Like most people, I never paid much attention to Ed Schultz. A loud, bullying, meaty man in the even meatier middle of the distribution when it comes to smarts, Mr. Schultz was your classic "lunch pail populist" as host of MSNBC's "The Ed Show."
During his six-year run on the network, I don't think anyone ever asked, "Did you hear what Ed Schultz said?" save when he uttered something ridiculous enough to make smart or decent liberals wince.
Still, I always thought he meant what he was saying. Sure he exaggerated and was prone to hyperbole. But that was his shtick.
It's clear now I thought too highly of him.
Politico Magazine's Michael Crowley has a fascinating story about how Vladimir Putin supports Donald Trump. This isn't all that shocking for anybody who's been attacked by the Twitter division of Putin's Ministry of Propaganda. But there's more significant evidence, including the much reported "bromance" between Messrs. Putin and Trump and the fact that one of Mr. Trump's top consigliere, Paul Manafort, was previously a one-man brain-trust for Viktor Yanukovych, the Putin stooge and kleptocrat who until recently ran Ukraine.
Crowley begins and ends his piece with a close study of none other than Mr. Schultz. You see, when Mr. Schultz lost his show at MSNBC, he cast about for a new broadcast job. He found it on Russia Today's American channel RT America, the newsy facade of Russia's global propaganda machine.
At MSNBC, there was no praise of Hillary Clinton too effusive and no slander of Republicans that was too extreme. Mr. Schultz often spent his days spewing out such statements as, "This is what the Republican Party stands for, though: racism. I think Donald Trump is a racist."
In 2011, when Mr. Trump was reportedly thinking of running for president (again), Mr. Schultz wrote in The Huffington Post, "...when it comes down to the devil in the detail of dealing with the issues ... and making real change, Trump, you don't have it. You've never had it. Money is not a measure of a man's character or success in the arena of public service."
Now I happen to agree with that second bit. The interesting thing is, Mr. Schultz doesn't — anymore. The man who once mocked Mr. Putin, now cashes his checks, as a pundit on his network, lending aid and comfort to the Kremlin's pro-Trump PR campaign.
Mr. Schultz recently told Larry King, his RT colleague, that Mr. Trump was like Ronald Reagan (he meant it in a good way). Mr. Trump, Mr. Schultz explained, "certainly has shaken up the Republican Establishment, and I think he's done it by talking about things that people care about." Mr. Schultz now says Mr. Trump is a great and decisive decision-maker.
So what explains the transformation? I don't like speculating about peoples' motives in part because 99 percent of the time, I find those who try to guess mine are wrong. (Former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke recently attacked me on Twitter for being a Zionist stooge for opposing Donald Trump.) Still, one possibility is that Ed Schultz is simply sincere. A more obvious explanation is that he's doing it for the paycheck. Both of those things are possible. But there's a third possibility: Some people need to be on TV or some other public arena. As with Mr. Trump himself, the money comes second to celebrity.
Russia Today was likely the only broadcaster offering to keep Mr. Schultz on TV — and that offer, perhaps, came with strings attached.
I don't know Mr. Schultz personally, so maybe none or all of these explanations apply. But I do know that some people get addicted to being recognized at airports and speaking into a TV or microphone. I've seen it for more than 20 years.
Heck, poor Larry King is a bit like Richard Gere in "An Officer and a Gentleman": he's got nowhere else to go. But Mr. King is different than Mr. Schultz and other pundits on the left and the right. Mr. King's job is to ask questions, not opine on what is right and wrong, politically, analytically or even morally. That's the life Ed Schultz chose for himself, and in the era of Mr. Trump, it is interesting and dismaying, to see who thinks the limelight — by which I mean ratings, popularity, celebrity and relevance — is more important than long-held principles, or basic truth-telling.
Mr. Schultz's case is interesting because of the Russia connection. Sadly, if I'm right about his motives, Mr. Schultz's case is not unique.