The Spectacle Blog

Ed Schultz and the Politics of Sadism

By on 5.26.11 | 1:28AM

As Jeffrey Lord noted, MSNBC's Ed Schultz was suspended from his TV show Wednesday after his vulgar radio attack against Laura Ingraham on Tuesday.

There are multiple layers of irony here. Ed Schultz has routinely accused conservatives of employing irresponsible rhetoric. For two years, his low-rated MSNBC show featured a segment called "Psycho Talk" devoted to examples of what Schultz deemed to be a right-wing tendency. MSNBC executives forced Schultz to discontinue "Psycho Talk" after the January shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. In the wake of the Tucson massacre, Schultz literally pointed the finger at Fox News for inciting violence -- although, as it turned out, the demented gunman's motive had nothing to do with Fox.

The partisan finger-pointing seems to be a psychological projection of Schultz's own vitriolic rage. Examples of Schultz's unhinged venom could be cited ad infinitum, but suffice it to say he recently won the Media Research Center's "Quote of the Year" award for this gem: "The Republicans lie! They want to see you dead! They'd rather make money off your dead corpse! They kind of like it when that woman has cancer and they don't have anything for her."

One could trace the development of Schultz's particular ouevre back to the early days of cable TV news, when CNN's "Crossfire" made confrontation a staple of the medium. The success of Fox News, concurrent with Republican ascendancy during the Bush years, convinced the Left that they needed to develop an antidote to the perceived rightward slant of Fox. MSNBC was the chosen vehicle for this misguided experiment -- misguided, I say, for two reasons:

  1. Fox News was itself conceived as an alternative to the llberal bias of the major network news operation. The success of Fox proved that there was a large audience of people who disliked the biased reporting of CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN. But MSNBC's attempt to re-invent itself as an anti-Fox involved the dubious supposition that there was some large audience of viewers who felt that other major networks weren't liberal enough.
  2. Fox's success was not entirely due to politics. The network's programming was innovative in several ways, with brighter colors, snazzier graphics, and news anchors who were younger and more attractive than those on rival CNN.

That MSNBC has attracted only a fraction of the Fox News audience is therefore not really surprising, because MSNBC's programming is based on a fundamental misconception of why Fox succeeds.

MSNBC's irrational anti-Fox mentality -- its self-conscious partisanship -- accounts for Schultz's tenure as one of the network's designated bully-boys who specialize in denouncing Republicans and conservatives. The original MSNBC bully-boy was Keith Olbermann, who recently left the network in a contract dispute. Olbermann has been replaced by Lawrence O'Donnell, who hates Republicans like God hates sin. Yet practically all of MSNBC's hosts (including Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Dylan Ratigan and Cenk Uygur) share the same disposition, so that the network's programming nowadays is hour after hour of GOP-bashing.

What results, then, is a sort of tournament in which the various MSNBC hosts compete to display the most thoroughgoing contempt for all things Republican. O'Donnell's style is sanctimonious indignation, while Maddow tends toward snarky irreverence. As obnoxious as they are, however, neither O'Donnell nor Maddow can match Schultz for the raw brutality of his anti-GOP rhetoric. It is hard to imagine that even the most partisan Democrat can much enjoy watching this large, angry man unleash his partisan rage. Schultz's sadistic bombast makes for an unpleasant viewing experience.

Wednesday, Schultz made an abject apology for his remarks about Ingraham, and will reportedly take a week's unpaid leave from MSNBC. His absence is unlikely to be mourned, except perhaps by a handful of twisted souls with an appetite for televised sadism.

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