It looks like the Justice Democrats just imploded as a viable group capable of effecting political change, which leaves me very despondent. Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks, who was one of the founders of the Justice Democrats, wrote some sexist blog posts between 1999 and 2005, and the staff of the Justice Democrats demanded that he resign. Uygur has resigned from the group and has avoided saying anything negative about the Justice Democrat’s staff in public. Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk, however, was so outraged by the behavior of the staff, that he then also resigned from the board of the Justice Democrats in protest.
Without the media support of either the Young Turks or Secular Talk, I can’t see how the Justice Democrats will have any public traction. Most of the people who joined the Justice Democrats first heard about the group by watching the Young Turks or Secular Talk on Youtube and the media coverage of the group would be essentially nil without those two Youtube channels. Judging from the comments posted on Kulinski’s video announcing his resignation, many of his viewers are outraged that Uygur was forced to resign.
Most of the criticism of Uygur focuses on a 1999 post. After reading the post, I can understand why the JD staff found it offensive, but they also seem to be incapable of interpreting the situation in its proper context. Uygur essentially complained that he was surrounded by many beautiful women in Miami, yet he wasn’t getting laid. He then said that women are genetically inferior because they don’t want to have sex enough. Yes, the general tone of the post was sexist, but the JD staff are being purposely blind to the lame humor of a guy who is making up sarcastic excuses why he can’t get laid. It was a poor attempt at humor and an effort to be an edgy, politically-incorrect right-wing blogger.
I don’t think that Uygur truly believed that women are genetically inferior at the time that he wrote it, and he certainly doesn’t believe it now. He has run a progressive media company since 2002 where he promotes women’s rights and female hosts clearly play an important role in deciding on the content and presentation of the shows. It is hard to believe that strong women like Anna Kasparian, Hannah Cranston, Aida Rodriguez, Grace Baldridge and Kim Horcher would continue to work at the Young Turks if it was a pit of sexism and they weren’t treated as equals in the company. I find it hard to believe that these female hosts would keep working part time at low salaries at the Young Turks if it was a place that tolerated sexism. Many of the female hosts of the Young Turks shows also have their own separate shows which they built up independently from the Young Turks, so I doubt they would stay if Uygur displayed sexist attitudes toward them. Anna Kasparian frequently argues with Cenk Uygur about why he is wrong about a particular issue and challenges his authority on air.
If Uygur had written those comments last year and stood proudly by them, then the reaction of the JD staff might be justifiable, but Uygur deleted most of the offensive posts over a dozen years ago and has apologized, saying that people are right to criticize the sexism in the posts.
The JD staff seemed determined to smear Uygur in ways that he didn’t deserve, by saying that he was “contributing to rape culture.” I’m guessing that they wrote that because in a 2003 post Uygur wrote:
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.
Yes, the whole Marti Gras tradition of men kissing women and women flashing their breasts and men touching them is sexist and does objectify women, but there is no indication that Uygur was talking about non-consensual activities.
The staff of the Justice Democrats seems to have lost sight of the larger objectives of their organization in making their decision to kick out Uygur. Without an effective media arm, the organization is essentially dead, because it won’t be able to recruit many new members and it just alienated many of its existing members who are fans of the Young Turks and Secular Talk. Maybe some of the members of the Justice Democrats will applaud the action as taking a principled stand against sexism, but it appears that the group will also loose many members, judging from the online comments on Kulinski’s video announcing his resignation. Many of the comments on the video also criticize social justice warriors in general as intolerant extremists. The left appears to be needlessly attacking itself and eating its own.
Some of Uygur’s harshest critics like Sargon of Akkad are now defending him and saying that he did “nothing wrong”. Unfortunately, tarring and feathering Uygur in this way allows right-wing critics to dismiss the #metoo movement as a witchhunt and an overreaction. Just like some people dismissed feminism in general when Hillary Clinton’s campaign accused Bernie Sanders of promoting sexism, some people will be inclined to disregard sexual harassment as not being a serious problem when they see progressives like Uygur being attacked for old blog posts. At the end of the day, I’m not sure if denouncing Uygur for sexism really helps the cause of women’s rights. What I am sure is that it helps to fracture the movement to elect politicians who aren’t corrupted by corporate money, and that is an outcome that we should all mourn.