Ana Kasparian Interview: "The Young Turks" Host Provides a Fearless Progressive Voice
Image attributed to Ana Kasparian
Ana Kasparian began her tenure with The Young Turks as a co-host (with Cenk Uygur) and producer in 2007 and has contributed to the explosion of the show’s popularity to become the largest online news program. She was honored in the Forbes “30 Under 30” list in 2016 and was given a Webby Award after appearing on the Sundance Channel’s Dream School where she successfully encouraged high school dropouts to finish their education.
Aside from being a regular op-ed writer for Raw Story, the California native has also written for the New York Times and Time magazine. She teaches journalism at California State University Northridge, the same school where she received her Bachelor’s in journalism and Master’s in Political Science.
"I stay here at The Young Turks because I believe in what we do. That’s not to say that there aren’t other news organizations that are doing great things. I just feel like this is something that I helped build. This is something I feel very close to and very protective of, and I always want to be part of it."
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Ana, please give us a little background on your career and how you became involved with The Young Turks.
Ana Kasparian: The majority of my career has been spent at The Young Turks, but prior to working there, I was working at a CBS affiliate in Los Angeles. KNX 1070 was the radio station where I was working, and it’s one of the more respected local news radio stations. I was really lucky that I got that job right out of college considering the fact that most people won’t usually be able to use their journalism degree for anything, so I kind of fought my way in. But I was a little disheartened when I realized that I hated working there. I was a little lost.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and part of the reason why I was so unhappy with the job was because I had this idea of what journalism was, and then once I was in a newsroom, I realized it was very different from what I expected. There was very little in terms of investigating stories. There was very little quality communication between employees in that newsroom. I felt like news writers were just there to rewrite whatever came in from the AP or Reuters wire, and I felt very uninspired by that. The anchors would come in ten minutes before a newscast, and they would literally just read whatever someone else wrote for them. If that was the best position that I could hope for, I just felt like I wouldn’t have been fulfilled.
I had applied for a graduate program in Political Science, and I also planned for this month long trip to Europe just to find myself and figure out what I wanted to do next, and a colleague told me about a temporary position at The Young Turks. I was skeptical at first. The name sounded weird to me. I’m Armenian. I didn’t know what “Young Turks” meant. But I researched it, and I decided to give it a shot. I needed to make some extra money, so I thought, “Okay. It’s a two-week temporary position. How bad could it possibly be?” I was actually very surprised to find that, on my first day, I fell in love with the show.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why?
Ana Kasparian: What I loved about the show was that it was unscripted. It was raw. It was just completely unfiltered. Even though there was an opinion and commentary component to it, what really stood out to me was the fact that it focused more on truth telling as opposed to regurgitating what other news organizations were saying.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You and Cenk are progressives, so how do you respond when conservatives and critics say that The Young Turks is not fair and balanced or is just another liberal “fake news” outlet?
Ana Kasparian: The notion of being fake news always cracks me up because that’s now being used as a way of criticizing any type of news organization that comes from any type of political angle or position. We’re very honest with everyone, especially our audience, about what our personal biases are and our personal, political identities. I am progressive. We’re clear about that. However, you can’t change the facts of the story. What we make sure we do is to report the facts regarding whatever story it is we’re covering, and then we follow it with our take, our analysis and opinion of it. It’s funny because we do get a lot of criticism from liberals and conservatives because we don’t really discriminate on what type of politician we’re going to criticize.
During the Obama administration early on, a lot of Democrats felt uncomfortable criticizing Obama when he was doing things that went against what he promised, but we were not uncomfortable. We were very much willing to criticize him, and we did so rather aggressively. We lost a huge portion of our liberal audience early on during the Obama administration. Of course, most liberals caught on and realized, “Oh, wait, Obama isn’t actually following through on the promises that he made to his progressive base.” People started to criticize him and became more open to that criticism.
It’s just hilarious to me when people say that we’re just cheerleaders for liberals when, in reality, we criticize liberals more aggressively than mainstream media does. We’re incredibly critical of Hillary and continue to be critical of her. No one’s going to intimidate me from doing so. I don’t believe in being a cheerleader for any political party.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why were you a conservative in the past?
Ana Kasparian: Well, my conservatism was, I believe, influenced by my environment because I did grow up in a very conservative household. Armenians, in general, are conservative, and my parents instilled in me lots of conservative morals, I suppose you could say. Morals is not necessarily the right word because liberals have their version of morals, and that’s fine. But you know, there was this whole notion of, “If you have premarital sex, no one’s going to want to marry you. You’ll be considered a tainted woman.” I bought into that even though I did have premarital sex, and I felt a tremendous about of guilt when I was younger as a result of that. I bought into the notion that marriage absolutely needs to be between a man and a woman and that if you legalize gay marriage, then it’s going to normalize gay behavior. As I grew up, I realized that being gay wasn’t a choice, so that was a ridiculous argument.
There were a number of issues that I was conservative on specifically because of the environment that I was raised in, but I grew, I started to investigate those issues, and I engaged in debates on those issues. I opened myself to evidence contrary to what I was raised to believe, and that wasn’t easy. It’s not easy to be an outspoken liberal among a conservative Armenian community, but anytime there’s evidence that proves otherwise, I have to follow that. I have to be open minded to it because I feel like it’s a disservice to myself and to my audience if I don’t do that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I understand completely, and speaking from personal experience, it’s very difficult to be an outspoken liberal in a red state.
Ana Kasparian: I can’t even imagine how difficult that is. I get a lot of messages from young women who live in red states, and they vent to me, and they thank me for being as outspoken as I am. I give them a tremendous amount of credit because, even though I am outspoken and deal with a fair amount of online abuse, I’m at least surrounded by people who don’t criticize me for being an independent thinker. I can’t imagine being in any type of environment where you would face a lot of backlash for that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What was it like to debate Ann Coulter?
Ana Kasparian: I don’t consider Ann Coulter an unintelligent woman. I don’t agree with most of what she says. I don’t even know that I believe that she believes most of what she says. But what I know about Ann Coutler is that she is pretty good at manipulating a debate. What I mean by that is she has certain tactics and strategies that have worked in past debates, and even if she’s sharing ideas or thoughts that are un-PC or just flat out wrong, she’ll usually fluster her opponent, and it’ll appear that she wins. I was a little nervous just because I’m a temperamental person. I’m the kind of individual who does get very passionate when I disagree, and she really feeds off of that, so I had to be smart and be aware of what she would do to fluster me, rise above it and make sure that, in my rebuttals, I came from a place of evidence, data and facts, and I just kept calm. That’s what I did.
A lot of people were impressed with the way that I handled it. Some conservatives think she wins no matter what, and that’s fine. But I’m actually really proud of that performance, especially considering the fact that she’s been in the game much longer than I have. I’m younger than her and less experienced, so it was challenging thinking about it ahead of time, but once I sat in that chair and engaged in that debate, I was so comfortable and honestly had a great time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m thinking Pat Robertson for your next debate.
Ana Kasparian: (laughs) Pat Robertson. Wow. I didn’t even consider or think about that, but that would be interesting.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What is your most disturbing Trump moment so far?
Ana Kasparian: Oh, my gosh. That’s one of the hardest questions anyone’s ever asked me because there have been so many disturbing moments from Trump’s proposed Muslin ban to pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, and we’re seeing the ramifications of extreme weather conditions right now. I have family members in Florida that are suffering from that right now, so that’s terrifying, and then there’s the white supremacy that we’re seeing popping up throughout the country. Trump’s efforts to embolden them disturbs me. Heather Heyer losing her life as a result of that disturbs me.
I mean, if I had to pick one, I would probably say what happened in Charlottesville because it was such an overt, transparent racism and hatred, and to know that still exists in this country and that people feel proud to show their faces as they share that type of hate, disturbs me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What should the core issues be for the Democratic presidential nominee to run on in 2020?
Ana Kasparian: Well, I think Bernie Sanders really brought to light a lot of issues that establishment Democrats just refused to talk about because they actually benefit from those issues. Unfortunately, we will have Democrats that are in denial and refuse to believe that Bernie had a popular message that resonated with people. The number one problem that I think Democrats and Republicans want to fix, and I’m talking specifically about the electorate, is money in politics. People really bought into Bernie’s message because he drove home this notion that he was not a politician that was to be bought, that he relied on small donations from his constituents from the electorate in order to fund his campaign. Knowing that a politician isn’t bought means that individual is going to represent the best interests of the electorate as opposed to the best interests of corporations.
For millennial voters to really begin to support a Democratic candidate, that candidate needs to prove, not just talk, but really walk the walk and show that he or she is not to be bought, that he or she really does want to do something about the legalized bribery that we have going on in the country right now. That is the number one issue. There is growing income inequality and wealth inequality in the country. There are people in my age group and my generation that are struggling to make ends meet even with incredibly impressive educational backgrounds. It’s pathetic that the Democratic Party has somehow managed to devolve into the part of the elite and individuals that only look out for the elite. We need candidates that look out for the working class and the middle class. Bernie Sanders represented that, and we need a candidate just like that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who do you have in mind?
Ana Kasparian: Honestly, I think Bernie still has a good shot. I know that there’s some criticism about his age, but he’s impressively healthy for his age. I also have hope in Elizabeth Warren, although I think her biggest downfall is that she tries to toe the establishment line, and I think she buys into this idea that she needs them in order to win campaigns. I don’t think that she needs them. I think that she really needs to make a decision about what her identity is, and I have a feeling that she is a true progressive. She needs to stay true to that and aggressively represent that. I think she has a good chance of winning if she does that. The only criticism I see of her is when she tries to toe that establishment line, and it’s just a really bad strategy.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you ever received offers from other networks like MSNBC or CNN?
Ana Kasparian: I have gotten offers. Some of them have been incredibly tempting just based on how lucrative they would’ve been.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you see yourself staying at The Young Turks for the foreseeable future?
Ana Kasparian: I stay here at The Young Turks because I believe in what we do. That’s not to say that there aren’t other news organizations that are doing great things. I just feel like this is something that I helped build. This is something I feel very close to and very protective of, and I always want to be part of it. No matter what, I’m always going to be part of TYT. The problem with other offers is it’s very rare to get an opportunity with another news organization that doesn’t want you to be exclusive. Every offer I’ve gotten has pressured me to leave TYT, and I’m not going to leave.
I’m going to be here for the long haul unless something changes, like all of a sudden, we lose our identity, and we become unethical or something like that. Then I wouldn’t want to be part of it, but I don’t see that happening. I want to stay here, and I want to continue building TYT into an ethical, journalistic news organization that people can really rely on. To me, that’s more important than making a ton of money in the short term.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were 20 years old when you began at TYT, so I assume you were naïve about the world. Any hard lessons learned along the way from there to here?
Ana Kasparian: Oh, I was absolutely naïve, and we talk about the naïve portion of our lives as if it was a bad thing. But I actually kind of miss who I was when I was naïve because I was more optimistic, and I was happier, I guess, because once you learn the reality about the real world, it’s discouraging and sometimes incredibly depressing. Last year, I dealt with severe depression and anxiety for the first time in my life, and it was because of just this realization of how much pain and suffering and hate there is out there and how much of that hate is directed at me specifically. I had to deal with that to a greater extent since the Trump campaign.
It takes a lot of energy to try to convince myself to not lose faith in humanity, to really try to see the good in people and to trust people. That’s honestly the biggest challenge that I’ve had. When you’re younger, you’re also naïve about what your earnings are going to be at some point in your life. I thought, “I’m going to be a multi-millionaire. I’m going to have all these great things.” Then you realize that it’s actually incredibly difficult to make those dreams happen just based on the way we structured our economy in this country, which is fine. That’s something I came to terms with, and I’m fine with it, but for me, the hardest thing was grappling with some of the evil portions of the population out there.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What else fills your time and helps you deal with that anxiety?
Ana Kasparian: I have a much greater appreciation for family as I’ve gotten older, and my brother just had a daughter. She’s about to turn one, and every time I think about her, I get emotional because she just brings a lot of happiness and joy to my life. I just love her so much. So I spend time with family and my dog. I love running and yoga and spending time with friends.
I’m honestly one of the most average people on the planet. I love what most people love, and I want the same things that most people want out of life. That’s pretty much it. I wish I could say that I do something more interesting outside of TYT, but I don’t (laughs).
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