Cenk Uygur on How the Internet Has Helped Bernie Sanders’ Campaign

By Tim Baysinger 

Cenk Uygur started up The Young Turks in 2002, and over that time has seen the channel become one of YouTube’s top online news networks, with more than 2.2 billion lifetime views.

This will be the fourth presidential election that Uygur has covered since TYT began, and it’s already had numerous must-see moments. And we’re still a year away from election day.

Ahead of the next round of debates—Fox Business Network will air the fourth GOP debate on Tuesday, while CBS has the next Democratic debate on Saturday—TVNewser spoke with the one-time MSNBC host to get his take on the debates so far and how The Young Turks have been able to appeal to young voters.


TV Newser: How has covering presidential races evolved since you started TYT, especially as digital has grown?
Uygur: The main difference is that the monopoly of television has been broken. Now everything is online. So everything [the candidates] have ever said before, their life, their hypocrisies, their evasions are all crystal clear online.

Everything is on tape now. Eventually, what they’re going to do is realize ‘oh right, maybe we should advertise online.’ Even as recently as the 2014 midterm elections, I heard a whole heap of consultants in Washington, D.C., still talking the old talk of “we have to do TV, you have to be on TV and whatever is left over we’ll give to digital.’ That attitude, both when it comes to content and advertising, is starting to kill them.

Especially when you’re trying to reach young viewers. You have to do digital and then see if you’ve got room for TV.

Everyone says younger audiences don’t care about politics. How have you been able to tap into that interest among younger audiences?
We speak their language.

The only reason why TV has been successful in the past is because they were the only option. You listened to these robots on TV because you didn’t have a choice. It’s amazing that they haven’t figured out the most fundamental thing. Young people watch us and get their news from us because we talk like them. It doesn’t mean that you do patronizing crap like ‘Hey dude, let me tell you this story bro.’

You just simply tell it in a way that’s passionate and real. TV wouldn’t know real if it hit them across the face.

There has been a more heightened interest for the debates this year, as the ratings have shown. Outside of the Donald Trump factor, why has there been more interest this year?
Because of the internet. A lot of people are getting their information online and that’s causing them to be more interested or get more excited about some of the candidates. There’s this huge online buzz for Bernie Sanders and that’s fueling interest on the democratic side. In the old days, when there was just TV, you wouldn’t hear anything about Bernie Sanders. Now though, there’s this real drama between a guy that the online audience supports completely, and Hillary Clinton.

On the Republican side, the Trump reality show is a huge part of it. But it’s also fueled by all the Trump clips ricocheting throughout the internet.

What do you make of the debate format demands that the campaigns have been making? Would any network actually go for them?
Of course they will. People think the demands are ridiculous and unacceptable and the networks won’t go along. They don’t know the networks at all. Of course the demands are ridiculous and outrageous but of course the networks will go along. When was the last time the networks were tough on politicians and wouldn’t sell out for access?

They’ll do whatever the Republicans demand of them. People think it’s silly for the Republicans, but it’s not. The Democrats never demand anything so they end up getting battered by Anderson Cooper, who asked them enormously tough question after another.

How much power should the campaigns be allowed to wield in setting the terms of the debates?
You’re applying for the most powerful job on the planet; it’s the single most important job there is. And you don’t want to get asked tough questions? Both sides should be asked the toughest questions in the world. We ask our babysitter tougher questions than we ask our candidates.