On Feb. 7, on the 1,241st episode of his podcast, comedian Joe Rogan kicked off a discussion of one of the signal injustices of our time: the deplatforming of jerks on the internet.
Rogan was against it, as was his guest, the author and podcaster Sam Harris, who urged Rogan’s listeners to consider the plight of all the witty provocateurs who have lately begun to suffer real-life consequences for their trollish online banter. Harris bemoaned a “world where people are having their reputations destroyed and their careers threatened for tweets they sent as teenagers,” though he didn’t specify whose reputations had been ruined by their teenage tweets, and Rogan didn’t ask him to clarify. But the implication was clear: Holding people accountable for what they say and what those words do is an offense far worse than saying cruel, racist, and divisive things in the first place. The reputational damage done to the utterer is the real social problem, not the more diffuse damage done by the utterance.
The proximate cause of Harris’ smarm was neither a teenager nor a Twitter troll but an actor who had made the rather old-fashioned mistake of saying something dumb to a journalist. In an interview promoting a movie, Liam Neeson had bizarrely volunteered that as a younger man, he had once roamed the streets hoping to be provoked into killing a black man—any black man—in retaliation for a friend’s rape. Harris, who has a practiced eye for these things, saw great liberal hypocrisy in the way that many people online had read racism into Neeson’s statement.
“The irony here for me is you have progressives and people on the far left who receive a disclosure like Liam Neeson’s—let’s take his—and they just want to see him burned alive, right?” These same people, he mused, “have as a genuine ethical norm the rehabilitation of murderers.” It was a flimsy argument but not as flimsy as the point Rogan made next: “Well, they’re constantly holding those two contradictions, right?” he said. “I mean, here’s another one: women’s rights and support of the hijab. I mean, what’s going on there? How do you do that? Don’t be Islamophobic but also support women’s rights and gay rights.”
A flawed, limited understanding of what the hijab means in Muslim culture leads to broad allegations of liberal hypocrisy. A spurious comparison of two different types of societal offenses leads to the implication that liberals believe racially charged language is an offense worse than murder. Welcome to The Joe Rogan Experience, one of the most popular podcasts in the world, where shaky premises inevitably lead to sweeping conclusions, where there’s always time for endless discussions of truly exasperating ideas, and where the worst thing that you can do is not give a white guy a second chance.
That Sam Harris episode of The Joe Rogan Experience currently boasts about 2.3 million views on YouTube, and if that number shocks you, you haven’t been paying attention. The show was Apple Podcasts’ second-most-downloaded podcast in both 2017 and 2018. It routinely sits near the top of Stitcher’s weekly most-popular-podcast rankings. The YouTube streams of the podcast draw millions of views from the young male demographic that has long made up the entertainment industry’s most coveted audience. On New Year’s Day, Kanye West announced he was on board with Rogan. “Spoke with Joe Rogan … Podcast coming soon,” West wrote on Twitter. “🔥🔥🔥.” The conversation was bound to happen eventually. After all, the rapper spent his 2018 blaming antebellum American slaves for their own bondage, wearing Make America Great Again merchandise on Saturday Night Live, and claiming that he and his “brother” Donald Trump shared “dragon energy.” Like many of Rogan’s guests, West is a highly successful participant in a creative field who feels he has been harmed by a politically correct left that has expressed abhorrence at his views. It’s no wonder Rogan’s studio feels like a welcoming platform.
The podcast isn’t just popular; it’s becoming politically important. In February, Rogan hosted fringe Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang for a two-hour discussion. Soon afterward, Yang reported an unprecedented flood of campaign donations. “Everything is up and to the right since the Joe Rogan podcast,” Yang’s campaign manager told the Daily Beast. “That was the key. That was the moment.” A writer for Quillette, an online hub for “freethinking” writers and academics who are aggrieved by the left, recently called Rogan “the Walter Cronkite of our era.”
Listening to The Joe Rogan Experience is sort of like crashing an intense, intimate dinner party in which the only courses are whiskey and weed.
I have listened to a lot of Rogan episodes over the past few months in order to try to understand why the show is so popular. It is a bizarro Fresh Air, a rambling, profane interview program in which the host is often high, loves to talk about cage fighting—Rogan has long worked as a UFC commentator—and never lets his guests go home. (Episodes can stretch past three hours.) His interviewees are an esoteric lot spanning Rogan’s wide range of interests: stand-up comedy, mixed martial arts, evolutionary psychology, alternative medicine, music, acting, business, and the excesses of leftist identity politics. Listening to the show is sort of like crashing an intense, intimate dinner party in which the only courses are whiskey and weed.
As a podcaster, the 51-year-old Rogan is basically what you’d get if a less-neurotic Marc Maron and a less-manic Alex Jones had a baby who looked like a muscular thumb. An enthusiastic, self-deprecating lunk with an abiding fondness for both snake oil and its salesmen, Rogan is funny and friendly and easy to like. His personal politics are a bit hard to nail down. He is not a supporter of President Donald Trump and does not generally host the sorts of overtly political figures who are fixtures on Fox News. “I go left on everything. Basically except guns,” he said recently, though he is also very clearly a libertarian, at least temperamentally. He reminds me of many of the intense, talkative stoners I knew in college, the sorts of people who were always yelling about how graphic novels were literature and who inevitably blamed their professors for being biased against them when they were kicked out of school for pulling a 0.0 GPA. Not for nothing does his podcast art depict him with a third eye.
“I think a lot of people look at you, you’re like a real dude,” the independent journalist Tim Pool told Rogan during a recent podcast conversation. “You know, your conversations are real, you’re not one of these fake news journalists that people are very critical of, that feel they’re biased or have an agenda.” Pool’s observation is half-correct: Rogan is not a journalist and does not claim to be one. But Rogan’s agenda is, nevertheless, very clear.
Rogan’s podcast has become an important node in the “Intellectual Dark Web,” a loose network of “classical liberal” writers, scholars, and speakers who claim to have been marginalized by elitist progressives intent on maintaining identitarian orthodoxy. These people inveigh against political correctness and identity politics in publications like Quillette and on YouTube videos and one another’s podcasts. They claim to be personally liberal—like Rogan, they mostly all claim to “go left on everything”—even as they profess reactionary ideas. They take the fact that their theories and opinions are unpopular among their peers in academia and the media as proof that their peers are suppressive.
In Rogan, they have found an enthusiastic and receptive interlocutor. For the past several years, Rogan has made a point of regularly interviewing the IDW’s leading figures, declining the opportunity to meaningfully challenge them, and laundering their ideas in the process. Over the past year alone, he has hosted long conversations with Harris, the “Sokal Squared” academic hoaxsters Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay, social psychologist and trigger-warning foe Jonathan Haidt, mathematician Eric Weinstein, former Evergreen State College professors Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying, and Canadian psychology professor and anti-PC crusader Jordan Peterson.
We are living in the dumbest period of modern American history, where our centering institutions have destabilized, our governing social norms seem unenforceable, and our fast-food restaurants routinely insult one another on Twitter. Into this breach have stepped myriad articulate charlatans, aggro-provocateurs, and other confident dullards who seek to capitalize on the end of authority by using the internet to proclaim their own truths. Their goal is to convince the world’s least-informed people that they are actually the most-informed people, and they are very good at their jobs.
How did Rogan—the Fear Factor guy!—become the Larry King of the Intellectual Dark Web?
These grifters, who include the president of the United States, profit by obscuring facts for personal gain. They are working an angle, all of them: the health gurus and conspiracy theorists, the life hackers peddling easy solutions to difficult problems, the IDW stalwarts who sneer at “PC culture” and “identity politics” as a means of reassuring cisgender white males that they are not and have never been the problem. Rogan has given these people a safe space where they and their grifts can feel right at home.
From its unambitious beginnings as a venue for Joe Rogan to shoot the shit with his comedian buddies, The Joe Rogan Experience has become one of the internet’s foremost vectors for anti-wokeness. With its mellow, welcoming vibe, its pretense of common sense, and its general reluctance to push back on any of its guests’ ideas save for only the battiest, the podcast has become the factory where red pills get sugarcoated.
So how did Rogan—the Fear Factor guy!—become the Larry King of the Intellectual Dark Web? Don’t ask him. “It’s an accident,” Rogan told Harris of his podcast’s success. “I just stuck with it. Stumbled upon it. And kept going. I’m good at that.”
The first episode of The Joe Rogan Experience began the way most podcasts do: with the host trying to figure out how to work his equipment. The Dec. 24, 2009, debut features long stretches of dead air alongside distracted commentary by Rogan and his producer, Brian Redban. “We just started this. It’s not very good. I apologize,” Rogan said as he perused real-time feedback from fans who were listening in. “Snowflakes falling are a bit annoying,” one fan wrote, referring to a visual effect Rogan had activated on the video livestream. “Does everybody feel like the snowflakes are annoying?” Rogan asked. It’s a fine motto for the show that The Joe Rogan Experience would eventually become.
“What I’m willing to do is look stupid.” — Joe Rogan
Rogan began his stand-up comedy career in Boston in the late 1980s, and he became nationally prominent in 1995 when he was cast on the NBC sitcom NewsRadio. After NewsRadio was canceled in 1999, Rogan hosted Fear Factor, the game show where contestants ate bugs for money. The program’s first run lasted six seasons, cementing Rogan’s association with a certain type of performative toughness in which the personal risks you run are directly proportional to the rewards you receive. “I am a big Fear Factor fan. Um, I’m a big fan of anything Joe Rogan does, actually,” Steve Carell’s Michael Scott said in one episode of The Office. Michael was an obnoxious buffoon who habitually missed the point; positioning him as the ur-Roganite was one of the sharpest jabs the show ever made.
On NewsRadio, Rogan played the station electrician Joe Garrelli, a weirdo with a weakness for conspiracy theories. This aspect of the character mirrored Rogan himself. In his stand-up and on his podcasts, the comedian has been willing to at least entertain certain niche beliefs. Take, for example, his long stint as a “full-blown moon [landings] non-believer”—his thoughts on the topic have since evolved—or his interest in the theory that the building known as WTC 7, which collapsed on 9/11, may have actually been felled by a controlled demolition. “What I’m willing to do is look stupid,” said Rogan in a 2014 episode. “And by talking about things and saying, ‘That looks like a controlled demolition,’ I know that puts you in the nutter camp. But I’m not saying it’s a controlled demolition. But I say that not being willing to debate it and being insecure—to discuss it, rather, not debate it—but [being too insecure] to discuss the reality of what you’re viewing is silly. It’s preposterous.”
There is a difference between debating something that is a true matter of opinion and entertaining an argument that is palpably false, between a willingness to look stupid in one’s personal quest for wisdom and the choice to actually be stupid by deciding that all theories are equally valid and deserve equal consideration. Rogan does not see himself as an interviewer or a debater, someone tasked with challenging his guests and getting them on the record. He thinks of his episodes as friendly conversations—and it is not particularly friendly to tell your conversation partners that they are full of crap.
A recent interview with Alex Jones showcased the show’s charms and its frustrations. Jones had come on the podcast to bury the hatchet with Rogan, with whom he had been feuding over Jones’ previous assertions that the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting may not have actually happened—that conspiracy theory is the rare one that Rogan will not abide. The episode went entertainingly awry right near the start. “Stop saying I said [Sandy Hook] didn’t happen. And stop saying that I’m saying no kids died. ’Cause I want to talk about human-animal hybrids and humanoids,” Jones pleaded, and after establishing that he blames the mainstream media for accurately reporting on things he’s said for years now that those statements have begun to imperil his livelihood, he did just that.
“China has no rules,” said Jones, who was wearing a NASA T-shirt. “They have human-animal hybrids 30 years ago, they’ve got giant human tissue farms. You know, you hear, ‘Oh, your Achilles is torn, we’ve got—grown in a lab—a tendon.’ It’s not a frickin’ tendon grown in a lab. It’s a frickin’ humanoid. These aren’t humans.”
Jones went on for a while—“I bet you $10 million that humanoids are real,” he announced at one point—until Rogan finally cut him off. “I believe you. I believe you,” he said. He clearly didn’t believe him, but the flipside of inviting Jones on a world-famous podcast to say dumb things for five hours is that there are people out there who listened to the episode and did come away believing that humanoids might be real, that the world is controlled by a secret cabal of elites, and that the mainstream media has been giving Alex Jones a raw deal. The resulting episode was thoroughly entertaining and also a bit disturbing. Jones is not just a friendly nut job. He is a purveyor of disinformation to a vast, ill-informed audience, some of whom have been unstable enough to take violent action against some of Jones’ favorite boogeymen. Rogan was sort of letting Jones hang himself with his own rope, but he also clearly wasn’t willing or able to refute some of Jones’ more outlandish points. Instead, he let the man ramble for four hours and 40 minutes.
The Joe Rogan Experience follows a deceptively simple formula. Rogan puts his guests at ease—often by offering them drugs and alcohol—affects a noncombative demeanor, and keeps them talking for hours until they inevitably say something provocative or unguarded. The discussions Rogan leads are often benign and silly, as if deliberately geared toward listeners who cannot decide whether their favorite film is The Hangover or The Matrix. In January, for example, Rogan and Mike Tyson shared a loopy conversation in which the former heavyweight champion explained how he came to purchase a tiger and praised a drug he referred to as “the toad.” In September, Rogan hosted the entrepreneur Elon Musk for a 2½-hour conversation during which the two men smoked weed, played with a flamethrower, and discoursed on the nature of reality. “Right now you think you’re in a studio in L.A.,” Musk told Rogan. “You might be in a computer.” (“Oh, listen, man, I think about this all the time,” said Rogan.)
The Elon Musk interview was a watershed moment for the podcast. Not only was Musk one of Rogan’s highest-profile guests ever, he may have also been Rogan’s most newsworthy guest, since the show took place at a moment when Musk appeared to be self-imploding in the public eye. The interview made headlines around the world, and Rogan’s fans were triumphant over the fact that it happened. “Traditional media is so pissed. This legitimizes Joe as a semi-serious media outlet and shows the power of podcasts and YouTube,” wrote the top-ranked commenter on the Reddit thread devoted to the Musk interview. “Props to Joe for taking power away from big media.”
Here is the quandary: Rogan appeals to listeners who are aware enough to recognize that media consolidation is a bad thing yet naïve enough to mistake The Joe Rogan Experience for something other than a promotional tour stop for slicksters on the make. I found the Musk interview to be notable primarily for the things that the two men didn’t say. Rogan did not dwell on Musk’s bizarre recent stewardship of Tesla, or the gratuitous fights he has picked with people ranging from obscure British cave divers to stock analysts to the musician Azealia Banks, or the allegedly chaotic working conditions in Tesla plants, or any of the other controversies that, by the end of September, would lead the Securities and Exchange Commission to sue Musk and force his exit as chairman of Tesla. Instead, they talked about chimps and cyborgs.
Joe Rogan is fully invested in the idea that people—progressive liberals, mostly—are too quick to take offense at things that do not offend Joe Rogan.
None of this is to say that Rogan’s interview wasn’t interesting. Musk is a smart, weird guy with smart and weird things to say about chimps and cyborgs. But the interview wasn’t challenging, and I think it should have been. If you can wrangle a lengthy interview with a world-historical plutocrat like Musk, you might as well get him on the record about more than whether he thinks we’re living in a computer simulation. But rather than use the nearly three-hour interview to challenge Musk on anything of substance, Rogan let him use the podcast to burnish the myth of his own implacable brilliance. If traditional media were pissed about anything relevant to the Musk-Rogan interview, it was the extent to which Rogan got played.
But then again, surely that’s one reason Musk went on in the first place. He knew he could talk about big questions with Joe Rogan without having to answer any hard ones. Rogan wasn’t there to challenge Musk, but to hype him. The episode wasn’t an interview but advertisement.
In exactly this way, many Joe Rogan Experience episodes end up as advertisements. So what are Rogan’s guests selling?
First and foremost they are selling themselves: their books, their podcasts, their websites, their supplements, their claims to some secret knowledge about how the world works. “Make hay while the sun shines” is how frequent Rogan guest Jordan Peterson put it in a recent episode. Peterson and his colleagues are intent on spinning hay into gold before they are inevitably eclipsed by newer, dumber gurus. Most guests of talk shows have something or other to promote. But a good number of Rogan’s guests seem to be marketing directly to those who crave enlightenment while rejecting the notion that it takes work to achieve it. Rogan himself is receptive to these nostrums. The man has long been an avid consumer and promoter of myriad brain, health, and energy supplements. Let the buyer beware, I guess! If you believe that the key to a pain-free existence lies in a topical CBD cream called Liberty Lotion, far be it from me to tell you otherwise.
Second, and often simultaneously, many of them are selling the notion of re-establishing the straight white male at the center of the universe. They do this indirectly, by rejecting, rebuking, and mocking the ways in which members of traditional minority groups have begun to find and assert their voices and priorities via digital media. They imply that these “social justice warriors” are overly sensitive, or that they act as bullies by expressing displeasure with “politically incorrect” speech, or that they are uniformly inconsistent and insincere.
Joe Rogan is fully invested in the idea that people—progressive liberals, mostly—are too quick to take offense at things that do not offend Joe Rogan. His January conversation with New York Times opinion editor and writer Bari Weiss, for example, began with Rogan riffing on the Covington Catholic story, especially the fact that the students had been wearing Make America Great Again caps:
Rogan: Has there ever been a time like that, where an object like a red hat with white letters was so repulsive to half the country?
Weiss: Yes, well, I mean, some people see it as the equivalent of a white hood.
Rogan: Wow. I don’t know about that.
Or take his recent re-evaluation of two-time podcast guest Gavin McInnes, for instance, whose openly violent Proud Boys serve as a vanguard of the far right in the United States and have been connected to white-nationalist violence. To Rogan, McInnes is just a larking, misunderstood provocateur. “He’s not a perfect person, but no one is. What he is is an interesting guy who’s weird, says funny shit,” said Rogan last November, at the end of a segment in which he decried what the Proud Boys have become but speculated that McInnes is basically just doing an extended, unfunny bit. “Didn’t he take a shit on the air once on his show? He stuck his finger up his ass and shit in a box or something? He’s a maniac.”
The common thread is the privileging of “common sense” over all other inputs in the struggle to forge a life philosophy, and the idealization of one’s own life experience over that of other people. Because Rogan knows McInnes, it seems obvious to him that the man is just a trollish weirdo “maniac,” not an actual racist. To Rogan, who is not personally menaced by Pepe-flaunting MAGA wankers, it’s obvious that cartoon frogs and ugly hats are not actually the hateful avatars that so many think them to be, and that the people who take offense to them are either overreacting or insincere. Because Rogan and his guests do not take identitarian critiques seriously, they just naturally assume that no one should take them seriously.
From Rogan’s stance, it is easy to choose to see people like McInnes and Milo Yiannopoulos as provocative jokesters rather than race-baiting grifters. In a February episode, Rogan and guest Tim Pool began by discussing the tragic case of Yiannopoulos, who was permanently banned from Twitter in 2016 after harassing the Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones and tacitly encouraging many of his followers to do the same. The end came for Yiannopoulos after he circulated fraudulent offensive tweets purporting to originate from Jones as a means of impugning her character and credibility. Though Yiannopoulos’ Twitter ban was and remains very old news, the wound was apparently still fresh for Rogan and Pool. “Why was he banned? Because he tweeted at Leslie Jones?” asked Pool, in a somewhat incredulous tone.
“Right,” said Rogan. “And the idea was his tweet caused his fans to attack her, which I think is, that’s a stretch.”
“That’s just ridiculous,” said Pool, and the two men proceeded to mutually establish that Yiannopoulos did not literally instruct his followers to attack Jones and that by repeatedly calling her ugly he was perhaps just engaging in a form of film criticism. “He was mocking this feminist version of Ghostbusters,” said Rogan. “That’s what he was doing.”
Unlike other alt-talkers, such as Howard Stern, who fixate on carnal pleasures and often seem contemptuous of their guests, Rogan is unfailingly enthusiastic and good-natured toward his interviewees, even the most ridiculous among them, with whom he generally wants to talk ideas, not tits. “For me, it’s like, ‘Ooh, boy! I get to talk to guys like [vaccine skeptic and fitness guru] Ben Greenfield and Jonathan Haidt, and all these different people, and learn some stuff,’” Rogan said in a recent episode with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. “And I’ve clearly learned way more from doing this podcast then I ever would have learned without it.“
The podcast’s fixation on “learning” is set against Rogan’s clear distrust of traditional schooling. “It was just nonsense. Just droning on. Become a part of the machine. Submit. You are a round peg; you are not a square peg,” Rogan said in an early episode, referring to his high school years in Newton, Massachusetts. So it’s no surprise that Rogan has been very receptive to Peterson, the foremost anti-intellectual academic of the Trump era.
Peterson first caught Rogan’s attention in 2016, when he was dramatically refusing to comply with a proposed Canadian law that, Peterson claimed, would have classified a refusal to use someone’s preferred gender-neutral pronouns as hate speech. (University of Toronto law professor Brenda Cossman told Torontoist that Peterson was “fundamentally mischaracterizing” the bill.) Since then, Peterson has spun his views on gender pronouns into a nightmare scenario that inevitably ends with resistors being sent to an actual, nonmetaphorical gulag.
“OK, so now I have to use a certain terminology. So then I look at the derivation of the terminology and I say, ‘Oh, that’s terminology generated by the postmodern neo-Marxists,’ ” Peterson told Rogan on Episode 1,070. “Oh, well I think those people are reprehensibly murderous. So guess what, I’m not going to say their words, period. Because I know what they’re like. I know where that leads.” Rogan briefly objected, stating that there is no connection between word choices and murder, before clarifying Peterson’s point for him: “It’s the beginnings of this ideology, and you understand where the road map leads,” said Rogan. “You understand the X at the end of the road.”
Does he? Peterson is intent on demonizing the entire notion of Marxist analysis as intolerable and anti-Western, since, after all, Soviet Russia was Marxist and millions of people died in the gulags. This is a hell of a leap. Academic Marxism is basically the act of analyzing subjects from economic and class-based perspectives. Peterson willfully and knowingly conflates academic Marxism with Stalinism, as a means of discrediting the intelligentsia who call him an idiot.
By routinely disparaging the credibility and intentions of traditional centers of learning while giving idiots hours on end to profess their theories, Rogan allows his guests to establish themselves as the real fonts of mind-expanding knowledge. Many of his listeners are buying in. “My generation has hit the jackpot with this new way of learning. If you don’t watch or trust television and school feels like it has failed you, there is still hope to claim back your humanity, this show is the answer. … You’re welcome,” wrote one podcast reviewer at the iTunes Store. Another: “Great Show please have Richard Spencer on.”
A love of intellectual shortcuts is one of the founding principles of Trumpism. The president and his adherents claim that all it will take to fix America is to build the wall, drain the swamp, and ignore all those deep-state obstructionists who know that it’s not that simple. Intellectual shortcuts are also one of the founding principles of grifting. It has always been easy to grow rich by touting easy answers to hard questions and promising quick paths to enlightenment; it has also always been easy to become a popular broadcaster by pandering to the most credulous members of your listening audience.
Ideally, our stand-up comics and our long-form interviewers should serve as counterweights to sophistry by using their platforms as a way to puncture mass delusions while speaking truth to power. In some alternate reality, there is a Joe Rogan who skewers the contemporary culture of grift, who exposes its proponents as the reactionary dullards they are instead of the suave brain-geniuses they claim to be. In this current timeline, we’re counting down to the day when Kanye West joins Rogan to chat about MAGA hats and astral planes.
What can you do? It’s Joe Rogan’s show, and he can interview whomever he wants, and he can conduct those interviews however he so chooses, and that is fine. I want to hear a variety of views and opinions, particularly from those with whom I disagree. There is merit in having these viewpoints out there where they can be mulled, critiqued, refuted, and eventually mined as fodder for opposition research.
I just wish that Rogan would buck up and push back on his Intellectual Dark Web buddies once in a while. The views of Rogan’s guests are often built on a foundation of shaky premises at which Rogan either cannot or will not prod. By “just asking questions” while rarely asking tough ones, by touting his esoteric guests while rarely booking anyone who might trouble his governing assumptions, Rogan gives the impression of breadth while depriving his listeners of depth.
In a February interview with Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Rogan reflected on how his podcast has grown to the point where, unhappily, people now have expectations of him. “I didn’t fucking plan this. So now all of the sudden there’s this signal that I’m sending out to millions and millions of people, and then people are like, ‘Well, you have a responsibility,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, great. Well, I didn’t want that.’ ” Later he went on, “There’s certain people that I’ll have on, whether it’s Alex Jones or anyone that’s controversial, where people who get fucking mad. ‘Why are you giving this person a platform?’ OK. Hmm. I didn’t think about it that way, and I don’t think that’s what I’m doing. I think I’m talking to people, and you can listen.”
This wasn’t just Rogan complaining about his success. This was a mission statement: a vision of a truly independent podcast in which the host is immune to pressure from his listeners, in which he is responsible to no one except himself, and his show’s priorities are guided exclusively by his own catholic interests. I can get behind this vision, even if Rogan’s interests do not match my own.
The YouTube stream of the Jack Dorsey podcast got 13,000 likes and 86,000 dislikes. Viewers thought Rogan had betrayed them by failing to press Dorsey about why various right-wing figures had been deplatformed while people such as Kathy Griffin got to stay. One YouTube commenter wrote, “wtf is going on here!” “Censorship of conservatives is evil and you didn’t call him out. Coward,” wrote another.
For the entire following week, Rogan fretted on air about the blowback. He spent hours overcompensating by dwelling on the questions that he might have asked Dorsey had he bothered to prepare for the initial conversation. Far from hewing to his “it’s my show, listen or don’t” philosophy, Rogan seemed afraid—as if he had realized that the listeners who have made him a rich and influential man will tune out as soon as he stops playing to their political biases.
Inevitably, like a mad scientist desperately trying to appease the monster of his own creation, Rogan gave in to his listeners and rebooked Dorsey for another episode, a month after the first. For 3½ hours, Rogan and Tim Pool pressed Dorsey and Twitter exec Vijaya Gadde on their reasons for banning Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones, Gavin McInnes, Jacob Wohl, and Chuck Johnson, among others; on the importance of allowing conservatives to misgender people online; and on the injustice of perma-banning the right-wing trolls and anti-intellectual intellectuals to whom Rogan is indebted for his late-career success. It was a tough interview, though one unlikely to be appreciated outside the Breitbart set. Finally, we saw what the third eye adorning Rogan’s mug on his podcast art really sees: fear.