Anyone questioning the vitality of progressive media in the United States needs to check out The Young Turks. This online video channel claims 80 million unique views a month. This puts it in the same league as The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Founder and host Cenk Uygur launched The Young Turks as a radio show in 2002 before taking it online in 2006. He joined MSNBC as a contributor in 2010, but left the network a year later over editorial differences. (See Mark Hertsgaard’s article in this issue for Uygur’s version of his clash with the corporate bosses at NBC.) Currently, The Young Turks streams live for two hours every Monday through Friday, starting at 6 pm Eastern time, and is hosted by Uygur and Ana Kasparian.
Laura Flanders interviewed Kasparian and the channel’s chief business officer, Steven Oh, about the secrets of their success—and why they banned coverage of Donald Trump for a time from the show. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.
Laura Flanders: Ana, what makes a Young Turk?
Ana Kasparian: Someone who is opinionated, strong, passionate, and doesn’t worry about censoring him- or herself.
Flanders: Am I correct in thinking that Donald Trump is one of two people you’ve ever banned?
Steven Oh: Correct.
Flanders: Ever regret it?
Oh: No, because that’s exactly what we don’t want to reward—people who say ridiculous, over-the-top things just to get more attention. We banned Ann Coulter and Donald Trump because we didn’t believe that they were honest about anything they were saying. But we couldn’t ban him forever, because he was going to become president; he was winning the Republican primary, so we had to rescind the ban. We covered him, but we tried to cover him in a way that didn’t cater to his particular needs.
Flanders: On election night, The Huffington Post, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, Steven here—lots of progressives—were confident Hillary Clinton was going to win.
Flanders: How are you processing that fail with your audience?
Kasparian: Honestly, I think that the pollsters, the establishment media, a lot of liberals—including ourselves—unfortunately kind of fell into this bubble, and this belief, that someone as hideous as Donald Trump could never win… even if Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate, even if she didn’t really represent progressive values. I think that we really discounted the number of people who were disillusioned with the way politics were going. Conservatives give us a lot of heat for being elitist, but I now understand what they meant when they said that. We look at individuals who would vote for Donald Trump as if… we kind of undervalue them. And we underestimated them.