Bernie Sanders withdrew his endorsement of California congressional candidate Cenk Uygur on Friday following reports about the online talk show host making crude and degrading comments about women and provocative statements about Jews, Muslims and other groups.
The Democratic presidential candidate had said Thursday that Uygur, founder and co-host of “The Young Turks” online talk show, is “a voice that we desperately need in Congress” to fill the seat of former Rep. Katie Hill of Santa Clarita. A backlash among Democrats offended by Uygur’s inflammatory comments led the congressional candidate to say Friday that he would no longer accept endorsements, prompting Sanders to withdraw his support, even as he continued to praise him.
“As I said yesterday, Cenk has been a longtime fighter against the corrupt forces in our politics and he’s inspired people all across the country,” the Vermont senator said. “However, our movement is bigger than any one person. I hear my grassroots supporters who were frustrated and understand their concerns. Cenk today said he is rejecting all endorsements for his campaign, and I retract my endorsement.”
Sanders did not specifically address Uygur’s comments about women. His campaign spokesman Mike Casca did not respond to an email asking whether the senator shared the concerns of supporters who were offended by his support for Uygur.
In an episode of his show in 2013, Uygur ranked women on a scale of 1 to 10 on how likely men would be to let them perform oral sex on them.
Uygur also defended the Harvard University men’s soccer team in 2016 for ranking the sexual appeal of female students on a scale of 1 to 10 on a widely shared “scouting report,” including explicit descriptions of potential sex acts with the women.
“We’ve been doing it for as long as humanity has existed, so they put it in a Google doc — not guilty,” said Uygur, who has promoted Sanders on his program.
In 2007, Uygur used the n-word multiple times in a show about Duane “Dog” Chapman after the celebrity bounty hunter used the racial slur.
Uygur, 49, described himself in a telephone interview as a champion for women’s rights who should not be criticized for having “frank conversations about sex” on his show. The problem with the Harvard team’s appraisals of the women, he said, was not that they rated their sex potential; it was that the roster became public.
“I’m not going to be the thought police and police what their private comments were,” he said.
He also said “The Young Turks” used to have a policy to use the n-word epithet when quoting racists in order to mock them, but stopped doing it after complaints from black activists.
Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, president of California Young Democrats, a group that backs Sanders, had called on him to yank the endorsement.
“We think that he doesn’t necessarily reflect the movement that Sen. Sanders has built,” he said.
Mark Gonzalez, chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, had also called on Sanders to “disavow” Uygur and pull the endorsement. Uygur’s “vulgarity, his hate speech and divisive rhetoric have no place in our party,” Gonzalez said in a Friday statement. The party is likely to endorse one of Uygur’s opponents, Assemblywoman Christy Smith of Santa Clarita, on Saturday.
Another Uygur supporter, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont), stood by him on Friday morning, but denounced the talk show host’s behavior and said he should apologize. Still, Uygur’s commitment to Medicare for all, free public college and ending U.S. involvement in wars abroad “is why so many progressives rallied around him,” Khanna said.
After Sanders pulled his endorsement, Khanna followed suit.
Shortly before Sanders reversed course, Uygur released a statement Friday saying he appreciates that supporters endorsed him “in the face of the corporate media and Democratic establishment onslaught.”
“I will not be beholden to corporations, lobbyists or special interest groups, and I will not stand by while those groups attack my political allies,” he said. “That’s why I have decided that I will not be accepting any endorsements.”
Sanders apologized in January after accusations emerged of sexism, sexual harassment and pay discrimination by male supervisors in his 2016 presidential campaign.
He initially told CNN that he’d been unaware of complaints in his 2016 campaign. “I was a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case,” he said.
Days later, amid mounting criticism, he was more forceful. “What they experienced was absolutely unacceptable and certainly not what a progressive campaign or any campaign should be about,” he said.
Last week, the Sanders campaign severed ties with staff member Darius Khalil Gordon after the Washington Free Beacon published anti-Semitic and homophobic slurs that it said were from his Twitter feed.
A former Republican, Uygur is now one of the Democrats vying in California’s March 3 election to represent the state’s 25th Congressional District, which covers Simi Valley, Porter Ranch, Santa Clarita, Palmdale and part of Lancaster. Hill, a Democrat, resigned in November amid accusations that she’d had affairs with congressional and campaign staff members. Uygur lives in West L.A., 30 miles outside the district.
California’s Democratic establishment has lined up behind Smith, the assemblywoman. Her supporters include Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Republicans in the race include former Rep. Steve Knight, who was ousted last year by Hill, and George Papadopoulos, an advisor to President Trump’s 2016 campaign who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russia scandal.
Uygur, a Turkish immigrant who has a law degree from Columbia University, is a former MSNBC host.
Many of his most provocative remarks have been compiled in video snippets posted on Twitter in recent weeks by a New York Democratic activist, M. Mendoza Ferrer, who is unaffiliated with any presidential campaign. She said it seemed Uygur had built his online platform denigrating women and others, and now that he’s a Democrat running for Congress it bothered her that his audience of mainly young men was tuning in.
“Once this stuff came to light, anybody would be sort of horrified,” she said. “I was horrified.”
The clips she unearthed included a 2012 segment of “The Young Turks” in which he said conservative Orthodox Jewish men and Muslim women in heavy religious attire were “wasting their lives.”
Uygur, who was raised Muslim and now describes himself as agnostic, said Thursday that he was referring to fundamentalists, and he’s offended they think he “will rot in hell.”
“I believe the things they believe are not correct, yes,” he said. “If they want to spend their whole lives following an ideology that I don’t believe is correct, that’s on them.”