I don’t know how many of my stateside readers have ever caught Cenk Uygur (I think his name is pronounced like Chenk or Jenk), the Penn alumnus who has been doing an online commentary show for a couple years now. Cenk has a wiki entry, so you can read up on him there.
I have been catching Cenk’s commentary for the past year or so, having found out about him through the Obama-critical online progressive community. I don’t agree with the anti-Obama-ism, but I do read what the people have to say.
I was surprised to see Cenk land on MSNBC one evening, and thought that the cable channel was trying to catch a specific demographic, so they put him in.
Well, he’s out. And like what’s been going on recently with MSNBC (see Keith Olberman controversy), there is a cloud of dust having been kicked up as the door shut on the ex-host.
Now, a bit of disclosure: I can’t stand the Fox News, and haven’t watched it since 1996, because it’s clear it’s not news. I don’t understand how they get away with saying they are even news, when so many of the stories are slanted to a certain political agenda. I trust CNN, but it’s boring on the commentary side. I get a lot of value from Rachel Maddow show—hers is commentary that actually is news reporting. (She actually backs up any of her opinionating with fact.) Lawrence O’Donnell is a little too packaged in his liberalism, plus, if I remember my newspaper-reading days, he was the chief staff guy for one of the old-time Democrats on the Hill around 1993.
So along come Cenk.
What stands out about Cenk Uygur he that he is very animated. Even though he was born in Turkey, he grew up in New Jersey, and so I am comfortable with people like that. (Notice that Governor Chris Christie is that same kind of animated Jersey Guy.) Additionally, Cenk’s schtick is that he’s letting you know exactly what he thinks. “The Young Turks”, his online show, has nothing to do with any ethnic edge, and I think it’s just a play on the fact that he was born in Turkey.
To me, his style fits right in in cosmopolitan America, and especially the Northeast.
Well, what happened at MSNBC is that someone decided either that they didn’t like his “style”, or that they didn’t like what Cenk had to say about the current state of affairs in Washington (which, yes, is a disgrace). So he got the pull-aside one-on-one with the executive management. We mostly have Cenk’s account of this, but it sounds like it must have been similar to that episode of Taxi, where
one of the characters Alex Rieger is relating how they were told at a corporate job to say something just a certain way, with the understanding that they were a dehumanized functionary of the company that employed them.
So it sounds like “tone” as being described to Cenk, which could, I feel, easily be confused with a slur of stereotype, like try not to sound like an ethnic Meditterranean (they said, “don’t talk with your hands so much”, etc.), was really about telling him not to say things that “certain people” in Washington might find offensive. Hmmmmm. And that the executive / friendly explainer goofed by not just coming out and saying that x official disagreed with something Cenk said.
This is one of the pitfalls of New Media, which cable likes to think it isn’t a part of. As I said, Fox is not news, it’s someone’s agenda. CNN is news. MSNBC is commentary that relies more heavily on fact than opinion. But MSNBC is commentary. So, if you are going to run a cable channel, and you want to be more authentic than Fox but you can’t quite be CNN, you better have hosts who are “real” or otherwise people aren’t going to follow your cable channel.
[Update: Liz Shannon Miller at GigaOm has another take on this, as reported through Reuters. Basically, he or she who pays the fiddler calls the tune. This is a fine assessment. But if a network purports to be giving people somewhat independent commentary, it’s a bit of a deception to be throwing in the Fiddler Rule while at the same time telling people that we’re not Fox.
Sure, the Obama Administration doesn’t want to be getting it from the Republicans, and then getting friendly fire from online progressives. But what it should be telling the administration is that they need to listen to the progressive voices more—not tell the progressives to shut up or lose their gigs.]