After a six-month tryout as host of “MSNBC Live” in the 6 p.m. ET time slot, left empty when the cable newser fired Keith Olbermann in January, Cenk Uygur of the online politics and news commentary show “The Young Turks” announced on Wednesday, July 20, that he had left MSNBC.
In a video posted on YouTube that day, Uygur told his side of the story, of how, in late June, he was offered a great deal of money for “a different role” on the network — including weekends, but not a weekday show — and why he turned it down.
Uygur harkened back to an April meeting with MSNBC head Phil Griffin, in which Uygur says he was told, among other things, that “people in Washington” were concerned with the “tone” of his show.
A Wednesday New York Times story quoted an email from White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer stating that neither he nor his staff had expressed concerns about Uygur to MSNBC.
In the same story, Griffin said the “people” in question were MSNBC producers who were having difficulty booking guests on Uygur’s show because of his demeanor and “aggressive” body language.
In the YouTube video, Uygur talks about other parts of the conversation, in which he says Griffin told him that those at MSNBC were “insiders” and part of the “establishment.”
“I don’t want to go an inch beyond what I know,” Uygur tells Zap2it on Friday, July 22. “I know what I was told. He was not more specific than that, just ‘people in Washington.’ Now, the context of the speech was incredibly clear, with the whole ‘insider,’ ‘outsider,’ ‘establishment’ talk, right? So, you certainly got a sense of what he was talking about.
“As to who he talked to, he never said, I don’t know. I never said it was someone in the White House, because he didn’t tell me that.”
As for Griffin’s assertion to the Times that the “people” were producers booking guests, Uygur finds it “a little unbelievable” that such issues would go right to the head of the network.
“Second of all,” he says, “if my bookers told them they were concerned about my body language, waving my arms around, etc., I wouldn’t be given a long speech about insiders, outsiders, establishment — what a strange way to communicate that message, if that were the real message. It stretches imagination a little bit.”
Uygur believes it’s more a question of a cable news network protecting its access to political movers and shakers.
“The whole point of access,” he says, “is we’re supposed to arrive at the truth. It’s supposed to be a means to an end. We’re getting information and delivering it to our audience. But in so much of corporate media, it has become the end, not the means, because they feel it’s entertainment to some degree. We’ve got to have two sides on, and they’ve got to battle.
“I don’t think this is an MSNBC problem so much, it just happened to me within this organization. But I would be surprised if it wasn’t happening to all the networks and all the cable news to some degree, I would say, in fact, to a large degree.”
To protect the outsider, truth-to-power image he has cultivated at “The Young Turks,” Uygur felt he had to go.
“Our media is not leveling with the people,” he says, “because they’re obsessed with access. If I didn’t tell that story, given that I knew it, I had that story … it didn’t happen to somebody else. It happened to me, and if I didn’t share it with my audience, I think it violates the contract that I have with my audience.”
At “The Young Turks,” a “big portion,” as Uygur says, of the revenue comes from subscribers.
When it’s suggested that, instead of pandering to advertisers and politicians, he might instead pander to his subscribers, Uygur says, “No, because I have a long-term view of it. For example, when I began to realize that Obama was not at all progressive, when I basically realized that he wasn’t the guy we thought we voted for, I started saying it.
“That, of course, angered a sizable percentage of our audience, right? A lot of them left and said, ‘I can’t believe you’re saying this about a Democratic president,’ and they left membership.
“Our brand is truth-telling, right? And it’s more important that I stick to that brand in the long term. I’ll get a larger audience that way than if you just go with the wind of what people happen to think that day, according to your interpretation.”
While he’s staying with “The Young Turks,” Uygur hasn’t ruled out doing more television.
“If someone else on TV,” he says, “is willing to accept how I do the show — and now everyone is aware of what I feel is the right way to do a show — and they want me to do that as well as doing ‘The Young Turks,’ sure, of course, I would be willing to talk about that.
“We might have some exciting news about ‘The Young Turks’ in a couple of weeks, but that’s not ready yet.'”
In a brief segment at the end of the show, Uygur took questions and reiterated much of he said in the YouTube video.
Asked if he thought that going so quickly to Olbermann’s show
permanently squelched any chance of him returning to MSNBC, Uygur says, “I think I had already eliminated that possibility earlier.”
As for word that radio host Al Sharpton is soon to be hired for a show in the 6 p.m. ET slot. Uygur says, “One of my best friends had a funny line about this whole thing, like, ‘I can’t believe we live in a world where they brought in Al Sharpton, because Cenk was too controversial.'”