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Posted by on Jul 22, 2011 in Arts & Entertainment | 17 comments

MSNBC Replaces Cenk Uygur With Al Sharpton: Uygur Burns His Bridges (UPDATED II)

By now you must have heard that Cenk Uygur is out at MSNBC and Al Sharpton is in.

And by now you must smell the smoke — as Uygur systematically burns his MSNBC bridges behind him.

Hey, kiddies, if you lose your job, don’t try this at home as you exit your old workplace. The New York Times:

Mr. Uygur, who by most accounts was well liked within MSNBC, said in an interview that he turned down the new contract because he felt Mr. Griffin had been the recipient of political pressure.
Notice that this is “he felt.”

No proof.

In April, he said, Mr. Griffin “called me into his office and said that he’d been talking to people in Washington, and that they did not like my tone.” He said he guessed Mr. Griffin was referring to White House officials, though he had no evidence for the assertion. He also said that Mr. Griffin said the channel was part of the “establishment,” and “that you need to act like it.”

What is the old expression? “Don’t assume. Because ‘assume’ makes an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’.”

MSNBC is home to many hosts who criticize President Obama and other Democrats from a progressive point of view, but at times Mr. Uygur could be especially harsh.

If the White House is controlling MSNBC, then someone at the White House needs to be fired due to some of the comments from Ed Schultz, Rachael Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell over the past few months.

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Griffin denied Mr. Uygur’s accusations and sounded disappointed that he had decided not to accept the weekend position. “We never told Cenk what to say or what not to say,” Mr. Griffin said.

The “people in Washington,” he said, were MSNBC producers who were responsible for booking guests for the 6 p.m. hour, and some of them had said that Mr. Uygur’s aggressive body language and overall demeanor were making it harder to book guests. “The conversation was, ‘Hey, look, here’s how we can make it better’ — about physical things on the show,” Mr. Griffin said.

Fair enough. His boss wanted him to change a bit of his job performance…

Mr. Uygur’s audience on “The Young Turks” Webcast, which is separate from MSNBC, is younger than the audience on cable television, Mr. Griffin added, suggesting that the two demographics require different manners of speaking. Mr. Uygur stood by his account, saying in an e-mail, “That conversation on that day was not about body language.”

In other words: he’s calling Griffin a liar. Again, fair enough. But he has now greatly limited his employment prospects. Will Fox News hire him? CNN? He may have one future prospect…can it be..?

Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, said in an e-mail Wednesday that his staff did not raise any concerns about the show “with Phil Griffin or anyone else.”

“I didn’t agree with everything said on the show, but certainly didn’t have any problem with it,” Mr. Pfeiffer added.

A few personal comments on Uygur, coming from someone (me) who years ago aspired to do talk radio and loves to monitor broadcast and cable talk (some of the best talk is on XM’s POTUS).

Unlike a lot of folks, I never had a strong feeling about Uygur. I never cared for his Young Turks radio show, but it didn’t anger me or bore me. It was just as ideologically predictable as listening to Sean Hannity on the right. And on MSNBC? At first I didn’t warm up to him but, the more I watched him, the more I would watch his show and understood his personality — but often couldn’t finish watching it. The reason? He seemed to like to define people who didn’t have his agenda — often accusing them of bad motives. His positions became predictable without being entertaining or enlightening.

In the case of his criticism White House and Barack Obama, he often came across as a knee jerk liberal — with the greatest emphasis on the second word.

The contrast with Sharpton could not be more clear: Sharpton is also no shrinking violent in expressing his opinion, but he can often make a comment that is funny. Uygur seemed more the angry turk the the young turk. In short? His show seemed one of the weakest on MSNBC.

He seemed like he was filling in on the slot.

Which, in the end, it turns out he was.

But, then, what do I know?

Many like Rachael Maddow but I increasingly can’t watch her, either. Why? She feels she must repeat the same word or fact over and over and over. Maddow needs a good editor.

Why Uygur, really? The most plausible explanation comes from Chez Paziena, writing on the Huffington Post:

Uygur was a bit of a loose cannon on-air, but not so much that it should have cost him his job; Ed Schultz is infinitely more bellicose as a host and astonishingly he’s still firmly in place in prime-time, despite a couple of recent, entirely predictable hiccups. The difference, I think, is one of inelegance. Even Schultz’s occasionally obnoxious outrage has been carefully honed to the point where it’s not quite the blunt instrument wielded by Uygur. While I’m not a big fan of Schultz’s, he’s a better broadcaster than Uygur. The same goes for the dearly departed Keith Olbermann, who was kept on for as long as he was only because of his undeniably immense talents as a television host.

And that’s a crucial point.

Think back to Air America.

Except for those who insisted Air America was, why, just so terrific because they were liberal shows, the bottom line is this: many of Air America’s shows seemed like amateur hour in terms of radio broadcast talent and pacing. The broadcast product was not good. It is instructive that Schultz was NOT part of Air America and another popular progressive talker who is a great broadcaster as well, the often hilarious Stephanie Miller, was not either.

Uygur needed more time to be seasoned as a broadcaster — but his outraged persona and articulation of some of the betrayal felt by some on the Democratic party’s far left at Obama became his product.

It seemed a product with a limited audience — with little chance to grow.

Olbermann pissed a lot of people off, from his peers to his managers to the overlords in the adminisphere; MSNBC’s decision to finally cut him loose wasn’t a case of Olbermann saying things management didn’t want him to say as much as him infuriating everyone in his path. Griffin just decided he wasn’t worth the hassle because his ratings were great but not that great.

And that’s really what it comes down to. Cenk’s numbers were decent, but they weren’t through the roof, in MSNBC’s mind not good enough to warrant giving him time to develop in a hugely important spot in its line-up. That plus his deficiencies as a network broadcaster — and that includes his tendency to appear as if he’s always one step away from challenging his political adversaries to a roshambo in the parking lot — probably sealed his fate at six. What does all of this mean for his apparent replacement, Al Sharpton, a guy whose jarring on-air pauses and inability to complete a coherent thought make Uygur look like Murrow? Name recognition and novelty factor aside, he’d better hope his ratings are damn good — and that they stay that way.

Still, in the end did Cenk apparently stand up for what he believes in — and what his online audience expects of him — in the aftermath of his demotion? Sure looks that way.

And for that he gets to walk out with his head held very high.

I predict Sharpton will eventually do well (that is, as well as any MSNBC show can do) in his time slot. He’s been at the game a long time and will adjust to the format.

But, kiddies, if you’re losing your job?

Don’t emulate Uygur…who seems to be emulating Olbermann’s exit.

And Uygur was slated to appear on Olbermann’s show. TV Newser:

Cenk Uygur, who got his show on MSNBC because of the departure of Keith Olbermann, then proceeded to burn more than a few bridges on his way out, is about to burn the last one — and there isn’t a boat big enough to get back across — as he goes on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” on CurrentTV tonight.

But don’t be surprised if Uygur eventually lands a new show — on Al Gore’s network which could shape up to be as much the anti-MSNBC on cable as Air America was the anti-Rush Limbaugh on radio.

Whoever thought that there would be some folks peddling the view that MSNBC was too far to the right? That contention seems to have a great future…in narrowcasting.

UPDATED: His explanation on his Young Turks show:

Glenn Greenwald on Salon:

Nobody succeeds at a large corporation without understanding and accommodating the prevailing ethos and the interests of that corporation as perceived by one’s bosses. As Uygur explains, the more important someone becomes to the success of a corporation (as Maddow has), the more flexibility they have to depart from, even violate, some of the unstated rules, but no corporate employee — including media stars — will last long if they step too far out (News Corp. even rid itself of Glenn Beck despite declining-though-still-impressive-for-his-time-slot ratings; there were multiple factors, including a successful advertiser boycott, but clearly one factor was that he had departed so far from the standard two-party-system discourse, and had become so adversarial to the establishment itself, that, despite those ratings, it was no longer consistent with News Corp.’s interests to keep him on the air).

This isn’t to say that every journalist working for a large media corporation engages in self-censorship. Some are able to construct real editorial independence, while others — soul-less careerists and the like — just don’t have much of an inclination to be truly adversarial to the political and financial establishment. But as Uygur’s stories make clear, MSNBC very much considers itself “part of the establishment” and demands that its on-air personalities reflect that status. With some exceptions, MSNBC largely fits comfortably in the standard, daily Republicans v. Democrats theatrical conflicts, usually from the perspective that the former is bad and the latter are good. It’s liberal — certainly more liberal than other establishment media outlets have been in the past — but it’s establishment liberalism, and that’s allowed. It’s wandering too far afield from that framework, being too hostile to the system of political and financial power itself, that is frowned upon.

Fox Nation:

Former MSNBC host Cenk Uygur’s departure from the network earlier today was fairly quiet for a close-to-primetime host, and the network made it clear it was his choice to leave. It didn’t take long for the newly liberated Uygur to address his fans, however, and explain what exactly he was doing with his career, turning down a different role at the network and much money. In the end, he explained, it boils down to this: Cenk Uygur is a tiger, and MSNBC tried to cage him.

Tapped’s Paul Waldman:

Full disclosure: Cenk is a friendly acquaintance of mine, so I’m probably inclined to be sympathetic to his interpretation of events. Nevertheless, this is a pretty ballsy thing to do. By going out this way — making public the nature of his disagreement with MSNBC management — he has probably guaranteed that he’ll never work for one of the cable news networks again. Which he surely understood.

That might not be important to most of us, but for many of those who make a living talking about politics, getting your own cable show is the brass ring. (Not everyone, mind you — lots of people wouldn’t want to be famous in a people-recognizing-you-at-the-grocery-store way, and there are other jobs some pundits might want — New York Times op-ed columnist would be tops on many people’s list.) But if you’re a radio host, that’s the club you want to be in, the position that not only allows you to make lots of people listen to what you have to say, but comes with nearly unmatched prestige. You can get politicians to answer your questions. You can get almost anyone to talk to you. You’ll be nationally famous, and rich to boot. Only about a dozen people have the gig, and even though there are many radio hosts with bigger audiences than the cable hosts have, television just confers something magical, as far as most people are concerned.

Cenk spent the last decade or so building a national profile, through The Young Turks (which is now on satellite radio), and lots of TV appearances. He got this close to getting that brass ring, the thing a hundred other radio hosts would kill for. And as he said, he could have stayed at MSNBC and tried to work his way back into prime time. But instead, he told them thanks but no thanks.

Op-Ed News:

What is strange about MSNBC not keeping Cenk on the air is that he gave them high ratings, beating both CNN and Fox News in certain demographics. This just shows that corporate propaganda is not all about ratings. Money is not that important to the owners of media companies (they have billions of it already). What they care about most is control and protecting the corrupt political status quo, in which they play an important role.

Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC are first and foremost a political operation, not a for-profit operation. If MSNBC’s managers cared about profits they would keep Cenk on the air and promote his show. But they don’t care about making money. News corporations and media channels can make a lot of money by telling the people the truth about 9/11 and other government crimes because the people are hungry for the truth and will watch truth-telling shows. Jesse Ventura’s show on TruTV “Conspiracy Theory,” is a big success and it has big ratings. But the ratings don’t matter in the big picture.

There was a great desire for ratings in an earlier time in the television news industry, but not today. What news producers and news managers consider more important is suppressing the truth and protecting the criminal political establishment at all cost, even if it means their ratings will be less. Their job is to keep news anchors in line, manipulate the news, spread government propaganda, and make sure that nobody steps outside the fake “republican-democrat, conservative-liberal” political trap.

Somebody like Cenk is a big threat to the rotten political order because he doesn’t hold back. Cenk said that he was told by guys at MSNBC that “people from Washington” didn’t like his angry style and brand of politics. He was viewed as an outsider by the executives at MSNBC who consider themselves to be part of the criminal establishment. Corporate news executives and managers care about pleasing the propaganda masters in Washington D.C., not the audience.

Business Insider:

Apparently, Uygur, who also founded the YoungTurks, decided that it was better to go out in flames, Olbermann-style, than suffer a shuffle.

Here is Uygur on last night’s Young Turks show explaining that even though his ratings were reasonably good MSNBC had asked him to “tone it down” saying “people in Washington were concerned about his tone” and then offered him another role for more money. Uygur turned it down saying he didn’t want to work for a network that didn’t “challenge power.”

Sound familiar? Uygur’s complaints skew nicely with Olbermann’s complaints about MSNBC. Politico’s Patrick Gavin notes Uygur sounds like he is applying for a post at Current….where he is scheduled to appear tonight.

Which brings us to THIS UPDATE on Politico:

UPDATE: On a conference call with reporters, Uygur said that he was not officially in talks with anyone, but said that “Current has reached out” and confirmed that he would be appearing on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” tonight. He said any conversations with Current were still in the “initial stage.” A Current spokeswoman confirmed he was scheduled to appear on “Coundown,” but declined to comment further.

UPDATE II: On Olbermann’s show he insists what he’s talking about is not MSNBC but it is:

Mediaite on this segment:

At this point, Olbermann cut off Uygur to end his program on time, perhaps also saving Uygur from saying anything too critical of Olbermann’s former employers that might fall beyond a likely non-disclosure agreement between the Countdown host and MSNBC.

Yes, Uygur prefaced his comments by saying that this “isn’t about MSNBC” but the rest of his comments seems to suggest a pretty indicting (petty?) stance on MSNBC management. Let’s face it, the introductory phrase is pretty damning unto itself. No earnest praise ever came after the opening phrase “I’m not saying that you are ____”; or as many psychology professors will tell you, when someone says “I’m not saying X,” what they are really saying is “X.”

In fairness, Uygur makes a decent point about access, though anyone who works in any media will tell you that there is a fine balance between reporting and access; it is a nuanced economy of coverage that allows other TV anchors to flourish. But to lay the blame of his departure from MSNBC on his “honesty” is self-serving and belies a much bigger fact: his ratings were not strong.

Couple of other small items worth noting: Uygur’s loyal fanbase will likely be delighted to hear Olbermann’s throwaway salutation at the end “we’ll be in touch,” which could indicate that Uygur’s next home is on Current (which makes a ton of sense for both Olbermann, Uygur and Current). Alas for the Young Turk, being on Current means that video of your broadcast product will be very difficult to find on the Internet…

The bridges are burning brightly in the night…

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