Despite millions of subscribers and billions of views, Ana Kasparian of The Young Turks still hasn't quite adjusted to life in the public eye. "I'm still in the mindset that I work for this little startup company" she told me during our recent conversation. From producing to hosting, Kasparian is driven by her curiosity and delivers unapologetic commentary on current events. She's been featured on Forbes 30 Under 30, won multiple Webby Awards, and I had the opportunity to sit down with her to ask some questions about news, digital media, the 2016 election and more.
When did your fascination with news start -- or when did you know this is what you wanted to do?
When I was in middle school I remember watching ABC's 20/20 -- when Barbara Walters was one of the hosts. I remember she was interviewing one of Saddam Hussein's wives. And I just remember thinking to myself, wow what a cool job, to get to sit there and talk to someone so interesting, someone who's gone through something so unique -- I want to do that. I want to do that and get paid for it. That sounds like a dream job.
So from that moment forward I kind of just dedicated myself to doing what I'm doing now. But, you know, when you're a kid you have a different idea of what it means to work in media. You kind of learn along the way after you graduate college that it's very different from what people expect it to be -- it's not as glamorous, being on television or being on the internet, and being so called "famous" or whatever. It's not glamorous, it's actually pretty terrible. But you still get to do the interesting work, and that's why I keep doing what I do.
What specific jobs did you hold prior to working with The Young Turks?
A lot of people don't know this, but when I first got hired at TYT there were no positions available, I was there as a temp because one of the producers was on vacation for two weeks. And I loved it so much that when my two weeks were up I basically went to Cenk Uygur, the CEO and main host of the show, and I told him look I'll do anything I just want to be here. So he really liked my work, he hired me part-time to do marketing, and my job in marketing was just abysmal -- I had no background in marketing, I'm not really good at selling things to people, so I just kind of skated by, and then I got really lucky because there was a female co-host at TYT at the time named Jill Pike, she decided she wanted to move to DC and work for a think tank, and that really opened up a production and hosting position for me.
What Cenk did was he had me do a lot of production, and then he would bring me on the show incrementally. First it was one celebrity gossip story, and he liked how the video would do when they put it up on YouTube. Then he gave me a 15-minute segment. That was my first time being on a professional show -- it's funny to call it professional by the way because at that time it did not look professional.
You mentioned social media and how it's affecting content. Clearly the way we present news as well as the variety and volume of news is changing, is this creating barriers for quality journalism?
Absolutely. I think that even the identity of The Young Turks really evolved, because at first it was just meant to be a fun, casual talk show that talked about nonsense. Then during the Bush Administration things got so serious with foreign policy -- even domestic policy -- that they felt like they needed to touch on the more substantive topics. Then even the second hour of the show, which I'm in charge of producing and hosting, it started off as celebrity gossip and it evolved into what it is today. And we do a lot of really important social commentary.
But what we've noticed is, as digital media has kind of exploded, all of a sudden you're having certain voices who aren't trained as journalists -- who don't know what ethics are -- spreading lies, misinformation, fear, propaganda, etc. People have a really tough time deciphering what is or isn't true news. So I have that problem with people on Facebook all the time, some family members who share stories from satirical websites, and you're like, this is not a real website, it's satire! And it's frustrating. But that's kind of the age that we're in now.
With anyone being able to pick up a computer and spread information, do you feel like you have to be on-call 24/7 or have more responsibility in making sure the right news is being seen?
I do feel that way, but what I've realized, this year especially, is that you're not going to win every battle. You can fight back against misinformation as much as you want, but the reality is, right now Americans are going to believe what they want to believe. Even if you give them evidence to the contrary, their political identity has now become part of their value system.
I'll give you a quick example: my fiancée is Cuban. He's very liberal, but his family fled Cuba due to Castro. So one side of his family was, my guess, pretty wealthy, because they were business owners and everything before Castro. Castro comes in and takes everything and they come to the U.S. So they're very sensitive to social programs -- they're very sensitive to people like Bernie Sanders, because they see Bernie Sanders and his governmental assistance plans, and they think he's a communist. So what they do is they seek out information that confirms what they already believe, and if I hit them with evidence to the contrary they're not accepting of it.
So what I've realized is there are some battles you can win, some battles that you can't, and it's not my job to go around and try to convince others of the truth. They have to be advocates for themselves and seek it out as well.
While we're on the topic of social media, you wrote an article called, "The Case for Turning Our Backs on Twitter." Why don't you like Twitter?
Twitter is a cesspool of the worst people in society. Either you have good people on there, who just use Twitter to make snarky jokes and attack one another, and those are the good people. And then you have trolls who now have direct access to people like me and their opinion A) doesn't matter, and I want nothing to do with them. So why would I be on a social media site that has no interest in controlling that kind of behavior? There are people on Twitter who have literally made a career out of being trolls -- professional trolls, and it's sick. I don't want to be part of that.
Let's talk about the upcoming election a little bit. First, what are your thoughts on how the mainstream media is covering the election?
I got into a huge debate last night about how the mainstream media is covering the election this year. Because the person I was talking to believed that Trump is getting a lot of negative coverage, and so no one has anything to complain about. But the reality is, sometimes you watch CNN, and I watch CNN pretty much every morning because I'm not going to talk smack about the mainstream media unless I actually watch it and I know what's going on -- they talk about Trump as if he's a legitimate candidate who has policy ideas. Yet they never outline what his policies are, they never talk about his lack of detail. You know, they'll latch onto the hot story of the day where he says something bigoted or outrageous, but there's more to the incompetence of Donald Trump than his hatred.
You have to kind of look at what he plans on doing as a President, and he has not idea what he would do with foreign policy -- his foreign policy is, "We have to stop being politically correct." That's not foreign policy. It drives me insane. So mainstream media needs to talk about policies. And I know it's not sexy, but I can guarantee you that there are Americans who want that kind of news.
The first presidential debate is coming up, what can we expect?
A lot of people think that Trump is going to bomb, but I actually disagree. Trump is very good at manipulating the debate moderators -- who by the way have been very clear about how they don't plan on doing any fact-checking during the debate, which is ridiculous. Chris Wallace said that. Then what's your job as a moderator? To just be a robot? We can have a chimpanzee do the same thing, but anyway, Donald Trump is good at manipulating.
Hillary Clinton is really bad at being a human. And so what she needs to do is attack him, unapologetically. You call him deplorable? Good. He's deplorable. Own it. If he called you deplorable, which by the way I'm not sure if he even knows that word, he wouldn't be apologetic about it, he would fight back and say, "Damn right I called you deplorable." She needs to be a human, she needs to fight back, she needs to get rid of this career-politician aura about her. So I think that that's a really hard thing for her to shake off, and I worry about what the first debate is going to look like.
Ultimately in November, how do you think the election is going to shake up?
It's really hard to say. Even though there's a short period of time left, so much changes in a given week. Hillary might be leading in the polls, then all of a sudden Trump is leading in the polls. So I have no idea. What I do know is that this election is so unique because both candidates are pretty undesirable by most Americans, and so people like me don't really know what to do.
I was an avid Bernie supporter, I hate what the DNC did with manipulating the primaries, and I'd definitely never vote for Trump, so what do I do?
People tell you OK vote for a third party candidate, I'm not a huge fan of the third party candidates either. Definitely not Gary Johnson. Jill Stein has some policies that I do love, but she also doesn't have a chance of winning, so it's a really difficult situation -- it's a balancing act. And as someone who works for a show that has a tremendous amount of influence, people are waiting for your endorsement, and I don't know who to endorse.
So what do you say to those people who say they don't like Clinton or Trump and want to vote for a third party candidate? Are you saying that's not a good idea?
No, I didn't say that. I think that if someone feels like voting for a third party is right for them -- I think it's important for them to vote for a third party. Because more than anything it send a sign that our two party system doesn't work, and a lot of people aren't happy with it. So passing a ballot for a third party is fine in my eyes.
What I don't think is OK is when progressives make the argument that Trump would actually be better than Hillary Clinton. I mean, you look at Hillary Clinton's voting record -- she's pretty liberal. I have huge problems with her financial ties to Wall Street, her issues with corruption, and some of the things she said about African Americans back in the day, but I think that making this argument that Trump -- someone as incompetent and hateful as him -- would be better than Hillary is ridiculous. Him nominating a Supreme Court Justice scares the hell out of me.
On a lighter note, if you could nominate anyone to play Wonder Woman in the upcoming film who would it be?
Elizabeth Warren. She's a badass.
And if Donald Trump was a type of food what would he be?
I don't know, mashed potatoes. He just looks like a blob. There's really no shape or form either in his brain or his thinking or his physical appearance. He's just a blob.
What's the most interesting interview you've ever done?
The most interesting interview I've ever conducted was actually with a surgeon who performed a kidney transplant on my mom. He wanted to be interviewed to raise awareness about a program at UCLA, where if someone needs a kidney and you want to donate a kidney to them, but you're not a match, you donate your kidney to a pool, and then UCLA will find a perfect match for the person you really want to donate to. An interview like that could potentially save lives, so getting out of politics for a second and talking about something completely different is so great.
Do you have a favorite political comedy show?
John Oliver. Oh my god. I don't miss a single episode of John Oliver. I hate that he goes on hiatus so often. I wrote a status update on Facebook about that. I was like, dude, I love John Oliver, he's my favorite person ever, but he's got to stop going on hiatus. He needs to come back. He came out with that birds video like two weeks ago, and I was actually angry about it. Because it was all about telling us that he's going to be on hiatus more and I'm like no no come back!
You now co-host a TV show on Fusion network. What was the process of getting a TV show and what can viewers expect?
It's a partnership with Fusion, and we really like Fusion and their identity as a media outlet that serves the Latino community. I love the Latino community. I'm an honorary Latino, I like to say. I don't know exactly why TYT made the decision to do this show on television, but what I do know is that there's a digital component to it, and we wouldn't sign onto anything unless the outlet prioritizes digital. I usually say that's where the future it, but it's not even the future, it's now.
The show is filmed on college campuses in front of live audiences, can you tell me a little about that intentional decision?
Sure. I think that there are a lot of new shows or a lot of new television networks that come out looking to attract a millennial audience, and there's no secret as to why they're doing that, they want to attract advertisers. Millennials are now the generation that has the buying power.
But here's the thing: if you employ people who have worked in traditional media for decades, and you employ hosts that have worked in traditional media for decades, they're not going to know how to reach out to millennials. The only way you can do it is if you hear them out. I'm a millennial myself, John Iadarola, my co-host, he's a millennial, and we want the audience of college students to be part of the show. It's not all about us. I don't want it to be all about us. I want it to be about them. I want them to voice their concerns and opinions. Even with the first episode I noticed that some of them have a world view that differs from me. Because millennials range in age considerably. I'm kind of on the older end, so to hear from younger people makes the show unique and special.
What were some of the takeaways you gathered after filming that first episode?
That millennials are not monolithic. That they actually have a lot of diversity in their political opinions and identities, there were several members of our audience in the first episode that seemed to be Trump supporters which really surprised me. My theory behind that is Trump represents this anti-establishment candidate, and I think that does appeal to some millennials.
Other millennials may hate the establishment, but they also realize the danger the country would be in with someone like Trump. So, it's really interesting to see how different millennials are from one another, and we have to stop treating them like they're all exactly the same.
What's your favorite part of hosting a TV show?
My favorite part is interacting with the students. And to be completely honest with you, I dreaded that because of the political climate we're dealing with now. I've dealt with two in-person attacks by people who disagree with my politics. One during the RNC and one during a hike in Los Angeles.
The one in Los Angeles actually got physical -- someone pushed me to the ground, and it was bad. I'm kind of on edge right now. I'm kind of worried to be in public places with such huge groups of people. But after the first episode I realized, no, no, no, I actually really love interacting with smart people who might even have disagreements in political views.
There were several students who came up to me after the show and they said, "Hey, I disagree with you on this and that, can we have a conversation about it?" And I love that. I love having a smart, civil disagreement, and that's OK. It's different when someone comes to you with malintent.
Well, so I haven't been alive for too many elections that I could vote in, but to me I feel like we're seeing an amplified amount of violent rhetoric.
Yeah, I don't think I've talked about this publicly at all, but we went to the RNC and then I came back to LA for one weekend for my bridal shower, and then we went to the DNC. During my bridal shower I had a really serious panic attack. I had to go to the bathroom, my best friend -- my maid of honor -- was in there with me, and I just couldn't calm down, I couldn't breath -- I was hyperventilating. She asked, "What is wrong with you?" And I was like, the RNC fucked me up.
Just being around this environment of hatred -- the hatred was so transparent, it was so out in the open -- the willingness to engage in violence, it was scary. It really jaded me. I feel like it hardened me as a person. So I really worry about the direction we're heading in.
I'm sorry to hear that, but I appreciate you sharing that with me. I have one more question for you. Besides the new election-oriented show on Fusion, what other projects can viewers look forward to in the near future?
TYT is actually working on a different show -- they've partnered up with Ember Media -- it's a latino outlet. What we're doing is launching a Spanish version of The Young Turks, which I'm super excited about. Some of the hosts are great -- Ray Jimenez who is the founder of Embolden Media, is really the person who came up with this concept, and he's doing such a good job with putting this show together. So we're working on that as well.
Amazing. Well I'm sure a lot of people will enjoy that, and thanks for answering some questions today. I really appreciate you taking the time.