and David Sirota. Elk called into Schultz’s radio show to ask if Schultz would stand with workers at Peacock Productions a long-form production unit for NBC News. Workers there are looking to unionize and seek better compensation. Schultz was initially evasive and the conversation turned nasty with a focus on personal comments made by Shultz regarding Sirota, Eidelson, and ultimately Elk of having “income envy.”
Schultz claimed he and one of his critics, David Sirota, had an extensive and acrimonious personal history from their “Denver days” which seems to refer to a conflict over the legality and usefulness for journalistic investigation of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Schultz called into Sirota’s radio show and eventually told him to “go to hell” on air. The feud stemmed from Schultz condemning critics for not showing more trust in the Obama Administration which Sirota condemned as reactionary and he claimed Schultz was an opportunist – a charge he reiterated in a piece on the Schultz/NBC controversy.
… as George W. Bush’s presidency deflated the popularity of conservatism and inflated the popularity of pro-worker populism, the ratings-hungry Schultz abruptly rebranded himself a progressive champion of unions. While it certainly looked like an unscrupulous act of shameless hucksterism, Schultz’s move was definitely a smart tactical shift. Branding-wise, it correctly assumed that an audience of rank-and-file Democratic political junkies was so desperate for their own hyper-macho Limbaugh they would cheerily ignore Schultz’s right-wing past. Ultimately, Schultz’s makeover not only helped him vacuum in union money but also got him a television show on MSNBC just as that network was simultaneously trying to rebrand itself as a left-leaning outlet.
For Sirota at least, the antipathy appears to come more from who he believes Ed Schultz is rather than how much money Schultz makes.
In any case, Schultz has now – for all appearances – taken somewhat of a stand in favor of the Peacock Production workers as those workers would certainly fall under the “every workplace in America” pledge. This would make Schultz the second MSNBC liberal personality to support the Peacock workers as Chris Hayes already reportedly met with them. Will other hosts join in and will those that work for the purportedly progressive cable channel gain their rights in the workplace?