Earlier today, we posted a simple little video that asked an interesting question: "Is the the White House programming a news channel?"
That seems like a provocative question, and it is. And some have wondered why we asked it. Why? Because a now-former MSNBC host suggested it in a resignation video posted on YouTube. Of course we're going to do a story on that! And now it seems to have captured the attention of the White House.
Let me explain.
Last night, Cenk Uygur (don't ask me how to pronounce that), who has hosted the 6 pm ET time slot on MSNBC since the beginning of the year, gave a detailed account of why he has decided to leave the network, and why the network decided to remove him from that slot. His explanation included some interesting allegations. According to him, the head of MSNBC (he's presumably referring to Phil Griffin) met with Cenk and told him that he met with people "in Washington" and they didn't like Cenk's "tone."
Interesting. What did Cenk have to say about that? In his video, he seemed to connect some dots:
So why did I turn it down? Look, when they gave me the speech I thought, look they're trying to rail- they're trying to bring me in and, but they're not. ... [B]ut I don't care, I'm not going to do that, there's no way I'm going to control the content of the show and tone it down so that people in Washington are happy. Not going to do it. I promised you guys, remember, before I went in to MSNBC, I promised the Young Turks audience that I would never do that, right? So, but at the time you're thinking, are they really going to make a decision based on that? I don't know, we'll find out....
And why is it easy to have that conversation with me? ... Remember, I am by far the most-- the hardest on the Obama administration. It doesn't mean the other hosts aren't hard on him at times when he deserves it, but I am clearly the hardest on the Obama administration.
It seems to be that Cenk is at least hinting at the possibility that part of his demotion was based on his criticism of Obama. And according to him, his boss had a conversation with people "in Washington" about it. In fact, since posting the video, Cenk has suggested that exact thing to the New York Times:
Mr. Uygur, who by most accounts was well liked within MSNBC, said in an interview that he turned down the new contract because he felt Mr. Griffin had been the recipient of political pressure. In April, he said, Mr. 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.” He said he guessed Mr. Griffin was referring to White House officials, though he had no evidence for the assertion. He also said that Mr. Griffin said the channel was part of the “establishment,” and “that you need to act like it.”
That alone might be cause to ask the question we did. But wait, there's more.
We also know that the White House has a history of complaining about the language used on networks, even on MSNBC. A few weeks ago, in fact, Jay Carney admitted to calling MSNBC to complain about Mark Halperin using the word "dick" to describe the president:
Additionally, Glenn Beck pointed out on radio today that the White House contacted Fox while he was there to complain about Beck's language and Fox's decision to let Beck blast the White house:
And heck, even MSNBC's "Morning Joe" host Mika Brzezinki has admitted to getting messages from the White House while on air!
Earlier today, the White House responded to our video, and Cenk's suggestion, to Tommy Christopher over at Mediate. Press Secretary Jay Carney said it was false to think that the White House had a hand in the departure of Cenk:
I have never expressed an opinion about Mr. Uygur to anyone at MSNBC. Nor has anyone in the White House communications office expressed concerns about his show with anyone at the network. We never had a problem with his show.
You know, there’s real news to cover out there, Tommy!
That's to be expected (and we won't even get into the fact that Carney only denies he or the White House communications office never contacted MSNBC). But, nevertheless, if that's what the White House says, we must report it. And so we are. It's also important to note that MSNBC has denied it, too.
So what does all this mean? Given everything, certainly it wasn't an illogical question for us to ask earlier today. There's a history, here. And we all know how Glenn feels about history.
Speaking of history: does anyone find it ironic that the White House could never find the time to respond to Glenn by calling "the red phone," but a four-minute video montage gets the administration to talk?