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Downgrading Ed Schultz

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Ed Schultz is telling everyone that it was his idea to be reassigned from his prime-time 8 p.m. show during the week on MSNBC to a two-hour time slot late Saturday and Sunday. After announcing the change last Wednesday night, Schultz said he's happy about it, because he'll now have the time to do more in-depth stories, which he couldn't do before.

Maybe he really means it. But I'm not sure.

I'm skeptical because of the timing of the change, which will see Chris Hayes take over the 8 p.m weeknight slot as of Monday and be pitted against Bill O'Reilly of FOX and Anderson Cooper of CNN. Schultz had been getting increasingly agitated over the possibility that President Obama and the Democrats may be caving in to the GOP and allow cuts in social safety net programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The actions would be part of a "grand bargain" for reducing the deficit.

One week before the new scheduling was announced, Schultz said he had always supported Obama but was now wavering. The night before he announced his change, Schultz said "President Obama may really be the president that starts undoing the New Deal."

Ouch. That line had to go over very badly with the White House and senior Democrats. It's quite possible that the White House called to complain, and put pressure on the pro-Democratic network to push Schultz aside.

Such pressure, if it took place, together with the likely dismay network management already felt over Schultz' relentless and passionate defense of unions and "The Big Three" -- which so many in the business community want to cut back -- may have been the reason for removing Schultz in the middle of the week. No transition period -- just boom, you're now at a different time slot.

Obviously, this scenario is just speculation. I have no proof to back it up. But what happened with Schultz sure looks like a demotion of another outspoken liberal by MSNBC. Recall that this is the same network that in the past found reasons for removing progressives Keith Olbermann and Cenk Uygur.

Some media analysts maintained the switch came about simply because MSNBC wanted to make a "tone change" at 8 p.m.  With his populist approach, Schultz may have been seen as out of step with other network commentators who are more intellectual and wonkish, such as Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell. The suggestion is that the network thinks it can do better with this kind of style, particularly in terms of reaching a younger demographic.

I don't want to indirectly bad-mouth Chris Hayes. From what I've seen of him when he's filled in at night or on his "Up with Chris Hayes" show early Saturday and Sunday, he's not too bad: bright, thoughtful, and seemingly progressive (although one media analysis labeled him "right of center"). Even if he turns out consistently progressive, however, I doubt he will show the kind of fire Schultz did in defending the safety net and the interests of labor.

Remember Schultz' on-the-scene reporting in Wisconsin two years ago with union protesters fighting Gov. Scott Walker? Those shows were memorable and unique in mainstream TV journalism.

The sidelining of Ed Schultz couldn't come at a worse time. Progressives are fighting a bitter struggle against Republicans, big business interests and now Obama, to hold the social compact together. To win the battle, they need as many strong voices in the media as they can get.


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Reginald Johnson is a free-lance writer based in Bridgeport, Ct. His work has appeared in The New York Times, BBC-Online, the Connecticut Post, his web magazine, The Pequonnock, and Reading Between the Lines, a web magazine affiliated with the (more...)
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