The Young Turks: Cenk Uygur's Sexist Past And Current Workplace Issues


Over the past decade, The Young Turks Network has become one of the largest alternative online news outlets in the world, boasting a following of 3.5 million YouTube subscribers. It’s online video channel claims to receive 80 million unique views a month, and it reached 6 billion total views in February 2017–on par with the some of the biggest mainstream media outlets.

Headed by its 47-year-old founder and owner, Cenk Uygur, TYT has broken national news stories and spawned both the political action committee Wolf PAC, which raised around $715,000 in the 2016 election, as well as an organization known as the Justice Democrats, which manages the campaigns for several left wing congressional candidates.

TYT presents itself as a champion of progressive politics. But misogynistic and lewd blog posts from the organization’s early days show a quite different tone.

Uygur launched TYT in 2000 as a blog website and talk show while he was still working at WAMI-TV, a Miami based news station. Although the blog is now defunct, TYT Network still owns the domain, which redirects to the outlet’s main page.

Much of the blog’s content is still accessible via the Internet Archive. It includes sexist views on women in general, references to hitting on teenage girls, and using power in media to manipulate women.

“When is the point when you forget how fun a drunk orgy can be?” Uygur wrote in a 2003 blog post titled “Old People,” complaining about an article which recounted the opinions of an older woman who was critical of Mardi Gras. “I had one of the best nights of my life at Mardi Gras. I kissed over 23 different women, saw and felt countless breasts, and was in a wonderful drunken stupor thanks to my friend John Daniels. It was the best buzz of my existence.”

Sex is a frequent topic in Uygur’s posts.

“It sucks that sex is so complicated,” he wrote in another post from 2000. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could just act on these urges and then just let it go without being uncomfortable? Actually, I have done this a decent amount of times in the past, but women seem to have more problems with this.”

Uygur’s blog profile went futher, promising that the site would “soon showcase such lovely features as pictures of the young virginal interns who work with us on the show.”

Uygur cited his views on women as a reason for entering the media. “So I started telling people how I pick up chicks (or how I don’t), and how I rate women when I first see them (it’s a five tier system based purely on how hot they are), and what I think of current events and all the other crazy things going on in the world,” Uygur noted in a 2000 blog post. “Then, I became a phenomenon. I became the Turk.”

The Young Turks’ have aired dozens of stories around sex and porn to drive viewership in the last few years.

“Obviously, the genes of women are flawed,” Uygur wrote in a 1999 blog post complaining about women in Miami, in which he characterizes them as “semi-pro” prostitutes for not being interested in him because he no longer practiced law. “They are poorly designed creatures who do not want to have sex nearly as often as needed for the human race to get along peaceably and fruitfully.” In a 2001 post titled “Girls Who You Hate, But Really Want To Do,” Uygur discusses how he hates, but would love to have sex with, the fictional lawyer Ally McBeal.

“Yeah, he used his position of power – don’t we all, in some way. I tell girls all the time about my cool job at a TV station in hopes that will trick them into sleeping with me.” Uygur wrote in a 2000 blog post defending an Air Force officer who was reprimanded for fraternization with an enlisted woman.

“I’d have as much sex as possible with prostitutes.  Mind you, I’d have as much sex with non-prostitutes as I could, too,” another post from 2001 reads. “But I’m assuming I’m going to be in no shape to be seducing any fine ladies when I’m on the precipice of suicide.  If you can, though, by all means, go ahead and do that first. But barring the possibility that you’re a manic depressive Don Juan, I’d buy the best sex money could buy – which I’m sure would be damn good. Two girls at once, Asians, blacks, a Venezuelan on top of a Texan prom queen, a secretary on top of a baby-sitter, twins … and their mama.  I’d dress ‘em up; I’d dress ‘em down.  I’d do things to women I hadn’t even imagined before (though I can’t imagine what that would be).”

In 2004, the Young Turks’ co-founder and current producer and senior VP of operations Dave Koller wrote a story on a trip he took with Cenk Uygur:

In one small Pennsylvania town we stopped for gas, and while Cenk filled up I went to talk to these three girls who were walking down the road nearby. Turns out they were three teenage girls, whores in training, literally looking for boys to pick them up. Cenk soon joined me and we discovered these three little spoiled brat bitch young American girls on their way to becoming abused porn actresses or dispensable property in a New York City prostitution ring. The girls live in a small town nearby, and were in this town visiting the grandma of one of them. They were around 14-16 and in a few more years will be pretty damn good looking, but not great.

Later, Koller added:

[W]e missed a turn that we needed, so we had to go back onto a commercial road, and at the first place of business we saw with an Asian name, Cenk turned in, assuming it was a restaurant. Except it wasn’t – it was the other type of Asian establishment, and I don’t mean dry cleaners. I mean massage parlor.  We couldn’t believe it. Of course we went in. We didn’t see the girls, and the price was high and we didn’t have time so we didn’t patronize, but I did squeeze the Madam’s ass on our way out.”

Later in the same piece, Koller describes a visit to a “black part of town”:

We arrived at lunch time and went to the main post office because Cenk needed to do something. The main post office is in the black part of town, and this was one motherfucking cool part of town.  I mean these negros were the real deal. I’m not saying the town was a horrible ghetto. It was, but we’ve all seen worse. I mean these po’ black people just hanging out in the heat – this you don’t see quite like this in the northeast.” Koller continued, “We went to the Civil Rights Museum, which was made in the motel where MLK was assassinated.  As soon as we got out of the car I launched a bottle rocket in the parking lot.

Koller then cites another example during the trip when he and Uygur hit on teenage girls: “Drive through Navajo country to Monument Valley, where the John Wayne films were shot. Cool fucking place. We hit on these two cute French teenagers while their parents were standing right next to them.”

The posts raise questions about the work environment at the Young Turks, and the sexualized content the network airs.

“There is nothing in those posts that seems incongruous with their behavior today,” a former TYT employee told me in an interview. This person characterized the Young Turks’ current work environment as a frat house, saying that male employees would brag about their sexual conquests openly. A former female intern at the Young Turks told me in an interview that she did not experience a frat house environment while working at the network, but was subjected to TYT host Hasan Piker, Cenk Uygur’s nephew, openly describing to employees his sexual experiences.

“In no way did I feel threatened by them, or hear him say anything that could be considered non-consensual,” she said. “I can, however, imagine how it would create an uncomfortable work environment for those around him. On one particular occasion I vividly recall him telling the story of a sexual encounter with a woman who he described as ‘dumb’ and ‘annoying.’ He said that during the encounter he grew bored with her and ‘just wanted to cum and go to sleep.’”

Piker did not respond to a request for comment.

Discussions and defenses of objectifying women continue to appear on the network.

“Cenk’s Old School Rule About Checking Out Women,” is the title of a September 2016 YouTube clip featuring Cenk Uygur, Wes Clark Jr., and Ben Mankiewicz. In the clip, Wes Clark Jr states, “I’m not wealthy at all and I never had a problem scoring pussy in my life.” In a November 2016 Young Turks segment, Uygur defended the Harvard University Soccer team for creating a list rating women at the school by their looks. “Young college guys rated the appearance of young college women; shocking, breaking news alert, totally not guilty in my opinion,” he said in defense of the team, as Uygur bragged about his own rating system of women on his Young Turk site in 2000. In 2009, Cenk hosted a Young Turks segment called, “Cenk’s Top 10 Hottest Girls.” Throughout the segment, Uygur criticized women, models and celebrities, on their looks.

TYT Host Ana Kasparian insisted that the environment at the Young Turks posed no issues and has been supportive throughout her career since she started as an intern.

“TYT and the environment that Cenk fostered has given me the ability to speak my mind fearlessly,” she told me in a statement. “I’ve gotten into heated debates with Cenk on air, and I’ve even openly criticized him off air. Not once has he retaliated or made me feel anything other than a valued voice in the company. He always takes my thoughts and concerns into consideration. I’ve gotten offers to make a lot more money at other media organizations and I’ve turned them down because no other place has supported me and my voice like TYT has.”

Other TYT employees had different experiences, but were pushed to sign non-disparagement agreements to keep their issues at the network from being made public.

“Although I was never in the Los Angeles studio to see the daily treatment of staff from Cenk, there were still troubling signs I dealt with working remotely here in New York,” said Andrew Jerrell Jones, who worked as a reporter for the TYT Network from May 2017 to October 2017, in an interview with me.

Jones refused TYT’s request to sign a non-disparagement agreement as part of his severance from the company, which included a monetary incentive to sign. “I experienced several times Cenk’s apathy toward my real concerns over how dysfunctional, peculiar, and deranged the treatment I received from the man he hired as managing editor, Jonathan Larsen, as my supervisor. When I brought up claims of racial discrimination and requesting to meet with Cenk in person here in New York to talk to him about my major concerns, Cenk didn’t even bother to respond to any of my texts or social media messages, as he flew back to Los Angeles like he didn’t even know I existed.”

Jones plans on filing a lawsuit for racial discrimination and wrongful termination against the company. He added, “Cenk thinks everything is going smoothly with his organization and doesn’t believe there are many internal problems caused by his (and his high-school buddies at the top) leadership, or lack thereof. It is a shame that a supposedly progressive news outlet like The Young Turks sadly has a myriad of the awful practices of the corporate, elite media outlets TYT slams on a daily basis.”

In an interview with the Wrap, Cenk Uygur apologized for the posts, but dismissed them as views he held as a Republican. “The stuff I wrote back then was really insensitive and ignorant,” Uygur said. “If you read that today, what I wrote 18 years ago, and you’re offended by it, you’re 100 percent right. And anyone who is subjected to that material, I apologize to. And I deeply regret having written that stuff when I was a different guy.” Dave Koller refused to comment on his story, but Uygur dismissed it as satire and claimed they never hit on teenage girls as the post says.

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