It sure was a productive Tuesday for Ed Schultz at his federal trial where he’s being sued for breach of partnership. He managed to make a huge liar out of both himself and MSNBC President Phil Griffin.
Schultz’s bid to convince jurors that he got his MSNBC show without any help from NBC sound engineer and producer Michael Queen proved rather deceitful thanks to his own electronic footprints.
Worse yet, the behemoth broadcaster’s ongoing attempt to turn the courtroom into his own little TV studio may have faltered when he walked into plaintiff attorney Catfish Abbott’s trap.
More evidence also emerged about just how desperately Schultz pined for a job with Fox News. Schulltz’s dimwitted lawyer even managed to insult the late Tim Russert and treat an acclaimed NBC News director as some kind of Peacock Network mailroom worker.
The morning started rather lousily for Schultz. His bluster under oath on Monday again came back to haunt him. Schultz had said unequivocally that he never saw the pilot Queen made and distributed to MSNBC and NBC.
Abbott ever so gently reminded Schultz that he had emailed Queen saying the pilot was “fucking awesome.” Uh, how did Schultz know it was so awesome if, as he testified yesterday, he never even saw it?
“I saw it one time, yes sir,” he said.
Well which was correct? You saw it or you didn’t?
“They are both correct, sir.”
Schultz doubled down on his now dubious claim. “He [Michael Queen] did not do anything to get me a TV show on MSNBC.” And, “we never had a partnership.”
Originally, Queen joined forces with veteran NBC News director Max Schindler to get Schultz a television show. Schultz tried to claim he had only minimal contact with Schindler and never met him. Or even knew much about his star-studded resumé.
Queen insists Schultz offered he and Schindler 25 percent of the profits each, with Schultz pocketing the other 50 percent.
But Schindler eventually pulled out when Schultz balked at signing a contract. As Queen testified Wednesday, Schindler didn’t trust Schultz and told Queen not to trust him either.
Schultz emailed Queen shortly after they teamed up to say that “any television show will obviously include you.” Faced with that smoking gun email, Schultz and his lawyers contended that the broadcaster was referring only to a syndicated show.
Laying yet another trap, Abbott asked Schultz about his email to Queen that “all parties should work together” to land him a television deal.
Did he mean what he said?
Schultz paused. “These were suggestions of what we could do,” he conceded.
And what exactly could they do? Abbott pressed Schultz to name the options available to him, Queen and Schindler.
“What is the spectrum [of options]?”
Schultz stonewalled, saying, “You asked a question that I could answer for an hour.”
Abbott: “Tell the jury all the possibilities.”
Schultz said he couldn’t really lay them out.
Acting bewildered, Abbott wondered, “What happened to the hour?”
Howell finally instructed: “Explain all the options.”
Schultz said one possibility was an infomercial, “available to anyone who has the money.”
He told Abbott that even he could do it.
Abbott replied: “I am glad you think I could be on TV, but let’s talk about you.”
Abbott persisted, “Tell us about a syndicated show. Explain what the options were.”
Schultz rather clumsily tried to avoid admitting there were really not any options. Abbott asked him if he knew of any shows MSNBC syndicated.
“I am not in the front office” for MSNBC, Schultz said. He admitted, perhaps much to his regret, that Fox did not syndicate shows. He said he’d been turned down twice for an MSNBC show.
“What about Fox News?” asked Catfish. “Do they do syndicated shows?”
Schultz said he did not know.
Abbot quoted Schultz emailing Queen that, “I am ready for Fox.”
Schultz laid out all the things Queen did to get him a cable or network show. He contacted people at CNN and CBS. He distributed promotional packages. He even got him an apartment in Washington so he would be better positioned to find a show.
The message to jurors was that Queen was working for Schultz in multiple ways even if they never inked a deal.
Frazzled on the stand, Schultz seemed happier than a pig in slop when Abbott invited him to step down from the witness stand so he could look over a giant blow up contract proposal that Queen had sent him.
Schultz was handed a microphone and asked to annotate which portions of the contract he found objectionable. The Ed Show had begun anew.
With a blow up of the contract on a giant easel directly facing the jury, Abbott asked Queen to write on the portions of the contract that he found offensive.
Schultz explained with considerable indignation that he could not possibly have agreed to four key provisions. 1. Queen and Schindler would share in profits from the sale of Ed Show merchandise; 2. Schultz would get two votes for any partnership decisions and Queen and Schindler would get one each; 3. Queen and Schindler would set their salaries; 4. If the Ed Schult faltered Schultz would need to wait three years before he returned to the air.
They were unconscionable. Prancing about, Schultz looked directly at the jury and walked within spitting distance–or maybe the proper term is Chris Matthews range–to the jury box. Referring to Queen and Schindler he said, “These guys invaded my career.”
Schultz dismissed Schindler. “You think I am going to give control over my career to someone I’ve never met, Mr. Abbott?” he asked. “I am going to turn over [my career] to somebody I never met?”
Schultz was also indignant that Queen and Schindler wanted a share of the profits from any Ed Show merchandise: “I am in the TV industry. [My name] is a whole brand.”
He was in the television industry? Abbott asked if he had ever won any awards for his television work prior to “The Ed Show.” Schultz replied rather meekly replied that as a sports correspondent in 1981 he won an award for covering the Minnesota Vikings.
He also strutted within Chris Matthews range to the defendant’s table and practically thrust his hand in Michael Queen’s face. “This is dictatorial stuff,” he charged.
What a performance!
Except this country bumpkin just had a few more questions.
If this contract was so bad, did you ever email your objections?
Schultz admitted that he did not.
And back to that pilot. Catfish played the opening segment of the demo tape for the jury. And then the opening for the actual show. They were almost identical.
Next he showed clips from the demo tape of three of Schultz’s guests. Then Sen. Tom Daschle, North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgin and longtime conservative activist Richard Viguire.
Jurors then saw the three men on the actual Ed Show.
After lunch, Abbott paraded three witnesses before the jury to show the laborious efforts Queen made to get him on a show. Fairfax kindergarten teacher Susie O’Connell, who said she had known Queen for decades, testified that she acted as Queen’s secretary.
Her husband told the jurors O’Connell worked day and night to help Queen.
The final witness was 85-year-old Max Schindler. Abbott walked Schindler through some of the highlights of his more than 50 years in the television business.
The NBC veteran had directed coverage of every presidential inauguration from Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush. He directed coverage of Ronald Reagan’s funeral and the return of John Kennedy’s coffin from Dallas. He said he was responsible for putting Tim Russert on the air.
Schindler told how he used his contacts in the industry to try to get Schultz a television show even though “I didn’t think Ed Schultz had the talent that Mike thought he had.”
Even so, he said he, Queen and Schultz worked in a “team effort” get the talkmeister a television show. “Schultz agreed to do it [form a partnership],” he said. “I was used to dealing with somebody’s word.”
But soon he grew leery of Schultz. “I finally left. I didn’t trust Mr. Schultz.”
Schindler held up under cross-examination by John Hayes. He repeatedly beat back attempts by Hayes to show Schindler really brought nothing to the table for Schultz.
“He [Schultz] was asking us to do a favor,” he said. “He was asking us to get him on TV. He refused to sign a contract.”
Schindler started to say that he also contacted the late Tim Russert about Ed Schultz.
Hayes cut him off abruptly: “I don’t want to hear what Mr. Russert said.”
Clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer, Hayes repeatedly tried to show that Schindler brought nothing to the table. Yeah. Nothing but a scant five decades in television.
Hayes also appeared to violate the big lawyer dictum to never ask a question to which you don’t know the answer. Hayes asked Schindler if it was correct that he had no experience managing a payroll.
“That’s not true,” Schindler shot back, saying he handled the payroll for a show he did for Pontiac and Cadillac.
And then jurors, who already got their own personal Ed Show, were treated to a mini-play.
Candace Harrington, who did technical work for Tim Russert, was scheduled to testify. But she apparently went AWOL.
So part of her deposition transcript was re-enacted. One of Abbott’s trial assistants took the stand to play Harrington. Hayes and Frazier Walton, another lawyer for Queen, read back some of the questions they asked in her deposition.
Harrington had arranged for Queen and Schultz to use an NBC studio to shoot the pilot. Hayes, playing himself, asked “Harrington” who gave her the authority to use the studio.
Harrington replied, “Nobody.”
It was not immediately clear why Abbott had this testimony re-enacted. But maybe he is laying another trap. Regardless, everybody spoke rather haltingly, like actors reading their lines for the first time.
But the worst performance of the afternoon?
That would be Schultz trying to play an honest witness.