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Talk show host discusses media’s responsibility

Robert Singer | Monday, April 20, 2009

Cenk Uygur, host of liberal “The Young Turks” online television talk show, criticized the mainstream media Friday by arguing that networks often maintain “neutrality” by giving viewpoints of unequal substance equal time at the expense of “objectivity.”

Uygur spoke to the College Democrats in the Carey Auditorium in the Hesburgh Library Friday. He likened the mainstream media’s role in political coverage to an incompetent football referee.

“You’re calling a football game and Notre Dame and Michigan are playing, and if the referee thinks the job is to call an equal number of penalties on each side, then what happens if every play Michigan makes a cheap shot?” he asked.

The mainstream media can be relevant, Uygur said, but major outlets should seek to be objective by applying the same high level of criticism to both sides of an issue in order to reveal to the audience which viewpoint carries more weight.

“I think you still need the referees, you still need the mainstream media, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have people pushing from both sides,” he said. “You need to have people say, ‘I’ve listened to that and I’ve listened to this. Now here’s the reality.'”

Uygur also discussed the power of the media to influence public thought and political outcomes, drawing on the examples of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. He argued that Fox News tilted the 2000 presidential election to the Republicans by calling Florida early.

“The 2000 election, you guys might remember it’s pretty close. It’s a statistical dead heat,” he said. “So, it’s too close to call and Fox News has hired their top guy to make calls in the election. That guy who makes that decision is the cousin of George W. Bush. They call it for Bush and media and the reporters are lemmings, so they panic.”

“They changed the course of history when they said ‘We don’t care what the facts say, we’re declaring George Bush the winner,'” he added.

Voices on the fringe of public opinion cannot be discounted, because of the power of media to reach across geographical markets and consolidate extreme views to form an influential movement, according to Uygur.

“Rush Limbaugh drives the agenda more than any Democrat or Republican congressman,” he said.

Uygur also made the case that the new media environment – the explosion of instantaneous and diversified communication networks of blogs and satellite radio stations – has created more opportunities for aspiring journalists and political commentators.

“So, the media makes an enormous difference and in this day and age you don’t have to wait around and hope somebody picks you out of a crowd,” he said. “You can go and actually be the media – you can start your own blog and start your own idea on YouTube. You’re only remaining job is to win the crowd.”

Uygur also shared his own experience as a rising voice in the political arena. He took an unconventional path that culminated with him founding the first ever live, daily web television talk show.

“In the old days, if you wanted to go down this path you had to become a local TV reporter,” Uygur said. “That’s the clear path. I hated that path, but it works. David Gregory came up that path. Almost all the people who are anchors or host came up that way.”