McFeely: Why Ed Schultz still moves the needle in Fargo like nobody else
Editor's note: This column was originally published Jan. 17, 2016.
FARGO – Ed Schultz is still the king. The rest of us are wannabes and anybody who tries to pretend differently is a liar or delusional or both.
Schultz is still the media personality who moves the needle in Fargo-Moorhead more than any other, almost seven years after he was booted off his most recent local radio show and nearly 20 years after he was at the peak of his powers at KFGO.
We know this from both factual data and anecdotal evidence. The factual data comes in the form of web clicks. A story posted on Inforum.com about Schultz taking a job with Russian TV—WTH?, as the kids say—drew tens of thousands of views over a couple of days and was among our higher trending posts for more than 24 hours.
The anecdotal evidence? The number of people who asked me about it.
A typical conversation about Schultz's latest incarnation:
"Did you see that &^%$#@# Ed Schultz is going to work for the Russians?" somebody would ask me.
"Yes," I'd respond.
"He is such a %$#^**). The &^%$#% will do anything for a buck. I can't believe he'd work for the Russians."
He wants to work. He needs a job.
"The ^&^$#^&! must be so desperate. He keeps getting canned and keeps scraping the bottom of the barrel for money. He is such a ^%$#%^&."
Ed had a national TV show on MSNBC for six years. He was probably making $5 million a year when got fired. He was making hundreds of thousands in speaking fees. Heck, he was making more than 200-grand a year doing radio in Fargo. I don't think he's scraping the bottom of the barrel.
"Yeah, well, he's a ^%$#%&*!."
Therein lies the needle-moving powers of Ed Schultz. Seven years after you could regularly hear his voice screaming inaccuracies and personal insults over the local airwaves, he's still a ^%$#%&*. And in broadcasting, for better or for worse, that's the name of the game.
It's not whether or not you like him, or whether you agree with his opinions, or whether what he says has any merit, whether you think he's a turncoat because he went from being a right-winger to a left-winger.
No, no, no, no, no. It's whether, when you're bellied up to the bar in Finley, N.D., or Frazee, Minn., you're talking about him. And people still talk about Big Eddie.
Make no mistake, Schultz is most definitely a %^$%#^&. He's also a @#%#^^. And a *&%$^$#. There are stories I could tell. There are court documents I could show you. There is nobody who worked with him at WDAY or KFGO—and I've worked in both buildings recently, so I know—who can stand the man. He is legendarily the single most universally disliked—and in many cases reviled—person who has worked in Fargo-Moorhead media.
He is also the most talented broadcaster this market has seen. And the most savvy. And the most fearless. It helps to be completely void of a conscience, which Schultz is. It helps to be a megalomaniac, which Schultz is. It helps to be so singularly self-centered and relentless in the pursuit of attention and money that nothing else matters, which Schultz is.
But here's reality: Schultz can, if he's feeling a little bored, use his now-defunct national radio show to accuse the beloved mayor of Fargo of using schoolchildren as slave labor to make sandbags in a flood fight. Dennis Walaker uses kids as slaves!
Ed made that ridiculous accusation a few years ago. Completely inaccurate. Awful. Wicked. And brilliant, if you're Ed Schultz looking for attention. Fargo buzzed about it for days.
No other broadcast yakker in this town could've done that. Not me, Joel Heitkamp, Jay Thomas, Scott Hennen, Chris Berg. We're all on the JV team.
I had Ed on my KFGO show after he made the slave-labor accusation. He was in Fargo that day, so he dropped by the studio. When the "on-air" sign turned on, so did Schultz. We went back and forth. He was bombastic. I defended Walaker. He was having none of it. It was great radio theater. After a couple of segments, he was done.
As Schultz was leaving the studio, I thanked him for stopping by. As he shook my hand, he winked.
"That'll get your phone lines going," he said with a smirk.
The ^%$#%*& was right, of course. Schultz knew exactly what he was doing. He'd calculated exactly the effect his words would have. He'd moved the needle. As always.