On its website Thursday night, the Los Angeles Times hailed “MSNBC's Ed Schultz: A rare liberal success in broadcasting.” The subhead said Schultz “has been raising his ratings while talking about the issues of the poor and middle class working people.”
As usual, reporter Alana Semuels had to creep around the dominant ratings numbers of Fox News. In the ratings after the Times celebration was posted on Thursday night , Bill O’Reilly typically crushed Schultz by almost 3 to 1 (2.9 million to 1.1 million) and by more than two to one among the prized demographic of 25-to-54 (632,000 to 267,000). But Semuels tried to tout Ed’s year-to-date tally:
This year through early February, Schultz's nightly viewership has averaged 608,000, a 60% increase from his ratings during the same period in 2010, according to Nielsen. He's surpassed Cooper, who airs in the same time slot, though he has more than a million fewer viewers than O'Reilly, who also airs at 8 p.m.
If Thursday is any measure, when the gap was almost two million viewers, “more than a million” sounds like pro-MSNBC spin. Here’s how Semuels began:
Flip through the radio dial any given afternoon and you might hear an angry-sounding white man railing against the government, Congress and dastardly politicians.
No, not Rush Limbaugh.
This one criticizes Congress for not giving more help to the poor, the government for cutting off unemployment benefits, and politicians for pledging to dissolve unions. Ed Schultz has, over the last two years, made a niche in radio and on TV by talking about the poor and middle class, solidly gaining in ratings while more and more Americans lost jobs, benefits and middle class status.
Again, how badly does Limbaugh crush Ed Schultz in Radio Land? The Times really knows how to grade on a curve. Wouldn’t it laugh if someone tried to say the Orange County Register was a “conservative success” when it can only dream of the LA Times circulation?
Then Semuels found the radio expert to further their take that Schultz is a beacon of marketing intelligence:
"Schultz has very intelligently aligned himself with the interests of large groups of people in this country who have not been spoken for," said Michael Harrison, the publisher of Talkers, a website and magazine that follows talk radio.
There's a rise in "liberal" broadcasting because there are more poor people looking for someone who talks to them, Harrison said.
Semuels even puffed up Schultz for the way he dresses and recreates:
But there's also something very working-man about him that seems to draw in viewers who might otherwise be watching sports. He starts the day in sweat pants and doesn't change into a suit and tie until just before the TV broadcast. He likes to fish and hunt, and fishing pictures are posted on the wall in his office next to broadcast awards.
Schultz likes talking to working people. He's taken the show all over the country — to Ohio and Wisconsin, Oregon and Minnesota — to draw attention to issues facing the working class. His disciples call themselves "Ed Heads."
"He's kind of a rock star among some of our members," says Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.
Wouldn’t it be fun to take a poll of rank-and-file union members and see if Schultz beats O’Reilly there? Then the Times went for the official corporate spit-and-polish:
"This is a guy who understands how to connect with real people," said Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC.
Griffin hired Schultz after running into him at a [Barack Obama] White House news conference. In what Griffin calls a "tornado of a meeting," Schultz pitched a show to Griffin, who had never thought of hiring the then-radio host.
Since Schultz went on the air in 2009, Griffin has twice moved the show to better time slots — first from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., and then in October to 8 p.m., in prime time, the spot once anchored by MSNBC star Keith Olbermann.
"Right now, Ed will succeed because he's in the bull's eye of so many issues," he said.
Schultz is certainly an easy bullseye in Bill O'Reilly's or Rush Limbaugh's sights.