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Straight Talk from the HeartlandTough Talk, Common Sense, and Hope from a Former Conservative
By Ed Schultz
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Ed Schultz
All right reserved.
Who Is That Guy?
I have this vision.
In it, all those right-wing radio talk show hosts and industry gurus who said progressive talk radio couldn't make it are staring incredulously at the radio speaker with my voice booming out the unfiltered truth about what's really going on in America. Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid running for cover from a relentless posse, I hear them ask, "Who is that guy?"
It's me. Big Eddie. The brain, the heart, and, yes, the mouth behind the fastest growing syndicated radio talk show in America: The Ed Schultz Show. They said we wouldn't make it. They said it couldn't be done. Yeah, well, here I am.
Let me tell you about myself. You already know my name: Ed Schultz. People call me Big Ed, and from the cover photo you can see I come by my nickname honestly. I'm big: 6'2 and 250 pounds, although one of those statistics might be fudged. I'm fifty years old, and you can see I am devastatingly handsome. The truth is, the touch-up artist was probably hospitalized with carpal-tunnel syndrome after the work she did on my mug. I'm married for the second (and final) time to Wendy Schultz. Together, we have six kids from our respective first marriages -- all adults, now. How did a prairie-dwelling, red meat-eating, gun-toting formerconservative become the hope of liberal radio? It all started with this annoying habit I have of speaking my mind. Sometimes when I open my mouth all hell breaks loose. Other times I feel like a voice in the wilderness and I wonder, "Does anybody get this?" This time, the right man was listening. Big Eddie was coming through loud and clear.
When Wendy and I attended the State of the Union Address in January 2003, we had no idea how profoundly it would change our lives and begin to re-sculpt the landscape of American talk radio. I came to Washington, D.C., unsettled by the changes in America. The economy was floundering. We were on the eve of war. The mainstream press had largely been cowed by the administration and a climate of fear that had allowed the Patriot Act to pass almost unchallenged and unread through Congress. The neocons had hijacked the Republican Party and, it seemed, America itself. The Democrats looked weak and ineffective. Right-wing talk radio was spewing its propaganda relentlessly, decrying liberals as unpatriotic, angry, hateful, and just plain loony. And it was working. Democrats were growing frustrated with the constant hammering they were taking: Three hours of Rush Limbaugh. Three hours of Sean Hannity. Three hours of Michael Savage. Three hours of Michael Reagan. The list goes on and on. I believe if Rush Limbaugh had been a liberal in 2000, Al Gore would be president today. That's the difference talk radio can make.
I don't view this as a grand conspiracy, despite the fact that out of more than five hundred talk show hosts in America, only about forty are liberal or progressive. Rush Limbaugh made conservatism profitable. Some say he saved the AM dial, and maybe he did. But somewhere along the line, the industry got vapor-locked into believing that progressive talk radio couldn't survive and thrive in a nation split right down the middle between Democrats and Republicans. I'm here to prove that isn't so. It all comes down to business and ratings. It doesn't matter what your affiliation is. The big question is: Are people listening? We're entertainers, not journalists. This isn't brain surgery.
It's simple. If you get ratings, you get to keep the job. Merchants line up to advertise on your show. It's incredible: We sell thin air for hard cash. And Merlin thought he was a magician! I'm half-kidding. There's real value in airtime. Listeners make decisions based on what they hear on talk radio. That's why this is such a dangerous time for our nation. Talk radio today is dominated by a conservative mindset that is all too often mean-spirited and intentionally dishonest. There is no balance. America thrives on diversity of opinion. I truly believe that's part of the reason we're not thriving now. The America I love has become an America of haves and have-nots. There's an economic greed machine at work here that is swiftly creating a two-class system.
That worries me. Where's the morality? Where's the justice? All of this dishonesty and imbalance in the media and the Bush administration was a real burr under my saddle when I arrived in Washington to watch President Bush deliver that State of the Union. I'd had enough! The day before the president's speech, I was one of forty other liberal talk show hosts taking part in a seminar sponsored by Tom Athans, founder of Democracy Radio, an organization aiming to restore objectivity to talk radio.
As part of the program, the talk show hosts were asked to speak. I had no idea at the time that this was really an audition. Tom, a former Congressional staffer and Air Force veteran, was looking for someone with the moxie to stand up against the juggernaut of rightwing radio. When I got on stage, I did what I always do -- I let 'em have it. I said, "Democrats cannot combat nine hours of right-wing radio with a ten-second sound bite on the five o'clock news. It's not going to work! You are being out-worked and out-organized. Until you fight back, you're just going to keep getting beaten up!" Afterward, Tom Athans pulled me aside. "You're my guy," he said, and then he told me about his dream to bring a progressive voice to America's airwaves. It was far from easy, but today I have a nationally syndicated show, I'm on satellite radio, I've been featured on the Today show, the cable shows are calling, and Esquire made me the Man of the Month in February 2004. (I was against it until I found out I didn't have to pose naked.) Is my head spinning? Sure. I made the leap from a regional talk show to the national stage. Some people have tried to anoint me the savior of "liberal" radio. Look, big as my ego is, even I know that's a reach. This is a start. Like the farmers in the heartland who feed this country, we're planting the seed. And it's growing. But you know what? I am the right man for the job. It sounds boastful, but it's a matter of confidence.
I believe in myself. I am secure in my philosophy. Dizzy Dean said, "It ain't braggin' if yuh kin do it." I think I can. I know I can. The righties know it, too. Otherwise, why would the attacks be so virulent from Hannity and the gang? Even Limbaugh has started taking shots at me, calling me that "poor little guy" from North Dakota. Yeah, well, everybody has an opinion. Everyone I know has an opinion about me. I'm brash, egotistical, aggressive, passionate, big-hearted, talented, pugnacious, and meaner than a snake -- those are some of the opinions. Like opinions on almost everything in America today, the ones about me are extreme.
So which one of those descriptions really applies to me? The truth is, probably all of them. I don't toe any party line: I take my stands based on judgment, compassion, and good old horse sense, no matter what I'm told I should believe. And today that really throws some people off. It's ironic. Here I am, an average American, more blue collar than white, but I'm not allowed to be in the middle. In today's America -- especially on the political landscape -- you're supposed to be either right or left. Conservative or Liberal. We all get labeled and boxed, and you know what? That's just plain dishonest. It doesn't do me justice. It doesn't do you justice. We're more complicated than that. America is more than black and white. It is brown and yellow and red, white, and blue. That's the honest truth.
Honesty. It's a rare commodity in the media today. We hear halftruths.
Omissions of the truth. We are intentionally misled. The truth may be right before our eyes, but some right-leaning talking head tells us it isn't so, and too many people believe it. I can't remember a time when I had so little trust in what my leaders were telling me. Thank God for a free press, and yet even the media has fallen short. We don't verify or challenge official sources nearly enough.
If it looks like bullshit and smells like bullshit, it probably is bullshit. As an industry, we're soft. And even when a journalist does ask questions -- simply asks questions -- he is vilified as anti-American. Good journalism is almost against the law nowadays. When did seeking the truth become anti-American?
My point is that I always strive for honesty. My parents instilled it so deeply in me, I just don't feel good if I don't say what's on my mind -- even if it's unpopular. Now that I'm writing my first book, I am intensely aware of how liberating and painful this project might be. Talking about the glory days is easy. Revealing the warts, examining the contradictions, and exposing past bad behavior? It will hurt. But it will make for some good reading. I'll tell it like it is.
Excerpted from Straight Talk from the Heartland by Ed Schultz Copyright © 2006 by Ed Schultz. Excerpted by permission.
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