The “Joe Rogan” experience is off the cuff, unedited, and very often entirely off the rails. But even as or maybe because he’s providing a platform for all sorts of unfiltered crazy, the only person whose reach even approaches Rogan is Howard Stern.
On the latest New Abnormal, Alex Paterson of Media Matters talks with hosts Molly Jong-Fast and Andy Levy about how Rogan’s podcast is “a bastion of toxic masculinity… that leads listeners further down right-wing rabbit holes,” and notes that Rogan’s “dedicated listeners are mostly young men… listening to all three hours and taking in completely unfounded conspiracy theories without any of the fact-checking that would come from a more traditional journalistic enterprise.”
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“I think we often view folks like Tucker [Carlson] as like our biggest white nationalist and problem in chief,” says Paterson, “whereas I really am trying to push the conversation to understand that Joe Rogan is often the person that is mainlining right-wing lies into our broader public.”
Molly notes that before podcasting, Rogan, like former President Donald Trump, got some of his fame from reality TV, as the host of Fear Factor. And producer Jesse Cannon adds that Rogan “has what I like to call the illusion of fact-checking where he has this producer—which, you know, gets very offensive to podcast producers like me—where he’ll basically be like ‘Jamie, call up a fact-check on that,’ and the guy’s like, ‘Yep, it’s right here on InfoWars. Hillary Clinton had a cocaine cartel in 1989.’”
“The Joe Rogan experience fills a specific need, particularly among white men in the United States, to feel like they’re independent thinkers taking in some media landscape that is unique to them and is edgy,” explains Paterson, and Rogan uses his producers to “lend some veneer of credibility to the false claims he makes.” And when the comedian and MMA announcer gets called out for the lies and bigotry promoted on his podcast, “he has a very cunning way of avoiding accountability,” Paterson continues:
“He says that he’s a moron, and that you shouldn’t trust the things he says.”
Plus, Samuel Woolley, the author of The Reality Game: How the Next Wave of Technology Will Break the Truth and director of the Propaganda Lab at the University of Austin’s Center for Media Engagement, explains why “the right is a lot better than the left at leveraging the internet and leveraging both organic engagement and inorganic engagement to megaphone out their content.” That included by using networked propaganda, where “what begins on social media as a quote unquote organic phenomenon, which is oftentimes not organic, then ends up on cable news, then back on social media and so on and so forth until it’s really unclear where it came from,” he says.