Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Can't we all just get along?

The decision by XM Radio to move Ed Schultz' show over to their dedicated Air America Radio channel (ch. 167) has irritated some listeners and pleased others. And yesterday, it heated up into a nasty on-air radio war, hung out for all to hear.

Last Friday, Air America host Sam Seder had Marc Maron on his show, as he does every Friday. Maron noted that Schultz has been added to the Air America channel (XM167), and that concerned listeners should contact XM if they would rather hear Thom Hartmann in the time slot. He also referred to Schultz as 'weak'. Seder even posted a rather mild suggestion on his blog:

...there's a rumor going around that Thom won't be carried by XM on the AAR channel. Instead they'll carry Ed Schultz. If I listened to AAR through XM- I'd be pissed.... let them know how you feel

Well, that certainly didn't go over well with Team Fargo. Schultz and Air America have had their differences in the past. Over three years ago, Schultz and Randi Rhodes were reportedly up for the same job, an attempt to create a nationally-syndicated liberal talk radio show. Schultz got the nod, and there's been a few infrequent jabs traded back and forth between the two ever since. For the most part, though, back and forth bashing has been pretty tame, though several hosts, including Rhodes and Seder, have thrown around a little smack at Big Eddie. On his show last summer, Mike Malloy referred to Schultz as a phony liberal, which resulted in Schultz blasting him on-air as a 'punk'. Schultz has occasionally ripped on Air America for their business practices. Yesterday, the shit really hit the fan.

After being informed by a listener e-mail about what Seder wrote on his blog. Schultz was livid, and spent a good part of the opening hour of his Tuesday show lashing out at Air America (mp3). An enraged Schultz accused Air America of being "unscrupulous... not good people... they undercut everyone..." and "give liberals a bad name." He accused them of "encouraging a war," and if "they want a war, I'll give 'em one." Schultz went on to blast their recent financial woes, claiming they're "hate merchants" who "raped people for $40 million," and "they never sold a commercial." He turned the tables, and asked his listeners to call XM and demand that they replace the "crappy" Air America shows with Jones Radio Networks stablemates Stephanie Miller and Bill Press, and even give his frequent guest host Norman Goldman a show.

"Air America sucks, their shows suck, nobody buys them, they’re not good people, they're unscrupulous, they give liberals a bad name, and if you’ve given money to Air America you're an idiot too because they don’t deserve it," snapped Schultz. "They can eat me. They suck. They don't know how to run radio and I don't like them anymore." In addition, he was rather terse toward his callers on the issue.

Needless to say, Schultz' tirade has made waves throughout the online community, with mixed opinions. Some of Schultz' most dedicated listeners stood behind him, while many are furious at what they see as 'liberals eating their own.' Even some of Schultz' listeners felt he went a bit too far. Schultz' producer James Holm responded back via this Daily Kos thread with this statement:

I'm Ed's producer

I will way in on the once, and only once. I produce the Ed Schultz Show. I won’t fight you about whether he went overboard or not, I’m just hear to clear things up in this thread that I can back with 100% fact. Before I start, I just want to tell you that I’m not offended in any way that some of you hate our show. Radio shows are like beer, some people like Miller, some Bud, some Heineken & some even like Guinness. They’re all beer, the same way that Ed, Al, Randi, Thom, Sam, Mike, Stephanie and Bill are all Progressive talk shows. I know it shocks you that I used a beer analogy, I work for Ed.

1. Randi Rhodes NEVER turned down Democracy Radio and gave the money to Ed. This is only one of the misrepresentations she has repeated about Ed multiple times.

2. AAR never turned Ed down. We are owned by P1, syndicated by Jones and have never wanted to be part of AAR. The truth is, they have tried to acquire our show multiple times. We have always said no.

3. Ed is not paid by the Democratic Party. The owners of the show, Randy Michaels & Stu Krane are both Libertarian Republicans.

4. Ed did go after Howard Dean for not appearing on Progressive talk often enough. Ed gives Dean credit for the 2006 victories and has had him on the show almost once a month for the last 12 months.

5. It drives many of you nuts that we call our show the most listened to Progressive talk show. The reason that we do is, no matter what you think, we are Progressive and we have almost a million more listeners than Al, a million and a half more than Randi & Stephanie and no other Lefty host even cracks a million. WE ALL WANT THAT TO CHANGE.

6. Ed loves Joe Lieberman about as much as Sam Seder likes Ed. We had Ned Lamont on twice as much as Joe last cycle. Ed has repeatedly called Joe on the carpet over his stance on the war on terror.

7. Ed is the only closet Republican that I have ever seen donate money to Tom Daschle, John Kerry, Christine Gregoire and multiple other candidates without giving one dime to a Republicans.

Did Ed go over the top today? Did Sam go over the top when he is leading his audience to believe that there is any chance for Thom Hartman to get on XM even though he knows that decision is already set in stone? Did Mark Maron go over the top when he said Ed wasn’t a true Progressive and that he towed the party line? Was Randi over the top when she has called Ed a closet Republican, an evil, horrible person who she "let" have his job? Was Mike Malloy over the top when he echoed Randi about Ed?

That’s a decision you have to make, just like you do every time you belly up to the bar for a beer. Yes I know, beer again. AAR producers or other AAR employees might have their own version of history to tell, I encourage them to do so.

I can tell you the solution to this whole problem.

Don’t talk us down, Ed won’t swing back.

Seder was rather shocked by the whole thing, and issued his own statement via his blog:
I don't make a habit of publicly attacking other liberal talk show hosts- in fact i never do it (maybe i said some sarcastic things about colmes a couple of times).

Apparently, Ed Schultz, a liberal ? progressive talker on the Jones Syndicator roster is supposedly angry at me for asking you guys to support Thom Hartmann. It was nothing against Ed- I just am a fan of Thom's and it is called AIR AMERICA XM 167 and Thom is an AAR host, Ed (and based on his rant today feels strongly about it) is not.

Well, I had heard this was brewing but didn't believe it was possible, but Ed exploded in rage today, lashing out at me, Al, Randi, AAR, Malloy, his callers and even his show handlers.

Personally, I don't think this is about me or my supporting Thom, but more on that later. For now, this is how people are reacting.

The decision by XM to move Schultz over to XM167 has been somewhat controversial. Over the past few years, since Air America signed an exclusive deal with the satellite provider, Schultz' show has been in a state of limbo at XM. The show has been shuffled around various XM channels, and as of late has been broken up or delayed. This move gives him a live clearance on the service, though at the expense of Hartmann's show. XM has not given the reason for this move. Some may speculate that XM is no longer confident in Air America's on-air content. Or that they simply wanted a live clearance for Schultz' show, and this was the only reasonable way to do it. In essence, XM167 looks rather similar to how it was back in early 2004, when Schultz' show displaced three hours of Rhodes' show. The XM exclusivity deal removed the dedicated Air America channel from Sirius, and gave the network its own dedicated XM channel. In addition, XM provided the network with remote studio space in Washington, DC. Nothing else is really known about the Air America/XM contract, such as if XM is allowed to add non-Air America shows to XM167.

What also isn't known is how Hartmann figures into all of this. Hartmann's show is a bit of an anomaly at the network, in that he actually owns it, has many of his own sponsor deals, and can handle many of his own negotiations. "EcoTalk," "Politically Direct," and various weekend programs at Air America have a similar arrangement. When Air America bankruptcy rumors were gaining steam this past fall, the plain-spoken Hartmann stated on-air that he would not be affected by any problems with the network, as he could easily self-syndicate or latch on with a different syndicator should Air America meet its demise. He experienced a similar situation when his former network, I.E. America shut down and he self-syndicated briefly prior to being picked up by Air America. Hartmann also has his own podcasting deal with White Rose Society and other carriage dealings, including his own radio affiliates. His show is also on Sirius Left, albeit in a chopped-up form to clear room for a show by the channel's Lynn Samuels. And he's an employee of Clear Channel Communications, for whom he hosts a local morning show at KPOJ in Portland. He even gets health insurance from Clear Channel. XM has not disclosed whether or not they had to negotiate with Hartmann seperately, although his weekend 'best-of' show airs on the channel on Saturdays as part of the Air America general feed, and fill-in gigs for Rhodes and Franken have aired on XM167. XM's public take is that they're still trying to find a way to make Hartmann's weekday show available to XM listeners.

But the heart of the issue is thus: Is all this catfighting really beneficial for liberal talk in general? And what good really comes out of it, seeing as many of Schultz' biggest affiliates also air programming from Air America and other distributors? Is this yet another example of the dreaded 'circular firing squad?' Keep in mind that Air America and Schultz, and all of Jones Radio's liberal talk offerings, are basically joined at the hip. Schultz claims that Air America can't sell ads, but only mentions in passing that Jones actually has a business arrangement with Air America, in which they handle the network's advertising sales. And Hartmann uses Jones satellites for transmission of his show (Air America supposedly uses either Westwood One or Jones satellites, or both). And it is highly doubtful that Schultz, Miller or Press would have enjoyed the growth of their show had it not been for Air America helping to fill gaps in the schedules of many affiliates. Let's face it, Schultz alone would not have been able to convince stations to go all-liberal talk in 2004 had it not been for the presence of other programming, specifically Air America. Without Air America, it's likely that Schultz today would be sharing stations with lower-tier syndicated hosts like Don Imus and G. Gordon Liddy. I'm sure that would sit well with him even less than sharing space with Air America. In other words, they all have to learn to co-exist, often on many of the same stations. They do have a synergy, whether they like it or not.

LTR has often written rather favorably about Schultz. He's been given much credit for the effective way he and his syndicator have been able to make liberal talk programming a business success. And he's known for having on some of the best guests of any liberal talk show, including prominent political figures and big-name newsmakers that often don't get invited on conservative talk shows.

Unfortunately, he's not too nice behind the backs of some of his guests. That's when Big Ed's Big Ego gets in the way. He's trashed Howard Dean, Hillary Clinton and others who bypassed his show or didn't ask "how high" when he demanded they jump. Schultz gets a bit hot tempered when he feels he's getting 'disrespected or downright ignored.

And yes, he's spot-on about many of Air America's problems. The network's executives, past and present, have run things pretty half-assed. Their business practices have been embarassing, company executives have constantly let their egos get in the way of operations, programming has often been erratic and sloppy, and they've made some strange decisions in the past that gave them horrible publicity (Danny Goldberg's 'donation club' thing and the firings of Malloy, Maron and Lizz Winstead, just to name a few). And they have not been willing to reign in some of their talk show hosts, who's shows often tend to lack structure. And Franken was wrong to drag out his rumored retirement from radio as long as he had. Nonetheless, trashing Air America on the national airwaves does Ed no favors whatsoever. Considering that many people that listen to him also are fans of Air America, this only ostracizes them. Is that really good for the format? Especially when irate listeners are calling radio stations demanding his removal. Considering that quite a few radio station owners are thinking about removing all liberal talk programming, this is a really bad move. Schultz was wrong to go on for as long as he did about Air America.

In addition, while Seder has been a bit more mild in attacking Schultz (though he did anyway with other comments), encouraging XM to drop Schultz from XM167 was a rather risky move, considering how he's encouraged similar moves in the past (most recently with affiliate WWRL, where he attacked their local morning host Armstrong Williams, and was punished by the station with a one-day replacement by Miller). Seder's recent action is teetering on the brink of unprofessionalism, though, to his credit, he did not slam Schultz, though on-air cohort Maron did. And it should be noted that Hartmann and Miller have at least stayed above the fray in all of this, with Miller even being complimentary toward Air America on her show.

In closing, everyone, including Schultz, Seder, Rhodes, Malloy, etc. need to learn how to get along. Everyone who listens to liberal talk radio has their own tastes when it comes to shows they like and don't like. This is not a hive mentality. Therefore, everyone needs to realize that they have their own place in the format. Schultz appeals the same way to the blue collar crowd that hosts like Malloy, Seder and Rhodes appeal to the far-left. It's a pretty big tent. Save the venom for funny jabs at the people who really deserve it - people like Limbaugh, Hannity and O'Reilly. To contradict the Dixie Chicks' Grammy-winning song (I just had to make mention of that!), they need to be 'ready to make nice.' All of this back-and-forth on-air bashing does little except look petty and give liberal talk a bad name. It is highly unprofessional. It's Valentine's Day, for cryin' out loud! Can't we all just get along?

Don't make me come up there and settle this!


Anonymous said...

The best way for everybody to get along is to kill off Air America Radio. It's the best thing for the progressive talk format and for Randi and Thom (although not for the not-ready-for-prime-time hosts like Seder and Maron). AAR has been discrediting liberal talk radio since day one. Take it to the vet. Put it out of its misery. Good riddance.

barooosk said...

Great post ltr! If liberal talk radio ever hires a commissioner. I nominate you... barooosk

Lifa said...

This is good analysis, however, you ignore three things. 1. Ed has publicly slammed AAR prior to this.
2. Ed has blacklisted guests for expressing admiration of Keith Olbermann (see No Quarter)
3. Even if granted Seder mentioned Ed over the last week he has never slammed him in the past.

Maybe- MAYBE- Seder shouldn't support a fellow Air America Host but he has never slammed Ed.

TED said...


Aaron said...

Bringing up AAR's business practices in this matter is irrelevant in my opinion, just Big Ed mad and swatting with everything he can. In question, really, is the business practices of the XM. The satellite network bought exclusive AAR content and ought to provide it to its listeners, untouched. Sirius subscribers who listened to AAR on Sirius were screwed a few years ago by the move to XM, and they'll be screwed again by this decision. It seems to me that the real solution isn't that darned difficult: Open up a second liberal talk channel, keeping 167 for the full AAR lineup and placing the other content on another channel. This among other things will lead this listener to be cutting back on his XM subscriptions and adding another Sirius radio to his collection.

ltr said...

Sam Seder has published an open letter to Ed Schultz on his blog. Due to a massive traffic spike on his blog, some parts of it have been inaccessable in the past few days. Here is the direct link to Seder's post. I'll reprint the whole entry here:

An open letter to Big Ed

Someone sent me a link to your extended on air comments regarding Air America Radio today and the possibility occurred to me that perhaps your remarks were ultimately not about my asking for listener support for Thom Hartmann on AARXM 167. I’m concerned I have become a surrogate for some previously unexpressed ill will and general disagreement you've been harboring against Al, Randi, Mike Malloy, the very idea of Air America Radio, and some other segments of the progressive movement and media.

It has been suggested to me that it is not a coincidence that your comments yesterday come shortly after your move to 12-3 pm est and the day before Al leaves radio where he has been doing his show in that time slot for nearly three years. This explanation is a bit cynical for me, though I must admit I am at a bit of a loss as to your reaction yesterday.

I never imagined that advocating that Air America affiliates, including AARXM, carry Air America programming would hurt your feelings, nor was it my intention to offend you. I have always felt competition between Jones Media progressive programming and AAR was healthy and would promote more and more progressive talk. Surely, any plans that XM may or may not have to carry you on the AARXM channel did not come about without lobbying by your representatives. I do not fault you, your Executive Producers or Jones for this, of course, it is the nature of our business or any business. I am confident, that if you truly feel uncomfortable associating your brand and name with Air America Radio on XM your representatives could request that you not be carried on the AARXM channel.

While I know that we have some disagreements politically, (your intense support of pro escalation Joe Lieberman, my intense support of the netroots, etc.) ultimately, we share a lot more political values, not to mention a love of fly fishing and beer, than not. It pains me to see you do this disservice to yourself and progressive media in general.

I will continue to support my friend and co-worker Thom Hartmann, not because anyone has paid me to or even asked me to, but because it goes to the heart of who I am. But please know, I hope this is not taken as an offense by you. I continue to believe and hope you will have more success in the future,

all the best

Sam Seder

UPDATE: This site has been slammed with huge traffic today- and we have been inoperable most of the day. As you can see, comments have yet to be restored and we have lost the section to the right. We are working on it.

Second Update: I've been asked to highlight a link in the above post. This one. It is a post by ex-cia agent, Larry Johnson of No Quarter. In it he retells how he became persona non grata at the Ed Schultz Show because Ed resented Larry's praise of Keith Olbermann.

Patrick said...

I have been a fan of Ed Schultz and Air America since 2004 and after Ed's rant last Tuesday, that was totally uncalled for! There was no need to call Sam Seder and everyone else at AAR names when Sam is entitled to his opinion about Thom Hartmann not being on XM Satellite Radio! I even talk to our local AAR affiliate in Seattle, KPTK 1090, and their programming guy is not thrilled cause he's been receiving alot of calls from irate listeners like myself! Ed should be thankful that AAR exists because if it didn't no one would know about his show and thats how I learned about it! If Ed feels that way and won't apologize to AAR he definately lost a listener in me!

Jeany said...

Since I live smack in the center of the worst black hole in terrestrial radio, I bought Sirius within a few months of AAR going on the air. Of course I also tuned in to Thom and Big Ed, but I was 100% an Air America fan. I was pretty peeved when they switched to XM, but I sucked it up, sold the one and bought the other. I am pretty frustrated with this new development.

There's plenty of liberal talk out there, more than enough to fill two channels, and I hope XM will have the decency to either add a channel or rename 167. They didn't seem to appreciate my call with that suggestion, but the time-shifting feature of their equipment rewards listeners who stay on the same channel.

I'm not interested in listening to Ed, certainly not at the expense of Franken or Thom Hartmann. Head to head with Randi he had a chance to get my ears now and then, maybe, but not in the 12 - 3 slot. I can't imagine that his listeners will really appreciate the Seder lead-in or Randi following. I hope as the new AAR management settles in, they'll be able to deal with this situation.

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