Published with permission of PRESS RUN, Eric Boehlert’s must-read media newsletter. Subscribe here.
Late last year, popular podcast host Joe Rogan invited onto his show Dr. Robert Malone, a world-class Covid denier and medical quack, who told Rogan’s millions of listeners that public health experts advocating for vaccines today are akin to Nazi’s in the 1930s. Getting vaccinated against a deadly virus was a sign of “mass formation psychosis,” and Malone suggested Biden was leading a hypnotized cult. It was a misinformation-fest that Rogan said at the time he hoped would go viral.
It did. Then the whole thing got banned by YouTube, where the Joe Rogan Experience gets uploaded, for violating the platform’s rules about trafficking in pandemic lies. It was the latest, reckless example of a once-libertarian podcast host with an eclectic past (actor, comedian, “cage-fighting commentator”), hitching his wagon to conservative lies and distortion, as he whips up distrust of the government and science.
As Rogan takes a hard turn to the right, you get the feeling he wants to be the new Rush Limbaugh — the source of GOP misinformation and conspiracies. More than any other daytime talker, it’s Rogan who could fill Limbaugh’s shoes after the GOP host passed away last year.
Like Limbaugh, Rogan preaches to a mostly male audience of roughly 10 million that wallows in victimhood while the host lashes out at imaginary forces trying to keep the White Man down in America. (“Straight white men are not allowed to talk.”) Like Limbaugh, Rogan faces no consequences for peddling ceaseless lies. Spotify, which has exclusive rights to Rogan’s show, refuses to acknowledge the torrent of misinformation that flow from his show, while at the same time pretending Spotify podcast hosts must adhere to company guidelines.
And like Limbaugh who landed a $100 million contract for the endless litany of smears he trafficked in for decades, Rogan last year penned a nine-figure deal.
The podcast host made political headlines in the winter of 2020 when he said he would support Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the Democratic primary. Lots of progressives rushed to embrace the host, suggesting he reached an audience outside of the traditional Democratic base, even though Rogan appears to despise the Left.
Since then, Rogan has lurched to the far right, announcing last year he preferred Trump over Biden in the general election.
With the pandemic, the host has become aggressively and arrogantly dishonest. “I believe he’s become more emboldened to push baseless conspiracy theories and right-wing lies over the past year,” Media Matters researcher Alex Paterson recently told The Verge. “Just from listening to him every day, he’s by no means remitting conspiracy theories and false rhetoric on his show. If anything, he’s leaning into it more. He’s a darling of the conservative right in the United States. Joe Rogan has shown really clearly that he will use his podcast to spread conspiracy theories, right-wing lies, [and] racist rhetoric in order to sort of promote himself.”
Rogan gladly plays hosts to chronic GOP liars such as Ben Shapiro and Alex Jones, while remaining a huge supporter of Tucker Carlson.
There’s big money in right-wing hate and conspiracies, and Rogan’s leaning into all of it —“Nancy Pelosi is the head witch” of the Democratic Party — at the same time Limbaugh’s death created a hole in the far-right media landscape. When Rogan endorsed the baseless notion that the Clinton family was somehow connected to the 2016 murder of Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee staff member, he sounded just like the deceased AM talker. Same with Rogan’s regular anti-trans rhetoric.
The similarities don’t end there. Just as Limbaugh in 2020 claimed Covid was “no worse than the common cold,” Rogan today lies without pause about a public health crisis that has claimed the lives of nearly one million Americans, going as far as claiming “actual microchips” are “being injected into your arm to see if you have COVID-19.” The show has become a cesspool of unhinged anti-vaccine rhetoric.
He endorsed the nonsensical lie that the government was monitoring private citizens’ text messages for anti-vaccine content. He urged young people not to get vaccinated because “exercising” would protect them. He said use of Ivermectin would effectively treat COVID-19, claimed Biden didn’t actually get his vaccine shot live on TV because they’re too dangerous, warned vaccine passports would move the country towards a “dictatorship,” and insisted immigrants crossing the Mexican border were driving a Covid surge.
It’s all indistinguishable from the bile that Limbaugh made his career spreading and amplifying. We’ll never know how many of Limbaugh's loyal, elderly listeners died from the virus, in part because he assured them the infection was essentially harmless. And we’ll never know how many of Rogan’s (younger) listeners got sick or died from Covid because of the host’s nonstop propaganda campaign against a miraculously effective, and free, vaccine.
Rogan seems eager to carry on Limbaugh's toxic legacy.