It was announced earlier this week that The Young Turks (TYT) had drummed up $20 million in a round of funding that included funders 3L Capital, Greycroft Partners, and WndrCo. What does this mean for the media outlet that urged its viewers to pay for TYT membership in order to support independent media?
In a video at TYT’s YouTube channel, we were assured by TYT co-founder and host, Cenk Uygur, that this can only mean good things. He told us that the investors invested in TYT, not to change it, but because they like TYT. That’s a nice story, but, is it all roses when you get in bed with capitalists? After all, could Lindsey Graham not make the same argument about Morgan Stanley and their campaign contributions to him, that they simply like his politics, and aren’t trying to change him. Could Joe Manchin not say the same about his financial relationship with Dominion Energy? Even if you see fundamental ethical differences between bribing politicians and investing in the Fourth Estate, does that somehow make either one of them a good thing?
To get a better understanding of what this means, we should first look at the most interesting of the three investors, WndrCo, which is a media and technology venture investment company founded and spearheaded by Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of the richest Americans, and a media icon. He was the ‘K’ in Dreamworks SKG, along with fellow media icons Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. Other words to describe Mr. Katzenberg could be ‘oligarch,’ ‘plutocrat,’ ‘capitalist,’ ‘mogul,’ and ‘campaign contributor.’ To be fair to Jeffrey Katzenberg, he could also be called a nice guy. I’ve met him before, and he seems like a good guy, not some repugnant psychopath like so many American oligarchs.
My personal opinion of Jeffrey Katzenberg’s friendliness, however, is inconsequential and meaningless in terms of the systemic forces at work surrounding his investment in TYT. It is his role as a plutocrat and campaign donor — his place in The Machine — that is meaningful to the discussion, and that’s what we should investigate. As usual, Open Secrets has us covered.
In 2016, Katzenberg was the 21st largest individual hard money contributor to political campaigns in the United States. He was also among the top 100 donors to outside spending groups in 2016. Overall, he and his wife, Marilyn, were the 67th largest individual contributor in the United States in 2016. When Lawrence Lessig created his Lesterland analogy, he talked about how the top 132 donors in the United States contributed 60% of campaign funds in the most recent federal election cycle at the time, essentially deciding who Americans got to choose from in elections. Coming in as the 67th largest donor in all of the United States, this guy is one of that tiny elite today.
Where did all that money go? We see that, for decades, it has been going to Democrats far and wide (mostly, though a few Republicans snuck in). Democrats such as Kirsten Gillibrand, Barbara Boxer, Rahm Emanuel, John Edwards, Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker, Claire McCaskill, and, more than any other, Hillary Clinton. Corporate Democrats. The exact same Democrats that have hijacked the left. The exact same Democrats that TYT has been railing against for years. This is neoliberalism at work.
Jeffrey Katzenberg is, quite literally, a media mogul and an oligarch. For years, TYT has referred to itself as independent media and, for years, I would have called that an accurate claim. But, after this investment, TYT trying to make that same claim while having an oligarch backer would be like The Washington Post, The Las Vegas Review-Journal, or Fox News trying to make that claim while being owned or backed by Jeff Bezos, Sheldon Adelson, or Rupert Murdoch, respectively. All of those outfits are rightly called corporate media, and it’s hard to see TYT any differently now, even if their particular oligarch backer has better politics and is an overall better human being than the oligarchs behind those other enterprises.
While we were assured by Cenk that nothing will change, and these investors are only making the investment because TYT has such a big audience, things have already changed. Shawn Colo, a managing partner at 3L Capital, has apparently joined TYT’s board. This fact was omitted from the TYT video about this investment, and it did not appear in the WSJ article linked in that video. As far as I can tell, this, or other information about their board, is not disclosed anywhere on the TYT Network website.
I have to admit that I am disappointed by this. I got into TYT many years via their tech and geek culture show, NerdAlert (because I’m a nerd, obviously). After months of checking in on NerdAlert, I realized it was part of this larger network, TYT, and I discovered it was a network whose hosts were not afraid to speak their minds and stick it to The Man. Even in recent months, you could always check in with the Aggressive Progressives to watch Jimmy Dore and others torch neoliberals, centrists, and the corporate media. All of this has been tainted now, because TYT is corporate media. When you’re funded by a neoliberal, you’re a neoliberal. That’s how neoliberalism works.
All that said, this is also not surprising. Cenk has always been very open about being a capitalist. Like Professor Lessig, he has not quite reached the logical conclusion that corruption is inevitable in capitalism, and that things like corporate media stoogery and Citizens United are symptoms of a larger problem. He wants to use this $20 million to expand TYT’s newsroom and reach, but bigger is not always better. When you become a neoliberal, you can no longer fight them. I may still check in to see who Jimmy Dore is railing against, or catch Ana Kasparian going off on student loan shenanigans and dress codes, and I’m obviously still a nerd, so NerdAlert is on the table, but I don’t have high long-term expectations for the politics of the network, and I have about 20 million reasons to believe it’s heading in the wrong direction.