Another day, another revelation that some notable’s behavior toward women has been unacceptable, and this time, much to my chagrin, it’s Cenk Uygur in the hot seat. If Uygur’s name is unfamiliar to you, you’re probably unaware of The Young Turks and Justice Democrats as well, so let me fill you in.
Cenk Uygur (pronounced “chank yooger”) started The Young Turks (TYT) as a radio program – news and commentary – in 2002. Three years later, TYT transitioned to YouTube and today, due in part to Uygur’s brief stints as a host on MSNBC and Al Gore’s short-lived Current TV, it’s the largest online news network in the world with almost 4 million subscribers and over 7 billion views.
At 47, Uygur is a leading progressive voice among millennials and his in-studio guests have ranged from Larry King to Jesse Ventura to Bernie Sanders. His Wolf-PAC political action committee is a grassroots effort to overturn Citizens United via Constitutional amendment, and his Justice Democrats initiative recruits and runs progressive candidates for local, state, and national offices. A recent TYT GoFundMe campaign raised over $2 million to hire reporting teams that focus on stories typically underserved by corporate media, including the Flint, Michigan water crisis, the Dakota Access pipeline protests, and Hurricane Maria’s continuing impact on Puerto Rico. Commentators and correspondents include DNC Platform Committee member Nomiki Konst, New York Times contributor David Sirota, The Intercept DC Bureau Chief Ryan Grim, and Michael Shure, former Chief Political Correspondent for Al Jazeera America.
In the roughly two years that I’ve been watching TYT’s main news program, Uygur has become for me a trusted axis in triangulating reality, as well as a source of political inspiration. His “mad as hell” rants, I have no doubt, have launched more activists than Helen’s face launched ships, and while I’ve yet to join a picket line, my ActBlue account is testimony to his effectiveness.
When TYT’s chief political reporter, Jordan Chariton, was fired in November after allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with coworkers, I breathed a sigh of relief, because I’d known it was only a matter of time before the plague reached Uygur’s network. Better Chariton, I thought, than some of the others whose reporting styles I preferred.
But what I’d hoped was inoculation turned out to be foreshadowing as a cache of Uygur’s very old but very, very adolescent blog posts were unearthed by TheWrap.com earlier this week. Uygur was 30 when he blogged, for example, that woman “are poorly designed creatures who don’t nearly want to have sex as often as needed for the human race to get along fruitfully and peacefully” and warned that women “ignore at their peril” the “rule” that “there must be orgasm by the fifth date.” Posts in this vein continued for some time, although Uygur says he deleted them over a decade ago as his attitude toward women evolved.
I don’t think anybody expects Uygur to resign from his own network, at least I haven’t heard that option discussed – yet – but he did issue a 5-minute rebuke of himself at 30, and he did offer to resign from the Justice Democrats board of directors, a resignation the board accepted immediately, tweeting that it would be hypocritical of them not to and calling his conduct of 17 years ago “horrifying.” Uygur’s mia culpa has garnered over 112,000 views in the 24 hours since it was posted.
All as it should be, one might say. A cocky 30-something cracks misogynistically wise and has the astounding lack of foresight to engrave his wisdom on the permanent digital record. Years pass. He founds a successful company. He starts a noble movement. Then another one. And overall, year after year, he does what many would describe as the work of the angels, and then … what?
I’m not sure.
I do know that at 30, or 35, or even 40, I was no more self-censoring (though I hope I was a much better writer) than Uygur was when he wrote, “If I haven’t felt your tits by (the third date), things are not about to last much longer.” Childish, yes. Sexist, yes. Retroactively hypocritical, maybe. And the dictionary definition of an aggressive credibility cancer, that’s for darn sure. But worth crashing and burning a career 17 years hence?
Still, taken in the context of Uygur’s countless derisive references to Trump’s Access Hollywood “grab ’em by the pussy” tape, his excoriation of Roy Moore, his condemnations of Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, and on and on …
I hesitate because I believe there’s a non-actionable category of poor-but-benign choices, and I believe the rush to equate such choices with those of Moore, O’Reilly and Ailes invites a holocaust of unwanted and possibly irreparable collateral damage. Yet … the missions of Uygur’s various organizations … the unfortunate but undeniable importance of appearances therein … these are factors, too, and maybe the determinative ones. Maybe, for the good of the team and the movement, Uygur’s only honorable option is to fall on his sword. Or maybe, lest we become a dark parody of our better angels, we should take this opportunity (and doubtless millions more across the fruited plain) to step back and recalibrate, to accept sincere apologies, to consider the virtues of proportionality, to acknowledge that people can and do change, and perhaps hardest of all, to develop a less Manichean, more nuanced (and yes, forgiving) view of what might be considered normal human behavior.
Watch Uguyr, interviewed by Rachel Maddow in 2011, describing how Democrats eat their own.