Jon Stewart is Wrong: You Can’t Engage with Joe Rogan

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It’s no secret that I actively dislike Joe Rogan and his habit of blasting misinformation all over the internet every week or so – just last month I put out a video debunking his recent antivax guest Robert Malone, and I think my most popular video from last year was a thorough history of why people like Rogan think horse deworming paste can help cure COVID.

Recently, Rogan has come under attack from more people who are fed up with the damage he’s causing by convincing his huge audience to believe dangerous absurdities, and since Spotify, the platform that exclusively hosts his show, refuses to do anything about him, artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell have pulled their music catalogs from the streaming service.

On the other side, Rogan has found some backup from a source you may find surprising: former Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who has a new show where he waxes about current events. Here’s what he had to say about Rogan and Spotify (starting at 2:20).

“Don’t leave, don’t abandon, don’t censor, engage. I’m not saying it’s always going to work out fruitfully but I am always of the mindset that engagement, and especially with someone like a Joe Rogan who is not in my mind an ideologue in any way. 

“And I think the proof of that was I don’t know if you remember but there was a guy who went on his podcast named Josh Zepps who had, they were talking about, I think Joe said “myocarditis…kids shouldn’t get the vaccine because it causes higher risk of myocarditis” and Josh said “well actually getting covid is a higher risk of myocarditis for kids so they should get vaccinated.”

(Rogan) said “No it’s not.”

(Zepps) said “No I think it is”

(Rogan) goes “No I’m pretty sure it’s the other way”

“And they looked it up and when they looked it up it came out that it’s a much greater risk if you get covid and you’re you know 8 to 12 or 6 to 15 or whatever the age range was it’s a much greater risk of myocarditis, catching covid than it is getting the vaccine

“And if you are an ideologue or if you are a dishonest person that is the moment, like Tucker Carlson in that situation never would’ve looked it up and would’ve given that look he gives like somebody’s giving him a confusion enema, like they’re just firing confusion up his ass. And Joe just went like “oh I didn’t know I didn’t get that” and that to me says “oh tpa

You’re a musician, how much misinformation is spread by, Eric Clapton is on the platforms that you’re on and he’s a fucknig psycho, so do you remove yourself from every platform?

Like you’re on comcast, right? Comcast or Time Warner, so if you’re on any cable station, right, they’ve got Fox News on. You’re telling me Fox News isn’t a willful purveyor of information? Dishonest to its core. So now everybody on TV has to pull out of their fucking shows or deplatform because on the same in the same tube that you exist they exist?”

Jon Stewart rightfully has a lot of fans on the left for helming The Daily Show for so long and being pretty consistently amusing and liberal. He also went on CNN’s Crossfire and absolutely demolished Tucker Carlson so badly that the show was canceled and Carlson never wore a bowtie again.

But in many cases, and in this specific recent case on his show, Stewart is almost willfully ignorant, thoughtless, overly simplistic, “both sides”-ist, and cowardly, to the point where I was inspired to make this video to tell you why.

Stewart says “Don’t leave, don’t abandon, don’t censor, engage,” which is something I, too, believed when I was in my early 20s and didn’t know better: the answer to speech you don’t like is more speech. There are a few issues with this way of thinking, in general and also as it relates to this specific case. I’ll start with the latter. Stewart is specifically criticizing Neil Young for removing his music from Spotify, and to do that he has to throw in the word “censor.” Neil Young is not in any way censoring Joe Rogan or Spotify, but Stewart MUST use the word “censor” because otherwise it becomes really obvious that there’s nothing here to criticize. Young IS using his own freedom to make a very clear statement. Removing his catalog from Spotify IS “SPEECH” as we define it in terms of taking a stand.

But okay, let’s say that this is Young failing to “engage” with Joe Rogan, and that that’s somehow bad. Is it always necessary to engage intellectually with your opponents? Absolutely not. As an extreme example, Nazis! The paradox of tolerance is that if you extend tolerance to certain people, they will take that gift, turn around and do away with tolerance. There are certain people who simply cannot be engaged in an intellectual discussion, because they are at their core dishonest.

Stewart knows this, which is why he goes on to insist that Joe Rogan is a person who can and should be engaged. But is that true?

As an example, he points out what happened when Josh Zepps went on Rogan’s show a few weeks back (which my $5+ patrons saw in that week’s Friday newsletter). And it’s true: Rogan said something was factually incorrect (he claimed that teen boys were more likely to experience adverse heart-related reactions to the vaccine rather than COVID) and Zepps immediately informed him that the opposite was true: teen boys are in fact more likely to experience adverse heart-related reactions by catching COVID, compared to getting the vaccine. Zepps insisted he was correct, Rogan had his lackey Google it, Rogan continued to insist he was right, Zepps held his own, and it became clear to everyone watching that Zepps was correct.

As I pointed out in the newsletter, though, this is extremely rare because Rogan is a master of what’s known as the Gish Gallop, so named by Eugenie Scott after noted creationist Duane Gish, who was well known for engaging in “debates” and then completely overwhelming his opponents with so many ridiculous specious claims and outright lies that it would require an inordinate amount of time to research and rebut each point. This is related to Brandolini’s Law, which states that “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude larger than is needed to produce it.”

And this is perfectly encapsulated in the Josh Zepps interview: Rogan takes approximately 10 seconds to say “for young boys in particular there’s an adverse risk associated with the vaccine: there’s a 2-4 fold increase in incidences of myocarditis.”

Zepps responds “Yes, you know there’s an increase in myocarditis in that cohort from getting COVID as well which exceeds the risk of myocarditis from the vaccine.” That also takes him approximately 10 seconds.

Rogan responds “I don’t think that’s true.” In the next 60 seconds, Rogan reads the article that says Zepps is correct, and argues that it’s not true for children, at which point Zepps needs to dumb it down for him a little to make sure Rogan understands that it IS about the cohort he’s talking about. When it becomes indisputable that Zepps is correct, Rogan objects to the source of the article, and just starts saying complete nonsense: “That is NOT what I’ve read before, and also it’s like even when we’re reading these things where are we getting this from even from the VAERS report, the amount of people that report, the underreporting.”

So he never actually admits that he was wrong. The best he can do is say it’s “interesting” and “not what (he’s) read before.” And that, to Jon Stewart, is an example of someone who isn’t an idealogue, someone we can engage with. And this is the BEST POSSIBLE CIRCUMSTANCE: Rogan was speaking with someone who already knew the actual answer to the single piece of misinformation he happened to spout at that time; Rogan’s opponent was a white man who he respected; and the opponent did not back down when Rogan continued pushing back. 

Now let’s see what happens when Rogan says a piece of misinformation and is confronted by an expert in the field on which he’s pontificating, but it’s NOT a white man who he respects. On the Opie and Anthony show, Rogan claims that researchers recently found a new chimpanzee called the Bondo ape in the Congo, a 6 foot tall 400 pound chimp that nests on the ground, walks upright, and kills lions. Then a PhD primatologist calls in. Let’s see what happens (starting at 5:40)!

I bet some of you were thinking “well it’s not because she’s a woman” right up until he yelled “I have a vagina” at the end, weren’t you? Admit it. I mean, he’s also dismissive of men who know more than him but he doesn’t usually have the guts to scream over them quite so heartily.

And again, that was just ONE false claim. It took Rogan about a minute to make it, and when a primatologist had the nerve to point out that he was wrong (which he was: the “Bondi ape” was announced in 2003 and by 2004 researchers confirmed that it was a common chimp), he spent several minutes just screaming epithets over her. In the course of a regular Joe Rogan show, he can make dozens of false and misleading claims that no one would be able to rebut.

Here’s another example: astronomer Phil Plait “debated” Rogan on Penn Jillette’s show back in 2007 because Rogan fervently believed at the time that the moon landing was faked. Plait is incredibly knowledgeable about that conspiracy theory, but even he was thrown for a loop by Rogan’s aggressive Gish Gallop. Early on in their third “debate,” Rogan interrupted Plait to say that Werner Von Braun went to Antarctica to collect rocks to pass off as moon rocks, a stupid tall tale that even Plait had never heard before. Plait was still able to poke holes in the story, at which point Rogan went off on Von Braun being a Nazi. Plait wrote: “I was trying to remain rational, and I called Joe on his logical fallacy – poisoning the well – but he’s very aggressive, and was rattling stuff off quickly enough that he was able to throw me off a bit…(Rogan) was a lot more aggressive than in the first show, interrupted me a lot more, and he was bringing up stuff too quickly for me to be able to answer, and when I did try to answer he stepped on what I was saying.”

Plait goes on to say “…this wasn’t a debate, it was a radio show, and so his aggressive manner and rapid-fire attack makes it sound like he has more going for him than he really does. When you really look at the evidence he brought up, it’s all circumstantial at best. It sounds good on radio, but it’s really mostly empty air. As I’ve said for years, it’s easy to bring up a lot of stuff that doesn’t make sense, but it takes time to show why it’s wrong. On a radio, there simply isn’t that kind of time. That’s the reason I prefer not to debate stuff like this on the radio or on TV. You can be right, but still look like the other guy owned you. It’s not an argument that will be won or lost on the evidence. If it were, the Hoax folks would lose before they step foot in the studio.”

Again, that was from 2007. Here we are 15 years later and Plait has never been more right, and now, Jon Stewart has weighed in with a take that has never been more wrong.

Speaking of Stewart, let’s get back to one final wrong thing he said: the idea that Spotify is merely a platform for voices, like they are a platform for Eric Clapton’s songs or like your cable provider is a platform for both Fox News and CNN. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Spotify is not just a platform for Joe Rogan’s podcast: they PRODUCE Joe Rogan’s podcast. They ARE just a platform for a hundred other podcasts, but they paid Joe Rogan $100 million to be able to exclusively host his show. When someone pointed out dozens of episodes in which Rogan exalts in using the N-word, Spotify sat down with Rogan and his team, discussed his use of “racially insensitive language,” and had him agree to remove those episodes. All of this makes them a PRODUCER. If getting paid $100 million is a fundamental human right afforded to podcasters, great, sign me up! I can’t wait to cash that check. But it’s not, nor is it Rogan’s right for Spotify to advertise his show constantly to all of their users. Nor is it Spotify’s right to have access to all music throughout history. Nor is it Spotify’s right to get $10 a month from me, or to exist on my phone or on my computer. Were Spotify to merely publish Rogan’s RSS feed the same way they might any other podcast on the planet, Jon Stewart MIGHT have an argument to make that they shouldn’t be held accountable for what he says on his show. But they don’t. They paid him $100 million and they actively decide what is and is not okay for him to say on his show. The N-word? No, at least not since people started noticing (they paid Rogan and hosted those shows with no complaint before this week). MIsinformation about a pandemic that has thus far killed nearly 6 million people? Absolutely fine.

So no, contrary to what Jon Stewart says it is not Neil Young’s responsibility, or anyone’s, to “engage” with Joe Rogan, who is a truly disgusting, embittered, angry little man. It IS all our responsibilities to vote with our money. Cancel your Spotify service if you don’t want to actively fund dangerous misinformation spewing out the mouth of a moron.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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  1. You’re right that is not like a cable company that carries Fox News (which I think they should be free to get rid of). It’s more like if Syfy were owned by the same company as Fox News, and a creator pulled everything they could from Syfy.

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