After hosting MSNBC’s six o’clock hour for nearly six months, Cenk Uygur is officially leaving the network. He'll be replaced by an unlikely figure: Al Sharpton. The spot first opened back in January when Keith Olbermann abruptly ended his reign at MSNBC. Ugyur, who was a paid contributor at MSNBC and had his own Web series, “Young Turks,” was picked to fill the spot.
Ugyur’s relationship with his superiors doesn't appear to have been a good one. In April, MSNBC president Phil 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,” Uygur told the New York Times. He said that he thought that Griffin was talking about White House officials, but wasn’t sure, adding that Griffin called the network part of the “establishment” and told Uygur “that you need to act like it.”
Griffin denied that he had tried to sway Uygur’s political coverage, saying that the “people in Washington” were actually MSNBC producers in charge of booking guests for the 6 p.m. slot, some of whom thought that Uygur’s “body language and overall demeanor” were keeping guests away, says the Times. (In an email to the paper, Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, said that his staff didn't raise any concerns about the show “with Phil Griffin or anyone else.”)
In late June, MSNBC president Phil Griffin decided to offer Uygur a new contract for a weekend show, but not a weekday one. Uygur turned it down. In a statement released yesterday, the network said, “it is unfortunate that Cenk has declined our offer to have him develop and host a program for another time slot.”
Later yesterday on “Young Turks,” Uygur gave his version of why he was leaving the network. “They offered me a lot of money,” he said, but the position was “a smaller role, contributor, etc.”—not what MSNBC’s statement suggested—and he had been asked to “tone it down,” which he refused to do. Uygur also defended his ratings, saying that they were better when he went with his own style than when he tried to keep a low profile, and compared himself to a “tiger in a cage.”
“I didn’t want to work in a place that wouldn’t let me do my kind of show, that wasn’t interested in my kind of show, that didn’t want to challenge power,” he concluded, describing a network that he said was too obsessed with gaining access to take a stand against the status quo. “If I take the money and get a reduced role… what’s the point?” he asked. “We’re supposed to challenge the government. That’s the role of media.”
It will be interesting to see how the controversial Sharpton, who has been guest hosting the 6 p.m. spot for the past three weeks, will fare in the long run. Although he has yet to sign a contract, sources told the NYT that his official hiring is “imminent.”