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MSNBC’s Ed Schultz on Occupy Wall Street: What Took You People So Long?

Speaking to TheWrap on the heels of his first documentary — it’s about the Chilean Miners — he says he supports the protests but wonders why it didn’t happen last year

MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, host of “The Ed Show,” has been in broadcasting for three decades, but a documentary was missing from his resume.

That changes tonight with the debut of “17 Days Buried Alive,” a special airing on MSNBC about the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for more than three months.

Schultz serves as the host and narrator.

But a funny thing happened in the week between the moment TheWrap set up an interview with Schultz's representatives, and when he actually got on the phone — Occupy Wall Street became a national story.

What do the two have to do with one another?

For Schultz, both involve workers’ rights, a subject he is very passionate about.

So TheWrap talked with Schultz about media coverage of the movement, why Barack Obama needs to take a stand on it, and of course, his documentary debut.

So we are supposed to talk about your new documentary on Chile, but I heard you were on your way to the Occupy Wall Street protest. What are you planning on doing there?

Schultz: We’re going to interview some people down there and cover it, get a pulse of what their focus is. I want to see if they’ve become a little bit more focused in what their mission is.

Do you think the lack of focus prevented them from getting more media attention initially?

Do you think it was held back?

No, but some people did since they didn’t receive a ton of coverage until this past weekend. They only got people’s attention when arrests started to happened.

Here’s how I viewed it: They are protesting in a borough of 8 million people, and how many people are there? A couple thousand.

When it first started there were maybe a thousand people there, but it was in the hundreds in a city of 8 million. Well in Wisconsin, there are 250,000 people in the city of Madison, and 100,000 protesters, and there is a focus of going after a bill to reverse collective bargaining …

Did these people vote in the last election? Where was this energy when the Republicans took over the house in 2010? Are they apathetic voters who all of a sudden felt scared and decided to do something about it? In November 2010, that election was on the heels of a record number of filibusters. Is the sleeping giant waking up late? I am curious as to what exactly this is and where it’s going to go.

From what I’ve heard, I’m very supportive of it.

Why do you think this all came about now and not before?

I think the unemployment has a lot to do with it. The lack of movement in Washington to try to rectify the situation with the economy and the obstructionist attitude that continues to play out. It has pretty much frozen our government, which has become the target — and rightfully so in my opinion.

It is a reaction to the new normal, and I don’t think the American people will accept the new normal of high unemployment and jobs being shipped overseas.

Given the widespread frustration with President Obama, does this enthusiasm bode well for the left in 2012?

The left has been frustrated because President Obama has allowed the Republicans to run all over him … Whether this is beginning of a third party or not remains to be seen. I am sure there are Obama supporters out there. I am sure there are some anarchists out there, people out there who wanna see change.

Does it help that the Republican field is in disarray?

No, but I think it helps that the Republican Party is in disarray with people on Occupy Wall Street. These folks are pissed off because their jobs are gone. You have a good economy you don’t have this protest. Whether this affects 2012 remains to be seen. It would seem to me that at some point President Obama is going to have to address these protests. It would seem to me at some point lawmakers will have to make a decision on whether you’re standing with protesters and advocating change or doing the same stuff.

So, let’s get to the documentary.

This is a compelling story. It’s really something I think the American people should pay attention to because there is a great story here other than what they went through. That it’s how we treat workers not just in our country but [around] the world when it comes to safety and precautionary measures. Had it not been for the families and people in Chile, I’m not sure the miners would have gotten out.

This is a world conversation about workers rights and human rights. This is a dramatic story about human desire and will, discipline and dedication

And this is your first documentary yes?

This is the first one I’ve done.

Had you been looking to do a documentary or was it the particular story that got you?

I saw this and I really wanted to be a part of it because it really cuts to the fabric of how we value workers, whether it be in this country or any other country. Many mines in the world are unsafe. They are dangerous as hell. It’s an opportunity to explain how workers are exploited. It really fit a bigger picture of what I’ve been trying to focus “The Ed Show” on.

Did you feel the story was not covered enough?

This tells a part of the story that could have gotten a little more focus. The story at the time was, ‘Are they going to get to them, are they going to get them out?’ There was not much attention on who were the people who were pushing government and holding it accountable.

So you interview six miners; how did you choose them?

I was working in conjunction with a company that had access to them, the BCC, and I was fortunate enough to be allowed to be a part of it. I expressed interest that I wanted to be a part of it.

One of them talks about wanting to get rich so he can give away all his money to get his previous life back. Have you heard from them since to see if that trauma has abated at all?

I think this experience has changed their lives, undoubtedly. It has changed the way they view world, their families, how they view fellow workers.

Were there any documentaries that inspired this project?

It doesn’t have anything to do with this documentary, but I was very much in admiration of [Ken] Burns and his work on the Civil War documentaries that they did some years ago on PBS. I thought that documentary on the Civil War was just fabulous. I’ve always wanted to be part of a doc after I saw that.

So can we expect any other documentary projects?

I'd like to do one on the environment, and I really would like to do something on global warming because I just don’t think that’s going away. I think politically there’s people trying to sweep it under the rug. That is something I would like to hopefully be a part of.

The other thing I'd like to sidebar about would be something on the oceans. We never see any journalism or documentaries on the oceans and what we’re doing on this Earth and how it affects the oceans and how important they are.

I'm intrigued by it. It’s almost an untold story.