Cenk Uygur: MSNBC ‘mistakes their mandate,’ does ‘great disservice’ to viewers

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, December 1, 2011 8:09 EDT
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Former MSNBC contributor Cenk Uygur, host of "The Young Turks" on Current TV. Image: Screengrab via YouTube.
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Cable news network MSNBC has, in recent years, positioned itself as a liberal alternative to the conservative Fox News Channel — a strategy that’s paid off to a degree, earning them scores of regular viewers among Democrats.

But beneath their firmly cemented establishment-left façade, having nearly unfettered access to power is sometimes not all its cracked up to be, according to former MSNBC host Cenk Uygur, who spoke to Raw Story this week.

“I know what the institutional, sometimes unspoken rules at MSNBC are,” Uygur said in an exclusive interview. “So, relatively speaking, you know what you’re going to get with MSNBC shows. I would be surprised if they changed that recently. But MSNBC, I think, mistakes their mandate as being pro-Democratic, as opposed to pro-progressive. I think that’s a really important distinction.”

Uygur, like former MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann, left the network in July after management told him to tone down the criticism of Democrats: something he simply refused to do, even when they offered a significant raise and prime-time promotion.

“I didn’t want to work at a place that didn’t want me to do my kind of show, that wasn’t interested in my kind of show, didn’t want to challenge power,” he explained at the time. Uygur later told Olbermann that he felt like MSNBC sacrifices truth for access to elected officials, and he wanted no part in it.

“Some of the hosts on MSNBC sometimes do criticize Democrats, but when they do it’s a big thing, like, ‘Oh, I’m out on a limb, look at this! Okay, let’s do it,’” Uygur opined, making an exception for MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan, who he said has “no hesitation” in attacking Democrats. “Whereas, we think, ‘Of course we’d criticize Democrats!’ The Republican Party is 99 percent corrupt, and we’re probably being generous there. The Democratic Party is probably about 80 percent corrupt. …So, if you’re not putting that out to your audience, you’re doing them a great disservice.”

Uygur, whose claim to fame is the widely-watched “Young Turks” program on YouTube, will soon reemerge on television airwaves, albeit in a slightly different form. Starting next week Current TV will begin airing “The Young Turks” as a lead-in to “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” giving Uygur an hour-long show and full editorial freedom to do as he sees fit.

“We get to put a lot of production resources behind [the new show], which is great,” he explained. “That means we can really be a gathering place for progressives throughout the country. Whereas it may have been difficult to get people through Skype for the online show, now we’ll be able to bring all those strong progressives on the satellite together.

“[Current gives me] terrific editorial independence. So, no issues on what to cover substantively — which obviously there was a significant issue over at MSNBC with that — and stylistically as well. They want us to do the actual ‘Young Turks’ show, which is much more irreverant, freewheeling and conversational than the MSNBC show was.”

He added that the new show would be more of a true gathering of progressives, and that it will be chock-full of “real interaction” with viewers. “So, instead of like, ‘Hey, it’s Natalie from Connecticut and she says this,’ then Wolf Blitzer looks blankly at the screen and moves on — no, I’m going to say, ‘Well Sally, that’s an interesting point but you’re totally wrong,’” Uygur explained. “Of course, that’s depending on what I really think about [various comments], but it’s going to be genuine interactions.”

The new “Young Turks” will also focus on integrating news and opinion from progressive blogs, which Uygur called crucial to understanding pressing political issues.

“We integrate progressive blogs into the show not because we have some kind of agenda, but because [they] bring a valuable context to these stories,” he said. “If you go to CNN.com, what are you going to get? The same old, trite story: Democrats said this, Republicans said that. You don’t have a mind, we won’t tell you what the reality is. So let’s throw it up there, be neutral and run away. You have to go to the blogs to get the context. Senator, you know — name one — said this, but on the other hand, here’s their voting record and here’s what they’ve done in the past. That’s the kind of context you need in a story, which is exactly what the mainstream press is afraid to do.”

“The Young Turks” on Current TV begins Monday, Dec. 5, starting at 7 p.m. EST.

This video was published to YouTube on Nov. 21, 2011.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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