“Independent” Men with Massive Platforms: Jon Stewart, Dave Chappelle & Joe Rogan
Summary: In this week’s installment of how to lose friends and disappoint people, we’re talking about the independent platform media culture, mostly of the male persuasion. So, yes. Much of this will drip with irony as I, a white male with a small platform, attempt to mansplain how to think about other men with platforms. Our three main subjects today have been in the news for various reasons. Dave Chappelle, Jon Stewart and Joe Rogan. These three have a combined audience reach that rivals any major network, which should challenge our assumptions of what defines the “mainstream media” these days. In this Quickie, we dissect the changing media landscape, the nature of punditry and who has the power and responsibility in the relationship between platform and audience.
Ultimately, I have the same intent here as I do with the framing of our socioeconomic and political shows. To put the power back in your hands to be discerning. There are a few themes we’ll touch on today. Sourcing, blind spots, responsibility, bias and the power dynamics of information.
The reason I think this piece, this discussion in general, has a place among our social and economic justice essays, is because we are what we consume. We’d like to imagine ourselves as free thinking beings of pure objectivity, but every thought we possess has roots in cultural, educational, racial, environmental and geographic bias. And while I can say without equivocation that our Unf*ckers and Subf*ckers are far more deliberate and discerning in their media consumption, each of us carries inherent biases.
And as 99 and I have alluded to in the past, there is a growing toxicity among the pundit class that deserves some attention. We’ve carved out space to recognize the infighting on the so-called left in particular because that’s the perspective we come from. And why would the left engage in tearing one another down? It’s great for numbers. Look at Jimmy Dore’s YouTube views when he’s taking on a topic versus when he’s taking down a fellow leftist. The results are undeniable.
These days, we’re awash in punditry. From podcasts and YouTube to cable television and national radio, punditry is everywhere and along a pretty wide spectrum.
On the left, you’ve got Jimmy Dore, The Young Turks, Sam Seder, Bill Maher, Lee Camp, Don Lemon, David Pakman, Rachel Maddow, Krystal Ball, Keith Olbermann, Al Franken, Kara Swisher, Jon Favreau, Chris Hayes, Lawrence O’Donnell, Mehdi Hasan, Bryan Tyler Cohen, Joe Scarborough, Lester Holt, Brian Williams, Ezra Klein, Thom Hartmann, John Oliver, Jon Stewart, Maureen Dowd, Arianna Huffington, and more.
Everyone is fighting, or at least trying to chip away at, the others to steal audience and be the alpha lib.
MANNY: Sorry to interject, but in a way, aren’t you doing the same thing here by putting Jon Stewart, Dave Chappelle and Joe Rogan in the title of this episode? Aren’t you just fishing for listeners by leveraging the notoriety they’ve built?
MAX: Just one of the many confusing inconsistencies and meta aspects of this particular show, Manny.
MANNY: Oh. Okay. So then it’s okay?
MAX: Not at all.
Over on the right, you’ve got Dave Rubin, Steven Crowder, Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino, Charlie Kirk, Matt Walsh, Steve Bannon, Megyn Kelly, Laura Ingraham, Fucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Michael Knowles, Mark Levin, Dave Rubin, Candace Owens, Glenn Beck, Jordan Peterson, Adam Corolla, Andrew Klavan, Brett Baier, Greg Gutfeld, Bill O’Reilly, Keith and Kevin Hodge, Tim Pool, Dinesh D’Souza, Michael Savage, Brian Kilmeade, Liz Wheeler, Tomi Lahren, Dennis Prager, and so on.
Both sides have tried to claim Russell Brand, Joe Rogan and Matt Taibbi at various times, and no one knows what the fuck to do with Glenn Greenwald anymore.
The biggest difference on the right is numbers and discipline. We’ll dig into the numbers later, but discipline is really the key. This grouping spends zero time taking one another to task.
The larger point here is that for as many names as I just mentioned, you have as many opinions. These are just people. People with platforms. Some of their platforms are enormous and funded by corporate interests. Some are smaller and independent. But they’re all platformed in one way or another. They speak. People listen. And whether you’re writing for the New York Times with peer reviews, editors, senior editors and ombudsman, or you’re a solo podcaster spitting and spewing your stuff to the masses, you carry with you a responsibility to your audience to do the work and to show your work because sourcing matters.
You’ve probably heard this one before, but opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one and they usually stink.
Aside from the responsibility to your audience, the other point to carry with you as we dissect our three subjects today is the concept of the mainstream media. I feel we should talk about this before we move forward because it’s one of those lazy and broad concepts that make me uncomfortable.
The Mainstream Liberal Media?
Let’s talk about our little universe first. The podcast ecosystem. Realize that these figures change all the time, but here’s a snapshot of the top ten news podcasts on the charts as of when I wrote this episode.
The Daily - by New York Times
Dan Bongino - Cumulus
The Ben Shapiro Show
Up First by NPR
The Morning Wire - on Ben Shapiro’s network
Bad Bets - Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal
Pod Save America by all the former Obama bros
Bannon’s War Room
Louder with Crowder - conservative Steven Crowder
The Glenn Beck Show
So that’s a quick snapshot in time. Seven of the top ten news shows are from conservative or ultra conservative outlets. This isn’t a history or politics or government subcategory, this is the main category of news podcasts.
Now let’s look at the news. Pay close attention to the numbers as we review the news outlets. Let’s start with broadcast news. Third quarter ratings have ABC World News in the lead with 8.7 million total viewers, NBC Nightly News with 7.3 million, and CBS Evening News with 5.4 million. Peer into the prime demo of 25 to 54 and the numbers drop precipitously to 1.7 million, 1.4 million and 980,000, respectively.
Moving to cable news, here’s a look at the top ten rated cable news shows as of the same period. The number one show pulled in about 3.2 million nightly viewers and the 10th brought in about 1.5 million for context. In order, here they are:
Fox News: Fucker Carlson Tonight - 3,242,000
Fox News: The Five - 2,976,000
Fox News: Hannity - 2,936,000
Fox News: The Ingraham Angle - 2,348,000
MSNBC: The Rachel Maddow Show - 2,204,000
Fox News: Special Report with Bret Baier - 2,123,000
Fox News: Fox News Primetime - 1,922,000
Fox News: Gutfeld! - 1,695,000
Fox News: Outnumbered - 1,618,000
Fox News: America’s Newsroom - 1,532,000
Observation number one should be clear. Nine of the top ten cable news shows are conservative shows on Fox. Pair that with the fact that seven out of ten of the most popular news podcasts on any given week are also conservative, and I think we can dispense with the whole liberal media bias concept as we press forward here.
Observation number two, slightly less obvious until you hear it put this way, is that these cable news shows and the podcasts we mentioned routinely criticize the so-called mainstream media. When in fact, by the numbers, they actually are the mainstream media.
The other takeaway is the numbers themselves. Impressive, I suppose, until you consider our subjects today.
Jon Stewart joined Twitter for the first time this year. In a matter of months, he has accumulated 1.2 million followers, despite only publishing a handful of tweets. His new podcast, The Problem with Jon Stewart, debuted at number 20 for all podcasts, and his Apple TV show is already the highest downloaded unscripted show on Apple’s platform.
Numbers for Dave Chappelle’s latest controversial special, The Closer, aren’t yet available; but we can make an educated guess based on his prior shows. His special, Sticks and Stones, reached 25 million viewers.
And Joe Rogan is still the biggest podcast in the world, with a YouTube universe that blows away every other pundit we mentioned here. It’s estimated that his monthly podcast listenership is around 20 million. His YouTube channel has 11 million subscribers, which represents only a fraction of his reach considering how many people rip off his content to do commentary on his commentary.
Bottom line. Our three subjects today are more than pundits, public figures or celebrities. They are platforms unto themselves, and it’s through this lens I want to view their recent headline-making turns. So let’s get into the Quickie subject with an examination of the phenomenon known as Independent Platform Man!
All Chappelle Breaks Loose
Dave Chappelle closed out a remarkable run of Netflix specials with a show dedicated almost exclusively to chastening the transgender community. If you’re a Chappelle fan, the special had a few laughs, a familiar rhythm and the several pregnant pause, “I’m going to say something really important and clever followed by a really distasteful joke that makes you reel with discomfort” moments.
In terms of a storytelling arc, there’s no one better in the business for my money. I’ve enjoyed much of his work and appreciate the craftsmanship. The wink and the nod followed by a hammering blow. And it was clear he went into this looking to pick a fight and ready for the blowback. And blowback there was. The Closer was instantly thrust into the national conversation and has shown impressive endurance, as a lot of people are still talking about it.
But this isn’t about his craft. Or the classic defense he and others employ about comedians having the cultural right, responsibility even, to say the uncomfortable, push the envelope or live entirely out of bounds. It’s about some very fundamental flaws in his narrative and a complete lack of awareness of the position he occupies in the world. I’m not jumping up and down calling him a transphobic asshole… but if the shoe fits…
Rather than engage in tiresome talk of cancellation, I want to take him at his word that this is a performance and speak to the nature of it.
“Gender is a fact.” -Dave Chappelle
This statement has been written about and covered a bunch. It’s factually incorrect, which maybe wouldn’t be as big of a deal if virtually the entire performance hadn’t been built around it. Let’s talk facts before we address this further.
According to Simona Giordano, Director of Medical Ethics at Manchester University Medical School, the “biological categories of male and female are blurred; we know today that not just the X and Y chromosomes but at least 12 others across the human genome govern sex differentiation and at least 30 genes are involved in sex development.”
I’ve gone through a bit of corporate training with respect to gender, sex, sexuality and identity and dug further into it in our LGBTQ+ episode and I still have a lot to learn. Anyone who calls sex or gender a black and white issue has a science problem on their hands. This is complicated stuff, and we’re still developing science, language and psychology around gender identity and sexuality.
Here’s what is a fact: Those who belong to the LGBTQ+ community are marginalized, and there are structural and cultural impediments to allowing them to fully and safely realize their identities. Trans people, in particular, are subjected to more violence in every day life and discrimination within the carceral and judicial systems.
So, to base an entire routine around a false premise is clearly problematic.
The argument in defense of Chappelle’s framing of the routine typically centers around two things. One, gender and sexuality aren’t settled science, therefore we’re free to interpret it as we see fit. And the other is essentially, “lighten up,” it’s a comedy routine.
Here’s the problem with both. First off, gender and sexuality as a spectrum is not settled science in that we still have a lot to learn. But what is settled is that neither is binary. Therefore, you cannot have a binary approach and false supposition. The latter argument is more compelling. It’s just comedy. Free speech. And beyond just free speech, Dave Chappelle himself belongs to two protected classes. He’s a black man and a comedian.
Here’s what I would say to that, because arguments involving speech are critical. It’s important to divorce ourselves from the subject matter at times to really explore meaning and circumstances.
Dave Chappelle isn’t just doing dick and fart jokes. This isn’t The Chappelle Show, which satirized life with absurd portrayals and characterizations. I’m sorry, but Dave Chappelle no longer belongs to the class of comedian that relies on making observations or even just toilet humor. He has constructed a persona as a social commentator.
In winning the Mark Twain award, he talked passionately about his craft. His art form. And the appreciation for all those who have the courage to engage in it whether he agrees with their stances and—here’s the important part—whether he knows what they’re saying is in their hearts or not. Here’s an excerpt from his acceptance speech:
“I know comics that are very racist. And I watch them on stage and everyone’s laughing and I’m like, ‘that motherfucker means that shit.’ Don't get mad at them, don’t hate them. We go upstairs and have a beer and sometimes I even appreciate the artistry that they paint their racist opinions with. Man, it’s not that serious. The First Amendment is first for a reason. The Second Amendment is just in case the first one doesn’t work out… There’s something so true about this genre when done correctly, that I will fight anybody that gets in a true practitioner of this art form’s way, because I know you’re wrong. This is the truth and you are obstructing it. I’m not talking about the content. I’m talking about the art form.”
I’m focusing on his words here like a lawyer establishing a state of mind. This is how Chappelle has crafted the narrative around his art form in order to absolve him and all others. Notice how he says, “not the content, the art form.”
So this is interesting. You have a black man in America defending the absolute right of free speech, especially if it is shrouded in what might arguably be the most subjective of all art forms. And even if it attacks his race and position in society. He has since doubled down, saying that the LGBTQ+ community has every right to engage with him, on his terms, and that we should be turning our animus toward the corporate state and the media. Still absolving himself of any sort of responsibility because his art form is protected.
Of course, in his argument, he includes the very nebulous phrasing, “when done correctly,” which makes this a pretty grey area and, I guess, leaves him as the sole arbiter of what is “correct.” So, the defendant has entered his defense that all is fair and protected in comedy so long as it’s done “correctly.” That if you possess a microphone and a stool, you can say anything you want. Doesn’t have to be funny. It’s the effort that counts.
Let’s round out The Closer with the device Chappelle employs to prove his thesis.
In the special, he talks about his relationship with a trans woman whom he befriended. Daphne Dorman. Daphne was a trans woman and aspiring comedian who eventually came inside Chappelle’s circle. By all accounts, this circle is a pretty terrific place to be, personally and professionally. Over the years, their friendship matured, and he even invited Daphne to open for him at a show. According to him, she was terrible. He said she was situationally very funny, but her routine needed a ton of work. So they worked on it. Grew ever closer, and he considered her a great friend.
Daphne died by suicide, and I believe Chappelle was genuinely devastated by the loss of his friend. He paid for her funeral. Kept her work and memory alive. And used her in this special to demonstrate how he couldn’t possibly be transphobic because of his close relationship with her.
Dave Chappelle, black male comedian in America used the argument, “I can’t be transphobic, some of my best friends are trans.” And he didn’t catch the irony.
The fact that gender is not a fact is available to anyone open enough and willing to do the work.
Associating with marginalized people doesn’t mean you’re not part of subjugating them.
And, in Chappelle’s case, he’s no longer a comedian on a stage with a mic and stool. He’s not even just a celebrity anymore. He’s a platform. And being a platform comes with a far greater responsibility than just being a person in the world with opinions or even jokes.
When he did his special 8:46s about the murder of George Floyd, it was understood that this was social commentary from a comedian. Not a routine. It was powerful and designed to teach. He wanted us to listen and to see him as a platform, and we did. So when he took the stage again in The Closer and delivered more social commentary with some humor and irony baked in, this time it was just comedy?
But Chappelle has reached the point that George Carlin reached. The point where he said, “I’m bigger than this act and I don’t care what happens next. This place is fucked up and I have shit to say.” If you’re going to toggle back and forth between social commentator and shits-and-giggles comedian, you better let people know.
Dave Chappelle wants it both ways, but that’s no longer an option.
He concluded by declaring that everyone needs to stop punching down on “his people.” But on the heels of him punching down on others with a routine based on a false premise and lackluster conclusion, “I have a trans friend,” it certainly felt hollow.
Jon Stewart Misses a Loud Dog Whistle
Jon Stewart is back, and I think it’s fair to say that he was sorely missed. His absence during the Trump years was palpable, but all is forgiven now that those days are over. (Are they though?)
Stewart’s Apple TV show, The Problem with Jon Stewart, and complementary podcast have been solid and met with positive reviews for the most part. What makes Jon Stewart such a powerful figure in the media is his transcendence of his comedic roots into social commentator, much in the way Chappelle had evolved prior to this last special. Stewart is both person and platform, and his words have the ability to affect real change.
So when he suddenly left us, we felt a real loss, but understood that he had fully exploited a genre of satire.
Then, when Stewart returned, there was a sense that a little bit of balance had been restored to the universe. If Jon Stewart was ready to re-enter the arena, then maybe we could too. His debut show on military burn pits found a mature Stewart with access to the highest tiers of the military and an ability to shame them into admitting wrongdoing. Very, very few public figures have the ability to shift the conversation and focus attention with the brightest of spotlights as does Stewart.
When the episode featuring Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase dropped, I was excited to see where he went with it. This is certainly more my wheelhouse, and if Stewart was going to take a swing at dismantling the corrupt corporate system we live in, who better to undress than Jamie Dimon? But as excited as I was to watch him expertly dismantle Dimon, I left disappointed by the show because of a huge blind spot that I couldn’t un-hear.
Overall, it was an interesting discussion that I encourage Unf*ckers to listen to because they’re talking about really big ideas. Capitalism, corporate influence, tax structures. And they tend to agree on certain topics like taxation, closing carried interest loopholes, doing more for those in need, etc. But the nature of the topics made the conversation largely philosophical, with Dimon continuing to stress classic talking points of efficient markets and how capitalism lifts people out of poverty.
While Stewart tries to repeatedly shift the focus back to the responsibility of the monied class and large corporate interests that Dimon represents, Dimon deftly maneuvers the conversation back to how the system is more responsible for failing citizens.
Hey, we pay people a living wage and offer healthcare to all, so we’re doing our part, claims Dimon.
To which Stewart retorts, but you’re lobbying against those things that would support people that don’t happen to work for you.
All I can do is what I can do, rebuts Dimon. Don’t blame me, blame the system.
Blah, blah, blah.
I don’t think this episode will resonate, because as we’ve demonstrated over a year’s worth of material on just this show, the big economic and socioeconomic conversations don’t fit into an hour. If you’re going to come at someone as skilled as Jamie Dimon, you have to be as laser focused on an issue as Stewart was with burn pits or his legendary advocacy for the first responders of 9/11. When he’s focused, and because he has such a large and powerful platform, perhaps no one is better than Jon Stewart at moving an agenda through the power of empathy and persuasion.
Perhaps that’s why I was stunned by his interaction with Jamie Dimon. Not because I think he was outfoxed by another master or failed to move the needle in one direction or another, but because there was something he missed. Something that once I heard it for the second time, I fixated upon for the balance of the interview. He missed it the first, second and every time thereafter. Here is every instance Jamie Dimon turned the conversation around to focus on America’s “inner city” problem:
“Look at inner city schools where half the kids don’t graduate and, obviously, largely minorities.”
“We want to fix our inner city schools.”
“We don’t teach nutrition or healthcare in our inner city schools.”
“Teachers from inner city schools, you can say corporate taxes are why we failed inner city schools.”
“Just like the U.S. military does the best job, in my opinion, of taking kids out of inner cities and give them haircuts and train how a team works.”
The reliance by the monied class and conservative leaning figures on the classic “inner city” trope is sad, racist and enduring.
For example, Unf*ckers have heard their fair share in our examinations of Milton Friedman’s language surrounding issues with urban school districts and how government failed the black community. To oversimplify things, here’s what Friedman, for example, got right and what he got wrong.
Education is a vital foundation for economic development of individuals and communities. An essential building block to success. So when schools lack the proper funding and resources to deliver a comprehensive educational environment, the products, i.e. the children, fail to reach their potential and are destined to perform poorly in society and the workforce. In this, Uncle Dicknugget is correct that this structural basis, designed and implemented by the government, was and is still flawed. But his answer was to have “school choice,” rather than fixing the funding mechanisms.
In this country, we allow for local municipalities to collect and distribute tax revenues to school districts instead of taking a more equitable approach. So a poor economic area with a lower tax base will have less money for schools. Pretty simple. Friedman focused less on this structural reality and more on the lack of freedom to pursue an education in another district, no matter how impractical this might be. Don’t like your underfunded, shitty school? Travel to another district! This is stupid and doesn’t get to the root cause of the issue.
I bring this up because poor performing schools have long been blamed for poor education and performance among black and brown people in the United States. Those damn Democratic urban areas are poorly run and leave these communities behind. It’s coded language for “black people don’t know how to govern themselves.” It always has been. So when someone as educated and tuned to coded and aggressive language as Stewart allows this concept to repeatedly live within a conversation without pushing back, it inadvertently validates this claim.
Here’s a reality check. These are the top ten worst performing school districts in the nation:
Mobile County, Alabama
Apache County, Arizona
Mississippi County, Arkansas
Bent County, Colorado
Sussex County, Delaware
Hamilton County, Florida
Stewart County, Georgia
In terms of outcomes, these are the worst. Not New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. None of the “inner city,” urban, bogeyman, black city schools. This is poor America. From Connecticut to Alaska. Education is a poverty issue, not a race or urban issue.
And education isn’t the only “inner city” symbol that makes it into conservative talking points. Hand-in-hand with education is always violence. Our “violent inner cities,” run by Democrats. It’s one of the most popular talking points during election cycles for Republicans. “All them blacks with guns running around murdering one another. They have to help themselves before anyone else can. Black on black crime.”
All part of the “inner city” trope. So, once again, let’s look at the numbers:
Here are the top ten states for murders per capita and how they went (Red or Blue) in the last election.
Louisiana (12.4 per 100k) Red
Missouri (9.8 per 100k) Red
Nevada (9.1 per 100k) Blue
Maryland (9 per 100k) Blue
Arkansas (8.6 per 100k) Red
Alaska (8.4 per 100k) Red
Alabama (8.3 per 100k) Red
Mississippi (8.2 per 100k) Red
Tennessee (7.8 per 100k) Red
South Carolina (7.8 per 100k) Red
David Sirota wrote an article for Bill Moyers a few years back about the phenomenon of the term “inner city,” specifically in reference to Paul Ryan’s frequent usage of it. Since Lee Atwater let the cat out of the bag that part of the Southern Strategy was to cease using words like the “N” word and opt instead for coded language like “inner city,” it’s been a bit easier to make these accusations. But Sirota went a step further to prove this case using technology to review 5 million books and texts going back 200 years. What he discovered was this:
“The term ‘inner city’ essentially wasn’t used for the first century and a half of American history and then became popular in the mid-1960s. And it didn’t just gradually become popular—it abruptly and suddenly became popular in a very specific time period… Anything ring a bell about that particular time period? Right, exactly—the term basically only started being used in the lead up to and immediate aftermath of the civil rights movement’s legislative successes. That is to say, the term only became a part of the vernacular at precisely the moment the conservative political backlash to the civil rights movement came into vogue.”
Over the course of our time together, Unf*ckers, we’ll drill further into issues of violence and education. These are just two of the tributaries that flow from racialized language that provides cover for the corporate class to point fingers away from the problem that Stewart really was attempting to get to the bottom of.
Allowing this specific characterization to be repeated as often as he did was the huge miss in Stewart’s otherwise solid interview with Dimon. But it was a miss large enough that Dimon was able to weasel out of Stewart’s more pointed questions. It felt like he was so focused on moving to the larger argument about the role of corporations in the lobbying and legislative process that he let his suppositions be undermined by callous and cheap concepts.
Rogan not so Rogue
Joe Rogan is no stranger to conflict. His entire persona has been constructed around the idea of masculinity, conflict and combat. As a colleague of his recently noted, Rogan is and has always been the conspiracy loving, hyper-masculine, jaded character he played on News Radio, the sitcom that first made him somewhat famous.
As a comic, he was aggressive and confrontational, gaining internet fame by calling out fellow comic Carlos Mencia for stealing jokes. For years, he sat in the announcer’s chair at mixed martial arts events. And then, many, many years ago, he started recording his thoughts and conversations and putting them out into the world in the form of a podcast.
No one could have predicted where Rogan would be today, least of all Rogan. And where is he, exactly?
As I mentioned earlier, his online video reach is larger than just the 11 million YouTube subscribers his show boasts. It’s also about the incalculable number of clips and shows that others dissect. His amplified video reach is obscene. To equal just his podcast reach, you would have to combine the reach of Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow.
And Al Franken.
David Pakman, Ben Shapiro and Steve Bannon as well.
And Russell Brand.
And Steven Crowder.
That’s right, put their audience and listener reach together, and you’ve got Joe Rogan.
Where does Joe Rogan stand on, I don’t know, anything? Damned if I know. Let’s trigger everybody with an excerpt of man-with-massive-platform Glenn Greenwald talking to man-with-massive-platform Matt Taibbi about man-with-massive-platform Joe Rogan to really drive this home. Here Greenwald was recounting a Twitter thread from a writer named Shant Mesrobian who was trying to explain Rogan’s appeal and confusion around his world views:
“Joe Rogan is a liberal, in every sense. He’s pro choice, he’s pro gay rights, he is pro trans rights even though he questioned whether… trans women should be able to participate in female sports... He is liberal politically in every way. I mean, he loves Bernie. But he’s culturally conservative, by which he doesn’t mean he’s conservative on social questions—he’s pro gay rights, pro abortion, you go down the list. But he’s culturally conservative in the sense that he, like, tells risky jokes, he likes to hunt, he seems like kind of a bro. His [Mesrobian] point was that for liberals, culture matters more than politics. The culture wars matter to them more than politics. They don’t actually give a shit about politics, liberals. They don’t care about rearranging material distribution or challenging corporatism or imperialism, what they care about are cultural signals when the vast bulk of the population are way more like Joe Rogan than they are like Kamala Harris.”
Plenty of Unf*ckers have written in to say, Max, seriously fuck this guy. And I’m with you. I don’t love what Glenn has become or some of the things he says or choices he makes. By the same token, it doesn’t in the least way diminish my respect for his work on the security and surveillance state. And my experience listening to Joe Rogan pretty much aligns with what Glenn is saying here.
Rogan isn’t my cup of tea, personally. I don’t align with his belief on trans athlete rights, for example. Don’t want to hit the gym with him. Don’t want to hunt with him. Don’t think he’s the smartest person in the room either, but I actually think he’s aware of that, which makes him a good listener.
But recently, controversy surrounding him has reached a new level because of his stance on vaccinations, which is… I actually don’t know.
I read an article that talked about how young people who were “vaccine hesitant” got vaccinated because Rogan said it was safe. And I’ve seen plenty of evidence suggesting Rogan personally believes certain people are equipped to knock out COVID with vitamin infusions, a healthy workout regimen and monoclonal antibodies. But not everyone, so taking the vaccine is fine.
Point being, good luck putting this guy into a box. But a better way to look at it is why would you even try?
Because he has a platform. And it’s enormous. So now it’s a responsibility, and we’re all paying attention, as evidenced by the controversy surrounding Sanjay Gupta’s recent appearance on his show.
Before they got into what was a decent (three hour) discussion, Gupta was forced to defend CNN’s claim that Rogan had taken Ivermectin, a horse dewormer. The problem with how this flew around the ether is that CNN made it seem like Rogan was advocating for people to skip the vaccine and take horse dewormer if they got COVID.
Here’s what really happened. Rogan got COVID. His doctor prescribed vitamin injections, the human form of Ivermectin and monoclonal antibodies. The “kitchen sink” as he described it. Rogan took CNN to task in the Gupta interview. Then Don Lemon brought Gupta back on CNN, dismissed Rogan as a “tongue-in-cheek” interviewer, and made Gupta basically walk back his conversation with Rogan in the most awkward way, still taking Rogan’s words completely out of context.
In the media’s breathless attempt to siphon Rogan’s massive audience, it wound up confusing the issue more than necessary and taking Rogan’s rather benign and isolated statement about what a real medical doctor prescribed and turned it into a multiple night headline story with hundreds of reaction videos that only served to confuse us, the unsuspecting population, more than necessary.
So why end with Rogan? We’ve argued that Chappelle has a huge blind spot, Stewart missed an opportunity to hear a dog whistle and refute it. What was Rogan’s blind spot? In this case, I don’t think it was his. It was ours.
This isn’t some sort of defense of Joe Rogan the man, the host, the media figure. Joe Rogan is a good listener who nabs incredible guests and got into the podcasting game early enough to amass an audience that Spotify was willing to pay $100 million to get in front of.
Rogan’s not the brass ring in this scenario. You are. We are. Spotify paid him this money to get to us, the people who flock to the platform and consume the content.
Like I said in the beginning, the goal of this episode isn’t just to take performers to task, but to make people recognize that the power is in their hands. The power to be discerning. To push for sources. To ask these hosts and men with platforms to recognize the power of their position means they have a responsibility to do the work, source the work and improve upon the work as we evolve together. And so do we.
“He’s not a machine! He’s a man!”
In breaking free of the conventions of mainstream media, we’ve seen a surge in media stand-ins—this show included—that give the appearance of independence and objectivity. But there is no such thing. It simply does not exist. The three men today are just that. Men. Men with frailties and flaws who espouse certain views and create a cult of personality around them.
And just as they cannot hide from their influence behind “I’m just a comic, or I’m just asking questions,” as consumers, we have to do better than to align ourselves dogmatically around their personas.
Each of us is free to enjoy these men or any of the other pundits and social commentators we highlighted earlier. But it’s our responsibility as consumers to embrace the writers and the thinkers.
Give me Amy Goodman. Jeremy Scahill. Paul Krugman. Adam Tooze. Ta-Nehisi Coates. David Sirota. Noam Chomsky. Cornel West. Murtaza Hussain. Peter Maas. James Risen. Jane Mayer. Noami Klein. Liliana Segura. Christiana Amanpour, Spencer Ackerman, Adam Serwer, Laura Flanders and Richard Wolff all day, every day over anyone we’ve covered here today. They do the work. Credit their sources. Think. Evolve. Reframe. And learn. And, yes. I still love Matt Taibbi, even if I find his podcast unlistenable and a few Unf*ckers have voiced their displeasure with him.
The Closer doesn’t make 8:46s less powerful. But it makes Chappelle less powerful.
Jon Stewart’s blind spot doesn’t make him less important. But it shows that even he isn’t infallible.
Joe Rogan probably isn’t what you think he is. But the better question is why does it matter?
These men are not the message. They’re just men. Men with ideas that we’ve given too much of ourselves over to. It’s okay to allow them to introduce subjects, just don’t let them have the final word. Otherwise, we allow these big ideas to become more about them than the people who are affected by them. And we wind up killing ourselves in the process of defending the person and the platform rather than the ideas.
All the while, the rest of the pundit class seeks to siphon the attention we give to those with the largest platforms to position themselves as the messenger and to steal your attention, divide us as a people and amplify the rhetoric around the issues instead of tackling the issues themselves.
Check your own bias. Beware of blind spots. Recognize the responsibility on both sides of the platform.
Here endeth the Quickie.
Max is a basic, middle-aged white guy who developed his cultural tastes in the 80s (Miami Vice, NY Mets), became politically aware in the 90s (as a Republican), started actually thinking and writing in the 2000s (shifting left), became completely jaded in the 2010s (moving further left) and eventually decided to launch UNFTR in the 2020s (completely left).