Cenk Uygur Press Conference: I Left MSNBC So I Could Tell the Truth
In his exit from MSNBC, Cenk Uygur is not going quietly. In a teleconference call with reporters, Uygur reiterated his assertion that he was denied a permanent show in the 6 PM slot he has occupied on the the cable news channel since January because he was too challenging to government officials. (
Before he signed off his final show last night, In last night's episode of his own, internet-based program, "The Young Turks," Uygur broadsided the network for its timidity at speaking truth to power; video below.)
In lieu of a weeknight hosting gig, MSNBC offered Uygur what he says was a lucrative contract for a weekend show plus punditry on the channel's week-night programs -- a deal he turned down. Uygur, who also hosts the Web-based video program, "The Young Turks," says he walked away from MSNBC because he felt it more important to be able to be truthful with his audience. Network executives, he said, had asked him to tone down his aggressive interviewing style.
In going public with his MSNBC dispute, Uygur has yanked the curtain from the machinery of the current cable news system, showing exactly how MSNBC does not play for liberals the role that Fox News plays for the right.
As an offshoot of the NBC network, MSNBC is a creature of mainstream media news culture in ways that Fox never was. Perhaps more importantly, the liberal bent of MSNBC is a marketing decision based solely on the profit motive -- until MSNBC was launched, there was no liberal cable news station, so politically passionate liberal viewers were ripe for the picking -- and does not necessarily reflect the political positions of its corporate owners (Comcast/GE). Fox News Channel, on the other hand, is not only designed to turn a profit, but to advance the political agenda of its owners, News Corporation, particularly that of CEO Rupert Murdoch.
On the teleconference call, Uygur said he was initially told that the criteria for keeping the spot would be ratings, and his were consistently good, he said, even beating those of Ed Schultz when Schultz held that spot, before being promoted (presumably based on ratings) to a prime-time slot. Uygur also said that his 6PM show consistently beat CNN, and that MSNBC executives made the decision not to grant him timeslot even before Al Sharpton filled in for him and drew even stronger ratings.
"...I think that there is no question whatsoever that I did deliver on the ratings," Uygur said. In fact, he said, in the week before the decision was made, he even beat Fox News in the coveted 18-34-year-old demographic.
At issue, Uygur maintains, is the fact that he is "tough" on public officials, including Democrats and the administration.
Earlier in the year, Uygur said, MSNBC chief Phil Griffin called him into the office and said, "'Look, I've been talking to people in Washington, and they tell me they don't like your tone.'" Griffin went on to describe Uygur's demeanor as that of an "outsider," Ugyur said, telling him, "'Outsiders are cool, but we're not; we're insiders. We're part of the establishment.'"
It was also suggested that Uygur's interview style was making it difficult to book guests, an assertion Uygur refuted, telling reporters that he never heard that.
The reason he turned down the MSNBC deal, Uygur told reporters, "is because I had to tell the story at least to our audience because this is exactly what we were worried about when I was outside of the mainstream media: that they're obsessed with access. And that you have to play ball to get access [to public figures]. And what we've been saying all along here is, access is the means to an end. The end is information [that is of interest] to your audience. But if we've forgotten that, and the end is access...then you're willing to say whatever the person you're talking to wants to say, and deliver their message, and not get at the truth...and I didn't want to go in that direction."
His future plans, he said, include continuing to build "The Young Turks," the program he created, which he says has received a half-billion YouTube hits during its tenure on the site, and garners about 1 million views a day. "My next plan is to dominate new media," he said. Uygur also says he received an overture from CurrentTV, the cable channel that now hosts Keith Olbermann, MSNBC's most famous former host, but there have been no discussions between the parties yet. Uygur will appear tonight on Olbermann's program, "Countdown."