Politics & Media
Jun 25, 2024, 06:24AM

Douglas Murray: The Current Heavyweight Debate Champion

His face-off with Cenk Uygur left the blowhard bloodied and bruised.

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A person who’s feared in a debate never raises their voice. Their body language indicates no agitation, and they avoid name-calling. Words are all they need. That's what the British polemicist Christopher Hitchens did before his death in 2011. Hitchens exuded such erudition, rhetorical elegance, and dominant energy that the intimidation factor was always there in his debates, like a baseball pitcher with a 98 MPH fastball at his disposal.

Hitchens’ fellow Brit and “public intellectual,” Douglas Murray, has emerged as that guy you don't want to go up against, at least without preparation and a respect for the decorum of the debate process. His calm command of the language, effortless recall of key facts and incidents, and unerring instincts are unparalleled on the world's podiums and TV screens at this time.

While Murray presents a genial, respectful surface to his interlocutors, he transforms himself into a cold-blooded assassin when someone's foolish enough to disrespect him with a personal attack. The most spectacular example of his withering fierceness when provoked was when he faced off, several months ago on Piers Morgan's YouTube show—“Piers Morgan Uncensored”—with Cenk Uygur, a congressional candidate last year for about five minutes until Bernie Sanders withdrew his endorsement. The topic: The Israel/Gaza conflict.

Watching such verbal brutality emphasizes how tame TV debate has become, in large part because the networks and cable stations prefer to stick to a single narrative, minimizing the opportunities for conflict. But there was a time when the medium’s combatants pulled no punches. To this day, the most notable example of no-holds-barred political discourse on TV was in 1968 when William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal repeatedly went off on each other in an ABC News studio as they provided commentary during the network’s coverage of the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Buckley got so apoplectic that he made no attempt to disguise his disdain for homosexuals, of which Vidal was one. “We know your tendency is to be feline, Mr. Vidal,” Buckley told Vidal. Vidal, no shrinking violet, called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi," to which Buckley responded by calling Vidal a “queer,” threatening to punch him.

There are echoes of that 1968 showdown in the Murray-Uygur rhubarb (not the gay slurs), although Uygur—the creator and co-host of “The Young Turks,” a left-wing news and commentary show with frequent mentions of how Republicans are trying to kill people—lacks even a proximity of Vidal’s intellectual heft and wide knowledge of the world. More of a blowhard, dirtbag-socialist type, Uygur once wrote a letter to the editor at Salon claiming that talk of an Armenian genocide was simply propaganda. Bernie Sanders dropped him because of disparaging remarks he made about women, a recurring pattern in Uygur’s life. Murray, however, is a bona fide intellectual who had his first book published when he was 19.

Having watched many of Murray's debates, both the formal ones and on TV, it's obvious that one of the advantages he has is that he actually listens to what his opponent’s saying, something that's less common than what one might think. Not only does this make him a more effective debater, but also a more entertaining one. When The New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell got slimy with him during one of the Munk Debates, Murray ripped him in a number of ways, including pointing out that Gladwell hadn't listened to anything the other side had said to him during the debate. Gladwell’s side in that debate, in which he and New York Times writer Michelle Goldberg argued that the mainstream media are trustworthy, got crushed, mainly because of that reason.

Cenk Uygur, who’s as unpleasant as Gladwell in that smug, left-wing way, didn't listen to a thing Murray said either, with predictable results. Uygur, a practiced liar, didn't waste time in making a fool of himself, claiming, “Israel is not fighting Hamas. They’re just killing Palestinians.” Uygur added that recent events have proven that if the Palestinians tried to create their own state, Israel would kill 27,000 of them. The October 7 killing of 1200 Israelis, the rapes, and the hostage-taking was an odd way to attempt the creation an independent state. In fact, Israel has offered several partition plans to create a Palestinian state since 1947, all of them rejected.

When Morgan asked about the 8000 dead Palestinian babies (all casualty figures from Gaza are Hamas figures) Murray, distracted by the host’s inclusion of Jordan’s queen Rania in the question, made a misstep in focusing on denigrating her rather than expressing any concern for the dead children. This gave Uygur the opening he was looking for. He called Murray a “monster,” adding the inanity that Murray being a war correspondent means he “loves war.” Morgan then set Murray up to deliver the coup de grace by asking Uygur, who looked like a gambler “on tilt” at that point, what his plan was for solving the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Murray responded to the “monster” allegation by calling him a “creature” and a “low-grade thug,” to which Uygur played the victimhood card by saying that Murray was talking to him like that because he's a Muslim. Murray, who travels heavily throughout Europe and the Middle East, explained that he goes to war zones to understand wars, and followed that by pointing out that Uygur doesn't travel anywhere for his work as a TV talking head.

Uygur then buried himself with his embarrassing answer to Morgan's question about his plan to solve the Israel/Gaza conflict, which he said would start with an immediate two-state solution involving the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. This, he said, would then give the PA, which has a bounty out for any Jewish life, the “credibility” to drive Hamas out of Gaza and produce “peace.” Murray responded that it was obvious his opponent had spent no time in the West Bank, adding that the Palestinian Authority celebrated the October 7th atrocities of Hamas, and that Hamas would win an election in the West Bank if it were held tomorrow.

It was all over at that point, but then Murray hit another nerve by telling him that he was only worked up about Muslims being mistreated in Gaza because the Jews are involved. In 2015, Uygur hosted ex-Ku Klux Klan leader and neo-Nazi David Duke on the “Young Turks” in an anti-Semitic segment about “how Jews control everything.” Uygur was rendered bug-eyed and twitching. He ended the show with a screaming rant about Murray not caring about dead babies and then, in the final moment, calling him a “warmonger Nazi racist.”

When a charlatan with a hefty ego gets exposed as a crank with a peace plan that only a dummy could come up with, perhaps a crazy, name-calling meltdown is all they can come up with. It only made Uygur look like a petty, raving maniac. I doubt that he wanted to end his defense of the innocents being killed in Gaza—certainly a valid point of view to advocate for—looking like a rabid dog.

But like Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”


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