MSNBC's Cenk Uygur: 'I Plan to Beat Fox News in the Ratings and Make Them Fear Me'
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"I think our politicians are bought by the highest bidder and that until we clean up our election system we cannot make progress on any of the issues. That's what drives me as a TV host -- we must restore our democracy." -- Cenk Uygur
There has been plenty of shock and hand-wringing over Keith Olbermann's departure from Countdown on MSNBC (and now comes word of his reported deal with Current TV). Many fear the loss of what has been, along with Rachel Maddow, one of the most powerful progressive voices on television. Others see the unseen hand of Comcast operating in the background; Comcast is the new corporate majority owner of NBC Universal, and Olbermann's ouster shortly following FCC approval of the deal smacked of a payoff to the buttoned-down conservatives there.
But slightly below the radar, Cenk Uygur, the founder of the pioneering web TV show "The Young Turks," is giving Olbermann fans hope. Uygur has slid into the 6pm slot in a reconfigured MSNBC lineup, a strong progressive voice on the nightly team and a promising sign that the departure of Olbermann won't be a net loss.
Uygur presumably comes without the challenges the brass had in dealing with the brilliant but complicated and volatile Olbermann. Robert Greenwald, the online video advocacy whiz and creator of Brave New Films, says, "Cenk is the real deal. He's smart, thoughtful, aggressive, with a large and loyal following. He is perfect person to have the regular slot on MSNBC, and when they make it permanent, MSNBC will be letting the world know that it is doing the right thing, in the face of great concern over the Olbermann departure."
Until now, Uygur has been MSNBC's version of the designated hitter. He's filled in for Dylan Ratigan in his afternoon slot, he's subbed for Ed Schultz and has appeared on Countdown. Now he is in the 6pm slot every night, proving his mettle. AlterNet tracked Uygur down while traveling and discussed the following through email:
Don Hazen: How long has 'The Young Turks' been on the web? How hard is it to get progressive voices into mainstream media? How do you see yourself-- as a progressive journalist, an independent interviewer, a sometimes contrarian interviewer?
Cenk Uygur: "The Young Turks" have been on for almost nine years now. When we first started it was nearly impossible to get progressive voices on the air, in radio or television. As you can see, we have made some progress on that front. But there is still a long way to go.
What helps tremendously now is the Internet, where you can put yourself online. That's what we did in the form of online video in 2005 and we have amassed nearly 400 million views now on YouTube alone. We get 23 million views a month, so we don't need to have someone else make the decision to put a progressive voice on the air. We do it on our own and people have to deal with it.
As an interviewer, my whole point is to get to the core of the issue and understand what it is that makes the difference on that topic. I really hope I'm not asking the standard questions and I think you can tell by the reaction of some of my guests that they are a little surprised form time to time by what I ask them. And often times I will disagree with my guests, even if they are generally on my side. That appears to be unusual on television, which I'm happy about.