I used to dismiss Cenk Uygur as a timid right-winger back in Air America Radio days. Whew, was I wrong. Last year, Uygur was the only MSNBC host to pipe up about Palestinians’ rights after Benjamin Netanyahu lectured Congress that Israel would never return to the 1967 borders.
Uygur consistently led the best discussions with the most knowledgeable guests about how the U.S. should celebrate, not fear, the Arab Uprisings against U.S.-supported dictators. His reward for excellence: he disappeared suddenly last summer. Only later did Uygur announce that, rather than accept a demotion to a weekend slot, and a pay raise, in exchange for muting his criticism of the Obama Administration, he resigned.
In this video last summer, Uygur recounts how, when MSNBC pressed him to be an “insider” not an “outsider,” he reacted by “doing the opposite”: “challenging the government.” The result: his “ratings went up,” but MSNBC ousted him anyway, like Phil Donahue, for being too liberal. Uygur refused to be bought by “all that money thrown at you,” or–more seductive—“the perks”: “car rides to the airport,” “fancy hotels,” and “business class” privilege with “warm chocolate chip cookies.”
Uygur turned down the loot because of something far more valuable: “I had to tell you this story!” Uygur exclaims.
And the story’s a winner–one he was “holding” back while at MSNBC. It’s the saga of endless censorship: “the problem with the mainstream media is that they’re desperate to get access” and therefore “don’t challenge power.”
Since December, The Young Turks with Cenk Uygur has joined Current TV, where it does what’s rare for TV news: report facts, especially about power. Uygur even exposes the “war-mongering on Iran” and the fact that “American politics” decree that the US will back Israel up “right” or “wrong” (in the Feb. 20 show above).
Throughout the week of February 17 to 24– the links are here– Uygur devoted ten-minute exposes of the “drive to start a war against Iran unfortunately in the American media” (2.22.12). Each night, Uygur would quote a range of U.S. and/or Israeli defense officials, who urge, as Uygur paraphrases, “Don’t attack Iran!,” including:
General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence
General Ron Burgess, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency
Tamir Pardo, Mossad Chief
Efraim Halevy, Former Mossad Chief
Dan Halutz, Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff,
Michael Hayden, Former CIA Director,
David Deptula, Air Forces General
Meir Dagan, Former Director of Mossad
Janet Napolitano, Head of Homeland Security
Leon Panetta, US Defense Secretary.
After each—varying–list, Uygur asks, contrasts the gulf between sober military advice and media frenzy, taking a different, brave tack on each succeeding night:
1. Uygur inquires, “Why are all the intelligence officials in Israel and the U.S. saying… ‘It’s a bad idea,’” yet there’s “this tremendous propaganda on television to go to war with Iran? (2.20.12).
The answer is the lobby: “Because the right-wing government of Israel and its allies here in the United States have made a decision: ‘Israel can’t do it alone: we’ve got to push the U.S. into war, so they can do our dirty work. And we don’t care that it’s a bad idea’;… they have their neo-con philosophy,…obliterate all the Middle Eastern governments that are opposed to them (2.20.12).”
Uygur continues, “If Israel does the original bombing, …. Iran is going to counter-attack. Once Iran counter-attacks….the US is going to get sucked into war and finish the job.”
Uygur adds this heresy about the U.S. subservience to Israel:
“If you know anything about American politics” “it doesn’t matter who started the war, who was right and who was wrong, if Israel gets counter-attacked… the U.S. will join Israel in whatever battle it has. Israel could attack [even] Norway–for no reason …[but] we would go to war on Israel’s side. So, … that’s why you see all this propaganda. That’s why the right-wing government of Netanyahu thinks, ‘Aaw, who cares what Mossad thinks, what my generals think, what the American generals think? All we have to do is press the button and…the U.S. is screwed, we can dictate their foreign policy for them; they’ve got to come join us.’ ….Let’s hope to God it doesn’t happen.”
2. Uygur re-frames Israeli “dictation” as a question: “whether we’ve handed off our foreign policy to Israel (2.21.12).”
Uygur often invites guests who challenge him, here, David Pakman, radio host, who claims that the U.S., while pretending otherwise, “actually has the same position as Israel.” Uygur counters that President Obama doesn’t want to bomb Iran. Comedian Jimmy Dore jokes crassly that Israel’s coastline is worth a nuclear war. Uygur grimaces. Dore retorts, “It’s not up to us….it’s their [Israel’s] decision, not ours.”
Dore has said in essence that the U.S. has relinquished its power to Israel. Dore, though, blames George W. Bush: “Iran was going to give us everything….[but] Bush didn’t even respond to the [Iranian government] letter.” Uygur adds, “Even Bush didn’t attack Iran,” in spite of Dick Cheney’s pressure. Dore points out American fallacies about Iran’s attitude toward Jewish people: 25,000 Jews live in Iran, with a “protected” status and guaranteed parliamentary representation.
Uygur, however, concludes the discussion, “We’re screwed: we’re going to war if Netanyahu presses the button.”
3. Uygur brings up the scaremongering images of Iranian scientists and President Ahmadinejad in a laboratory (2.22.12). Uygur ridicules the fear tactics, noting that we’re meant to be scared by nothing but white lab coats. Uygur points out that, “These are centrifuges that cannot make weapons,” but nuclear energy. Uygur lists the groups who nevertheless clamor for war:
* Neo-Conservatives, “the guys who are ideologically in favor of attacking different Middle Eastern countries–in fact they wrote a whole report on it.” Uygur leaves out the possible religious component of this “ideology,” but highlights such fervor in the next group.
* Christian Evangelicals, “Dominionists,” who want to “protect Israel at all costs…and have to start a giant war in the Middle East because that’s the only way Jesus arrives and we get the Second Coming.” Uygur cuts to John Hagee preaching on the End Times.
Uygur pivots from religion to money: the “prophets of war,” with “guys making a ton of money from wars in the Middle East”:
* Oil Speculators, with a graph tracing the spiking price of oil during these wars–which violates the law of supply and demand, for supply has risen, not fallen.
* Defense contractors, for the defense budget had more than doubled from 2001 to 2011, along with the cost of $3 trillion for the Iraq war alone, remarking that, “Somebody made that $3 trillion from Iraq.” Uygur reminds us that we “never hear about” how that money morphs into campaign contributions that spur politicians like Senators Lieberman and McCain to push for bombing Iran, or turns retired generals into “lobbyists getting stinking rich off these wars.”
4. Uygur climaxes his look at how war profiteers corrupt debate about Iran (02.24.2012) by focusing on Syria. Uygur is often passionate, mingling anger with mockery. But this night he gives us solemnity instead, mourning the “casualties, 7600 since March,” as well as the “several major journalists [who] have also been killed…in massacres in Syria,” including journalist Marie Colvin.
Turning to U.S. politics, Uygur shows President Obama asserting that the Assad “regime” should “move on,” then highlights the Republican candidates’ evasion of John King’s question about Syria–at the Feb. 22 Republican debate–in their eagerness to bomb Iran.
Uygur points out their indifference to Syrian deaths, “but when it comes to Iran, where no one is dying,” they’re anxious for the U.S. to attack. Uygur plays Santorum’s rant: Syria is a “puppet state of Iran…Syria and Iran are an axis…[Iran is the] most prolific proliferator of terror in the world.”
Uygur interjects: “I’m not sure the rest of the media grasps how stunning that answer is. [John King] asks about Syria and” Santorum says, “‘We hate Iran. Let’s go bomb Iran….Yeah, yeah, Syria, but the only relevant fear is of Iran.’”
Uygur then shows Romney agreeing with Santorum: “It’s unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and Rick is absolutely right, Syria is their key ally…Lebanon…Hezbollah…threatens Israel, our friend and ally.” Romney promises modestly to “change the course of world history.”
Uygur parodies the Republicans’ priorities: “[When asked] ‘What do you think of Syria?’ – [They respond] ‘We should take military action against Iran.’’
Uygur pauses, then bursts out, “You soulless jerks.– They ask you about the Syrian people and…you just…[want to] bomb a different country,” because it “might develop a nuclear weapon many years in the future….” Uygur concludes, “These people are sick, man. They’re motivated by Neo-Cons, Evangelicals, Oil speculators, Defense Contractors: ‘There’s no money in Syria: who cares about the people? There’s no oil in Syria….We’re going to Iran where the oil is, where can make more money off a more disastrous war that would last a lot longer and cost a lot more money.’–As you can tell it disgusts me.”
Uygur explains that he doesn’t know how the U.S. can best help Syria, “I’m not saying we should go to war, but every time you turn on the television, everyone’s talking about [how]the one place you should take action is a totally separate country, Iran. It’s like when we got attacked on 9/11, [by] guys [who] came from Saudi Arabia, [with] their base in Afghanistan…, the Neo-Cons and Republicans [argued that] we should attack Iraq, a totally different country. I’ve seen this movie before and I hate this movie.”
The Young Turks with Cenk Uygur used to waste time with gimmicky sound effects and pointless headlines from each panelist. Now, though still stuck in a set unfortunately reminiscent of Ali G’s interview warehouse, the show offers much news discussed nowhere but the web. (The Young Turks has a web show on M-F 3-5 PM, which seems good, but because my online streaming cuts off often, I haven’t heard many shows).
Soon, Cenk Uygur may advocate freeing Palestine, as he did last spring, in a “Daily Rant” for The Dylan Rattigan Show, “Losing our minds over Israel.” Uygur protested Congress’s standing ovations for Netanyahu as the latter reneged on all previous agreements with the Palestinians about the 1967 borders, vilifying generations of U.S.-government policy.
To the Prime Minister’s contention that “the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers,” Uygur announced, “Except, of course, that there are millions of Palestinians who are currently occupied by the state of Israel. Can we please get some sanity on this? Just because the Israeli Prime Minister says it, doesn’t mean we have to agree with it. Let’s use our minds. I’m originally from Turkey. I can use my mind to say the Turkish government is wrong sometimes, oftentimes, and I’m not going to agree with a right-wing Turkish government. Why do we all agree with a right-wing Israeli government ? It makes no sense.”
Cenk’s got guts, but I’m not going to valorize his courage. I think emphasizing it only intimidates other newspeople and galvanizes the censors. And, I like to believe that Uygur enjoys truth-telling. His fascination with learning even makes him a better interviewer than other hosts, for–while articulate himself–he shuts up so guests can speak. Now that’s power, not the bogus influence of repeating the corporate line.