Illustration for article titled Why Did Bernie Sanders Endorse the Extremely Gross Sexist Cenk Uygur [UPDATED]
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It has long been a narrative online and on Twitter that the Bernie Sanders campaign has a sexism problem. Namely, that some of his supporters, the oft-cited “Bernie Bros,” have a sexism problem. And while his campaign counts an equal number of women among its supporters as it does men, and young women in particular flock to his campaign, the Sanders campaign has struggled at times to overcome the perception that it has done too little to address the issue.

Which makes Sanders’s decision to throw his support behind Cenk Uygur, the founder of the Young Turks now running for Congress in California’s 25th Congressional District, all the more perplexing. According to the Los Angeles Times, Sanders described Uygur as “a voice that we desperately need in Congress” and someone who “has shown enormous courage in standing up to the greed and power of the corporate elite, and has spent his entire life fighting for justice and the needs of the working people of our country” in making his endorsement. The problem, as the Times noted, is that Uygur has a long history of making wildly sexist comments, which is all the more infuriating given that he’s running to take over former Representative Katie Hill’s seat. Hill, as you probably recall, stepped down after nude photos were published of her in rightwing media outlets, part of a smear campaign likely orchestrated by her estranged husband.

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And Uygur’s history of making sexist and derogatory comments about women (as well as his penchant to throw around the N-word) is not exactly a secret. In fact, in 2017, the progressive group Justice Democrats kicked Uygur, a founding board member, out of the organization after it was revealed that Uygur had written some incredibly sexist blog posts in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “We do not feel that Mr. Uygur is fit to lead or participate in an organization that truly believes women’s issues and the issues of black and brown people are all of our issues,” Justice Democrats executive director Saikat Chakrabarti, who would go on to become Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, said at the time.

Here’s some of what Uygur, who was in his late 20s and early 30s at the time he authored these blogs, wrote (per HuffPost):

“Obviously, the genes of women are flawed,” Uygur wrote in a 1999 post lamenting the inadequate amount of sex he was having while living in Miami, Florida. “They are poorly designed creatures who do not want to have sex nearly as often as needed for the human race to get along peaceably and fruitfully.”

In a 2002 entry in which Uygur described the “rules of dating,” he specified that “there must be orgasm by the fifth date.” And in a 2003 column, he described drunken revelry at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he “kissed over 23 different women, saw and felt countless breasts.”

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When asked in 2017 about those posts, he apologized, though he made a point to note that at the time he wrote them, he “was still a conservative who thought that stuff was politically incorrect and edgy.”

“If you read that today, what I wrote 18 years ago, and you’re offended by it, you’re 100 percent right,” Uygur said. “And anyone who is subjected to that material, I apologize to. And I deeply regret having written that stuff when I was a different guy.”

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But as HuffPost noted, he continued to make degrading comments about women well after he wrote those posts:

Uygur’s explicit comments about the physique of women in Miami continued through at least 2013, however, when he marveled on Twitter about the city’s “improbable breasts” and “improbable butts.” He also declared Miami women “outrageously, almost unacceptably, hot,” but clarified in a subsequent tweet that the women were “unacceptably hot,” because he was married and they were therefore off-limits to him.

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And Uygur didn’t limit his casual sexism to just his blog posts or tweets. On his online “news” show in 2013, as the Los Angeles Times noted, Uygur also “ranked women on a scale of 1 to 10 on how likely men would be to let them perform oral sex on them,” and in 2016, defended the Harvard men’s soccer team “for ranking the sexual appeal of female students on a scale of 1 to 10.” (Many of these clips were shared recently in a Twitter thread by M. Mendoza Ferrer, whom the Los Angeles Times described as a Democratic activist “unaffiliated with any presidential campaign,” but who is described elsewhere as a critic of Bernie Sanders.)

Uygur, of course, defended himself to the Times when asked about his very recent comments on his show:

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.

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Uygur is nothing if not the stereotypical Bernie Bro, and it’s an extremely bad look, and weird unforced error, for the Sanders campaign to decide to throw its name and weight behind a man who once described women as “poorly designed creatures who do not want to have sex nearly as often as needed for the human race to get along peaceably and fruitfully.” It’s all the more strange given the candidates whom Sanders has yet to endorse, like Jessica Cisneros, the pro-Medicare for All, pro-Green New Deal progressive running for Congress in Texas that everyone from Elizabeth Warren to the Justice Democrats has signed on to support. Bernie, do better!

Update (3:53 p.m.): Bernie Sanders has retracted his endorsement of Cenk Uygur, writing in a statement, “I hear my grassroots supporters who were frustrated and understand their concerns.”

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Earlier in the day, Uygur tweeted that he would not be accepting any endorsements, despite having already accepted several, including that of Bernie Sanders. 

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Senior reporter, Jezebel

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