15 Dec 2016

The Young Turks shaking up US media

From Nine To Noon, 10:07 am on 15 December 2016

The Young Turks is the most popular news and current affairs show on YouTube this year its videos had a total of 3 billion views.

The founder and host of the show is Cenk Uygur.

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Photo: YouTube

The Young Turks (TYT) wears its political affiliations on its sleeve – it is strongly progressive and supported Bernie Sanders in the democratic primary this year.

It also strongly opposed Donald Trump in the presidential campaign, running the headline ‘We Just Gave America To A Fascist’ when the election result came in.

Yet despite – or perhaps because of – his allegiance to the progressive cause, Uygur was one of few media commentators who picked that Trump had a serious chance of winning the US election. He was talking about it before Trump won the Republican Primary.

The Young Turks is also unashamedly activist.

Uygur uses the pulpit the show gives him to push the political action committee he founded, Wolf-PAC, which is lobbying for a constitutional amendment to overturn what he refers to as the "legalised bribery" of political campaign donations.

He tells Kathryn Ryan what he calls the ‘The Great Unravelling’ has begun.

“It is the world shaking the shoulders of the establishment and saying ‘OK, I see how this movie ends and I don’t like the ending’.”

This populism mustn’t go to the right and “end in disaster”, because America’s core values align with left wing principles, he says.

So if America is naturally inclined to the centre left, what happened to Hillary Clinton’s campaign?

“On almost every single issue the country is progressive, and then she had a demographic advantage, and then she had this giant name recognition – and she blew it all.

“She was running against the most unpopular candidate we had ever had in Donald Trump. In the last poll he had a 60 percent unfavourable rating on the day he won the election. It’s unheard of.”

The populist left has happened before in the US, he says, in the era of Franklin D Roosevelt and the New Deal. He rejects the idea that it couldn’t happen again.

“The Democratic Party, as it is currently constituted, are establishment, they take donor money and do exactly what their donors tell them to do.

“Donors say ‘Do some Kabuki Theatre, pretend you’re fighting the Republicans and then lose to them.”

The mainstream media completely missed the swelling anger at this Washington and New York-centred establishment hegemony, he says.  

“You’ve got to separate out the establishment from regular Americans. The folks on the mainstream media were in their elitist bubble in their establishment bubble, it was unthinkable that anyone other than Hillary Clinton would be the next president, unthinkable that it would be Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump because they despise populism.”

Uygur says Trump was the beneficiary of what he calls 'brick' voters.

“Somebody hand me a brick and I’m gonna throw it through the establishment’s window, because I can’t take it anymore.”

“He doesn’t play by the rules and that’s why he won both in his campaign, but why people voted for him because they knew exactly what they would get with Hillary Clinton.

“The system was going to churn on in the exact same way it’s churned on for the last 40 years – systematically crushing the average worker in America. With Donald Trump they played a wild card.”

The Young Turks has a perspective which is progressive left and that represents the mainstream, he says, reflected by he huge audience of over 8 million subscribers and 80 million unique viewers a month.

“On election night we broke the internet record – we had a million hours of viewing in just one day.”

Seventy percent of The Young Turks’ audience is 18 to 34 and Uygur says cable news by contrast has an “ancient audience”.

“You think CNN represents America? Well if you’re right you’re talking about the people above the age of 60. Their average audience age is 61, MSNBC is 63, Fox is 68.

“Bill O’Reilly, supposedly the most popular news host, his average audience age is 72 years old.”

For people under the age of 35 The Young Turks represents the mainstream, he says.

“We’re progressive, but so is our audience, if you were a conservative trying to appeal to that audience you’d be a weirdo! You’d be way outside the mainstream.”

For left wing politics in the US to harness the values of that audience, and disaffected Americans generally, the Democratic Party has to fundamentally change, Uygur says.

“It’s not Democrats versus Republicans, it’s Democrats and Republicans versus us.”