And so America’s talk show political culture rolls on with the latest ugly, reprehensible example that you would not want young kids to hear and learn from coming from — a bona fide talk show host. MSNBC’s rising talk show star progressive talker Ed Schultz has been suspended without pay for a week for a sexist, vulgar lash out comment aimed at a conservative talk show host and he issued what seemed to be one of the most heartfelt apologies I’ve ever seen on the tube.
His sin: calling conservative talker Laura Ingraham a “right wing slut” for criticizing Barack Obama for drinking a beer in Ireland when there tornados at home but never criticizing Ronald Reagan.
UPDATE: Ingraham has accepted Schultz’s apology on Twitter. (Footnote: I don’t agree with her a lot of the time but I always liked Laura Ingraham and the way she did her program as a broadcaster. I’ve long felt Rush Limbaugh, Schultz, Igraham, Stephanie Miller were among the best left/right type radio talk show hosts in terms of broadcasting ability — which is not the same as a show’s ideological content or accuracy. Years ago I emailed Ingraham a compliment on her show and she responded in a way that I knew it was a personal response. If she was another kind of talk show host she would have prolonged Schultz’s agony and deserved humiliation over his language. His apology suggests he “gets it” and her Twitter suggests she also got it that he gets it. Also: I did a very long interview with Schultz that ran on TMV years ago before he went national. When we left Powerblogs that post was lost. These two talkers of different views have had radio shows I can listen to due to the way they pace their programs which aren’t as rip and read ideology as the vapid RNC unofficial p.r. man Sean Hannity’s on the right or unlistenable Mike Malloy on the left. I travel a lot and listen mostly to XM’s excellent POTUS show but if I get Schultz’s or Ingraham’s programs I can listen to these ideological talkers — at least for a while — even if I disagree with them which I often do. This may make me one of the few people in American who enjoys both of them on their less strident days.)
MSNBC issued this statement late yesterday:
STATEMENT FROM MSNBC REGARDING ED SCHULTZ:
MSNBC management met with Ed Schultz this afternoon and accepted his offer to take one week of unpaid leave for the remarks he made yesterday on his radio program. Ed will address these remarks on his show tonight, and immediately following begin his leave. Remarks of this nature are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.>
The best nutshell summary of what happened comes via the Washington Post before Schultz’s apology:
It takes a lot to move the needle in the angry, angry world of talk radio, but Ed Schultz did just that when he referred to fellow host Laura Ingraham as a “right-wing slut” and “talk slut” on his syndicated show Tuesday. The Internet rose up in revolt Wednesday but thus far no comment from lefty host, who also has an MSNBC show. Ingraham, via Facebook, quipped she “was surprised to learn that Ed Schultz actually hosted a radio show” and tut-tutted about “men who preach civility but practice misogyny.”
And here is Schultz apology which came on at the beginning on his MSNBC show which then was taken over by a fill-in host:
Schultz said this is an “indefinite” suspension which usually means back within a week or so. There is always a chance that things could happen in the interum — viewer pressure on advertisers which has happened with talk show posts in the past, MSNBC re-evaluating if it felt major damage was done to its brand — where it could morph into permanent.
But his apology seems about as extensive as we’ve seen on the air and about as personal.
Still, that does not pardon what we’ve seen —- again.
Schultz’s comments are yet ANOTHER manifestation of what is increasingly happening in our politics and is seen in so many ways in American political discussion. Anger and rage sell and get viewership and audience. But it is more than that. Many who write and talk politics now don’t turn up the rage and anger temperature cynically calculating the number of hits and new viewers or listeners. It’s just what automatically happens. It’s how things are framed.
It’s now our political culture.
You see it on cable, you hear it on radio, you see it in cable weblog comments, you read it on how other writers refer to other writers.
It’s like all of America has now become one angry, oh-God-I-can’t-wait-until-this-is-over screamfest family Thanksgiving dinner where relatives who have little in common get into political arguments that turn intensely personal. The argument becomes less about the issue they scream about than asserting verbal dominance and “winning” so someone couples a statement of disagreement with as brutal an insult as they can muster up to hurt and discredit the other person. And some other realtives may take sides.
It used to be that public officials or those involved in the political business were all fair game. But now we’ve moved on to expand this to writers, talking heads, other people in comments sections.
If you analyze it it comes down to simple a)someone is angry about someone justifiably or unjustifiably due to an idea, belief or assertion b)rather than just deal with the disputed idea, belief or assertion they almost on automatic pilot put in their response someone that turns to someone with whom they agree into something highly personal, or aimed to discredit or demean.
Talk show hosts do this all the time but don’t (all the time) go over the line by making comments that overtly reflect racism, bigotry or sexism. Some of those who who do have survived terrible slips into what the general political culture or corporate standards consider taboo and survived. Others haven’t or have seen their careers wane.
My betting is that Ed Schultz will survive this one particularly because some of those now blasting him look the other way and make excuses for right wing talkers.
But the pity is that he and other professional broadcasters who’ve crossed the line in letting “hot talk” become trash talk could have made their arguments much more effectively by hammering home their key points rather than saying something whether they had the time to analyze it or not was a “lash out” comment aimed at trying to discredit someone with whom they were angry.
The bottom line is that cable and radio talk have not in general uplifted American political discussion.
They have in general cheapened, demeaned, dumb-downsized it and polarized it.
Schultz slipped into a most glaring example which has nothing to do whether he or readers of this site like or agree with Ingraham or not. His apology seemed truly heart felt — and not just because he would see there was a possibility that the career he loves could be a hair away from unraveling or being seriously halted in its tracks.
And no matter what he will have to live with this: by making the remark he made he has not increased the pool of Americans who will tune into him on a longterm basis or feel that when he comments it deserves to be considered seriously. Once credibility is lost is difficult to completely regain.
Doesn’t it seem a lifetime ago that Gabby Giffords was shot and many Americans including politicos and talk show hosts pledged to pull back a bit on raising the anger level in American politics?
All the lofty assertions made then turned out to be as ephemeral as the bullets flying through the air on that terrible day in Arizona. Some disagree and think it was a turning point. If so, the turning point didn’t last too long.
The reason: increasingly the American talk show culture is how we discuss politics now in the United States on the air, and on the Internet.
The goodthing about a screamfest Thanksgiving is that you could leave at the end of the day and realize you wouldn’t have a chance of going through another one for another year.
But our talk show political culture rolls on and and on.
Because most Americans like being part of this adrenalin-rush-sparking way of discussing issues and millions of dollars benefit big corporations who market it and sell advertising for it so if one talk show host is let go there are always many others who may not CROSS that line but can go just UP to that line or cross it but leave themselves plausable deniability.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A typo in the first publication of this post had Schultz calling Ingraham a right wing “slug.” It was fixed. We regret the error.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.