As luck would have it, I've never seen Mafia wives exchange air kisses as they feign affection. But I saw a close approximation of it Friday on "The Ed Show," a few hours after hearing a similiar version on Ed Schultz's radio program.
Schultz had blown a gasket over the airwaves Thursday in response to a passage from MSNBC colleague Richard Wolffe's new book, "The Message: The Reselling of President Obama." (Video, audio clips after the jump)
The book chronicles the inner workings of Obama's run for re-election during the 2012 campaign and an excerpt that has received plenty of media attention involves Schultz.
In December 2011, Schultz was one of a half-dozen media liberals invited to meet with Obama at the White House, along with Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and Jo-Ann Reid, all of MSNBC; Ezra Klein and Greg Sargent of the Washington Post; Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo; and Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington. "It was the first serious outreach to rebuild his base in (Obama's) brief political career in Washington," Wolffe writes in "The Message."
After citing who was present at the meeting, Wolffe described what Schultz had to say --
Ed Schultz sat listening to others opine before ripping into an impassioned plea for the president to stand up and fight. The forty-fourth president listened calmly and nodded his head, surprising his aides with a meek appearance that successfully masked how little patience he had for such criticism.
Schultz first mentioned the excerpt this past Monday when he read from a Washington Post blog that described his remarks as a "tirade." Far from being angered by this, Schultz came across as amused and pleased, misinterpreting what occurred as Obama "paying attention to my commentaries" and complaining to the New York Times in response. "I don't know, maybe they had thin skins over there at the White House," he concluded.
By Thursday, after Schultz was inundated with complaints on Twitter for insufficient reverence toward Dear Leader, he launched into a 10-minute long harangue about how his remarks at the White House meeting were not a tirade and not disrespectful toward the president.
"That is a total mischaracterization of that meeting," Schultz complained. "I mean, this has just completely spiraled out of control. I'm getting beat up for it. There was no rant. There was no tirade. There was no engagement of negativity between me and the president of the United States. And quite frankly, I'm pissed about it."
Wolffe did not owe him an apology, Schultz said, "I've got a thicker skin than that." As for those who slammed him over the episode, "the rest of you can kiss my ass, OK?"
The next day, Friday, Wolffe dutifully appeared on Schultz's radio show to clear the air. He also revealed his sourcing -- his account of what occurred at the meeting came from "two people who were in the room on the White House side," while Wolffe added that he'd spoken previously with Schultz about the gathering.
"Where we have a difference of characterization is this idea of the passion," Wolffe said, " 'cause you said you told him to fight, that's right here, it's the passion of your plea. And the word, I didn't say you ripped the president, I said you ripped into the plea, I was pretty careful about that. Now, I think Ed Schultz on a low-key level to other people still speaks with passion, I do. And the White House people said that your voice wasn't louder, but it had more heart in it. And that's what I mean by the passion -- not agression -- passion that he needed to do this."
What followed was as close as Wolffe was willing to go with a mea culpa --
SCHULTZ: To your credit, those words ("rant" and "tirade") were not in your book, but 'ripping into an impassioned plea' I think took people to a level where it didn't need to be.
WOLFFE: Well, I, I ...
SCHULTZ: And, and, and that's where the mischaracterization comes in.
WOLFFE: Right. I can see where, how I gave people the room to mischaracterize it ...
SCHULTZ: Yeah ...
With Schultz strongly implying that Wolffe resorted to exaggeration at best, or shabbily inaccurate reporting at worst, Wolffe tried to thread the needle by claiming he'd merely given people "the room" to mischaracterize what occurred. In other words, the fault lies with them, not him.
A similar conversation between the two men occurred later Friday on "The Ed Show" as their all-out effort at damage control continued. Once again, each put their best face forward, hail fellow well met, and this time Wolffe went further in conceding that his account may have been off the mark --
SCHULTZ: OK, seeing how my mother was a high school English teacher, let's break down this, let's graph out this sentence here (taking yellow highlighter to paper). Any time you put 'Ed Schultz' and 'ripping' ...
WOLFFE: Yeah ...
SCHULTZ: ... in the same sentence, I mean, I tell you what, it's a whole ocean right there! (Blogger's note: thank you, Ed Schultz, for one of the best belly laughs I've had in years).
WOLFFE: OK, OK, yeah ...
SCHULTZ: I mean, that's just it!
WOLFFE: So, I didn't say you were ripping the president or whatever people want to put, I said you ripped into the plea, a plea. Now, I understand that my language opened this up, so for that I apologize. But people are messing with this and twisting it and that's not what I laid out. I said you went out and told him, you told him to stand up and fight. Did you do that?
SCHULTZ: I did, I did. But I didn't rip into him. But you're exactly right, you did not use the word "tirade" as some commentators did and I think that's irresponsible. That was a mischaracterization, not only in the New York Times but in the Washington Post. I guess this is how you get people to read "The Message: The Reselling of President Obama." (zing!)
WOLFFE (uneasy with detour in conversation): I ...
SCHULTZ: This is one unintended consequence on your part.
WOLFFE (with what appears to be genuine humility): Well, maybe I need to control my own message a bit better.
SCHULTZ (wholly lacking in humility): Yes you could.
Suffice it to say the truth lies somewhere between both accounts. Does anyone believe it would have taken nearly two years for public disclosure of a genuine, pyrotechnic Schultz tirade in front of the president?
It was probably Schultz in his initial commentary about this who came closest to the truth -- "maybe they had thin skins at the White House." Especially after an MSNBC anchor and radio lib talker they'd long considered an ally came to the White House and told the president to grow a pair.