Being a regular viewer of both The Joe Rogan Experience and Real Time with Bill Maher, I have been struck by how both of these men have been airing similar criticisms about Covid vaccines and pandemic responses.
Yet only one is being vilified.
Rogan has sporadically uttered random opinions on the topic over the course of meandering conversations with his guests, and has not sounded terribly fanatical in his stances.
Maher, on the other hand, has called Covid vaccines “shit” and rebels against the mainstream Covid narrative through a thick layer of sanctimony.
The two celebrities overlap on young, healthy people not needing a Covid vaccine, the preference for the strength of natural immunity, and the importance of good health maintenance in disease prevention.
But Maher goes further in what seems to be a weekly, deliberate campaign to spread what conventional thought says is “anti-vax propaganda” or “dangerous misinformation.” Medical autonomy. Hospitals fudging statistics. Pharmaceutical profiteering. And as recently as February 4, comparing Covid hysteria to the AIDS panic spread by the media through the 1980s. When guest Andrew Sullivan suggested last year that there was nothing wrong with getting a booster shot every six months, Maher said, “I’m not sure about loving that.”
All the things that we are told fuel vaccine hesitancy and conspiracy theories. Every Friday on HBO.
I’m not saying I disagree with either Rogan or Maher. It’s just odd that one of them is free to air these opinions on “legacy media” while the other is enduring a relentless smear campaign.
Maher has not experienced the barrage of dubious “fact checks” that Rogan is reliably subjected to, often over innocuous content. For instance, when Rogan and guest Dr. Robert Malone in December discussed the notion that society could be undergoing a phenomenon called “mass formation psychosis,” they were touching on a concept often studied in psychology. It also overlaps with much of what Noam Chomsky put forward in Manufacturing Consent, a well-respected book and documentary film about how “mass formation” of opinion is crafted by the media in collaboration with government and corporate interests.
Whether mass formation is occurring now is a matter of opinion, and there is no reason why the idea should not be discussed. A professor of psychoanalysis at Ghent University named Matthias Desmet has sparked interest for his belief that Covid hysteria is an example of mass formation.
Yet a number of outlets “fact- checked” this by consulting with their own sources who said, no, we are not experiencing this phenomenon. It’s normal for scientists and experts to disagree, and there is nothing wrong with finding a dissenting opinion. But taking a side in the debate is not a “fact check.” There is a reason why the final section of academic research papers is called “Discussion” and not “Truth.”
This type of “fact-checking” is gaslighting. The age-old practice of fact-checking, until recently, was only intended to ensure that names, dates and quotes were presented accurately before an article was published. It was never meant to keep people’s opinions in line or censure discussion.
And yet seeing so many news outlets often perform suspiciously identical and simultaneous “fact checks” to take down Joe Rogan seems to reflect the core ideas that Chomsky and Desmet have put forward.
In another example, an article in The Guardian claimed to “debunk” many of Rogan’s statements with selective data, in one instance pointing out that 185 young people in the UK died from Covid and would have benefited from a vaccine.
What The Guardian omits is whether these individuals had underlying health problems, the key to Rogan’s (and Maher’s) positions on vaccination for young healthy people. The piece also ignored the new treatments, new knowledge of the disease, and weakening variants that have greatly reduced deaths and organ damage in Covid patients across all demographics.
Also in that article, the author strangely tried to bolster his “fact check” by citing an example of one of Rogan’s guests correcting him with official data, proving not that Rogan spreads misinformation, but that he allows guests to have the last word when they prove to be better informed — a trait not found in Bill Maher. The guest in question, Josh Szeps, later Tweeted: “Jon Stewart agrees that my exchange with @JoeRogan is an example of what Joe does right.”
These examples are just light debris from the growing avalanche of nonsense printed against Rogan. What should be considered is why Bill Maher gets to perch in the HBO chalet while Rogan gets buried in the deluge. Look at the transcripts below and compare Rogan’s gentle vaccine dissent with the way Maher goes for the jugular. There is a reason why Maher gets a free pass, but I’ll save that explanation for the end.
From The Joe Rogan Experience, April 29, 2021. Guest: comedian Andrew Santino
Rogan: Well, the White House commented on what I said about vaccines.
Santino: It’s so funny because Fauci hit you up.
Rogan: He didn’t hit me up necessarily. He disagreed with me.
Santino: I got vaxxed up baby.
Rogan: But didn’t you already get Covid?
Santino: Yeah, I had ‘rona, had it in October.
Rogan: So why did you get a vaccination?
Santino: sigh, I’m a sheeple, dude … Well, because my antibodies were gone…
Rogan: What did you get? The Johnson & Johnson?
Santino: No dude, I’m a Moderna momma … Corona for me was weird already. So I was like, I dunno, I’ll just do that thing to not have it again. I bought into the system. I’m a sheep.
Rogan: Ah, it’s not being a sheep. There’s legitimate science behind this. The thing about people being upset at me, I’m not an anti-vax person. In fact, I said I believe they’re safe, and I encourage many people to take them. My parents were vaccinated. I just said I don’t think if you’re a young healthy person that you need it. Their argument was, you need it for other people.
Santino: So you don’t transmit the virus.
Rogan: And that’s a different argument, a different conversation.
Santino: I’m a young unhealthy person.
[conversation sidebars for a moment and comes back to the topic]
Rogan: If you said, young 21-year-old people who eat well and exercise are not at high risk for coronavirus, but you should think about other people, I would say, that’s a different argument. And yes, that makes sense. But I would say, are those [other] people vaccinated, and shouldn’t we vaccinate the vulnerable people, and then we’d have a different conversation.
Focusing COVID-19 vaccination on the most vulnerable, rather than mass-vaccinating entire populations, is part of an approach supported by many experts in medicine and disease prevention. It’s called “focused protection,” and was popularized by the three scientists from Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford who authored the Great Barrington Declaration, which was co-signed by 43 other accomplished medical academics and promoted by hundreds of others.
You can find experts who disagree with the Great Barrington Declaration, but that only proves that the proposal is debatable, not wrong, and Rogan’s stance is well within the bounds of scientific discussion.
If you’re still inclined to cancel your Spotify account in protest of this “medical misinformation,” then you’re a hypocrite if you don’t cut your HBO subscription as well. Prepare to clutch your pearls as you read the saucy language that comes out of Bill Maher’s unruly mouth:
Real Time, Aug 20, 2021:
Bill Maher: Now they want us to do all these boosters… I don’t want a booster. I never wanted a vaccine, I took one for the team… But every eight months you’re gonna put this shit in me? I don’t know about that. Maybe I don’t need one.
Underlying conditions and elderly, I don’t count myself as either… Could I have some medical autonomy?
The reason hospitals are overrun is because we run them like airlines. Just the way an airline can never have an empty seat, hospitals don’t want empty beds. So they’re always at “almost capacity.”
[A Covid strategy] also has to include obesity… 40 percent of Covid deaths had diabetes. Name any other ailment someone would have and you wouldn’t say, “Oh my god, that’s huge.” We know it’s 78 percent of people who went to the hospital or died, [they were] obese. 88 percent of [Covid] deaths in the world, from countries with high obesity rates. How much longer can we ignore what is at the core of the problem?… We still don’t have any [health and fitness] messaging from the White House, from Dr. Fauci. Why? They don’t want to offend Pepsi-Cola and McDonalds?… Shouldn’t people take some responsibility?
Real Time, October 29, 2021:
The world recognizes natural immunity. We [Americans] don’t, because everything in this country has to go through the pharmaceutical companies. Natural immunity is the best kind of immunity. We shouldn’t fire people who have natural immunity because they don’t get the vaccine, we should hire them.
Hospitalization rate for the vaccinated, 0.01 percent, and the rate for the unvaccinated is 0.89 percent. So in both cases, the [hospitalization rate] is less than 1 percent… 41 percent of Democrats thought it was over 50 percent… How do so many people, especially of one party, get such a bad idea?
I know some people don’t want to give up on the wonderful pandemic. You know what? It’s over. There’s always going to be a variant.
Masks? Vaccine? Pick one. You can’t make me wear the mask if I’ve had the vaccine.
People walking outside, alone, with a mask. It’s so stupid. It’s an amulet, a charm people wear.
Colin Powell died. He had cancer and Parkinsons, but all I heard was he died from Covid. Yes, if you’re very sick, something is, you know [going to kill you].
Those quotes were from last fall. Since Maher’s Real Time show returned from its winter break, he has spent this January and February repeating variations on the above.
Sure, CNN and the ladies on The View slapped Maher on the wrist, but there has not been a daily barrage of outrage and celebrities popping out of the woodwork saying they won’t appear on HBO until Maher is gone, or directors trying to pull their shows and movies from the network.
Where Maher is relentless, Rogan is thoughtful and patient. It is never mentioned that Rogan’s guests have also included mainstream medical experts such as epidemiologist Michael Osterholm and vaccine specialist Peter Hotez, whose views were not rebutted or challenged by their host. Rogan is not confrontational and allows a number of expert opinions to be shared — while being careful to have his assistant Jamie fact-check information on the fly (often from conventional sources).
Maher doesn’t allow such nuance. He is stubborn and has not allowed any “Covid narrative” to be spoken on his show without interruption or without him getting the last word. Additionally, he continually reads data and polls from his cue cards without ever stating his sources. His information is good and can be verified, but it’s less than what Rogan presents when he says, “Look that up, Jamie,” and puts up a CNN or White House fact sheet on the screen.
So why is there no effort to push Maher off HBO?
As much as he might criticize Democrats, Maher is acceptable opposition because he ultimately insists that his audience “vote blue no matter who.”
He was an enthusiastic Bernie Sanders supporter back in 2015 and stridently encouraged the senator to run for president well before he officially announced. But when Sanders was knocked out of the 2016 and 2020 races, Maher, like a good soldier, got behind Hillary in 2016, then supported the milquetoast Amy Klobuchar in the 2020 primary, and then eventually Biden.
Rogan was also a Sanders supporter but could not bring himself to vote for Biden. Additionally he was an admirer of the anti-war Tulsi Gabbard, a reviled figure amongst centrist Democrats, and who has appeared on Rogan’s show four times. During the Democratic primaries, the only candidates invited onto Rogan’s show were figures the party and the media worked hard to exclude from national discourse — Sanders, Gabbard, and Andrew Yang. Rogan eventually voted for a third party in the general election.
What becomes obvious on examination is that Bill Maher is “controlled opposition.” He advocates for socialist policies that are further left of the Democratic Party, but loyally sides with the establishment when push comes to shove. It’s easy to imagine Maher being told at some point by his employers at WarnerMedia and AT&T that it’s time to drop the vaccine schtick, and it is just as easy to see him acquiesce to such demands rather than be exiled from the political class that his show grants him access to. For the moment, his opinions on all things Covid are only being aired with tacit permission from the multinationals that own his podium.
Rogan, however, owns his podium and has an audience he built independently long before his Spotify contract. He has many other distribution options if he were ever to lose his place on Spotify.
Uncontrolled opposition is the biggest fear of the political and corporate establishment, even to media conglomerates. Rogan never trained to be a journalist, didn’t climb any social ladders to reach the level of the elites, has never relied on establishment advertising dollars, and yet attracts 11 million viewers and listeners to each podcast episode, eclipsing popular network TV programs such as the top-rated Tucker Carlson Tonight (3.24 million), not to mention MSNBC’s measly prime time ratings (1.27 million) and CNN’s (0.82 million).
Rogan’s success is not an envy of corporate media, but a threat. He is the proletarian who broke through the protective forces of the media aristocracy and is opening the back door to let commoners crash the party and help themselves to the champagne and h’ordeurves.
Bill Maher was invited to the party and is polite to his hosts. He might be a rebel, but he makes people laugh and his behavior has predictable boundaries. It is therefore not Maher who the establishment believes needs to be exiled, as he is likely to shut up if asked. It is Rogan, the “illegitimate journalist” who doesn’t know his place who must go, Thus we see a coordinated campaign to trash his credibility and remove his voice from public discourse.
Part of this operation has for years involved propagating a fiction of Rogan as an “alt-right” or libertarian figure. Rogan has stated on many occasions that he is a leftist, with credible testimony shown in these two excerpts from his podcast.
The Joe Rogan Experience, October 13, 2021. Guest: CNN medical reporter Sanjay Gupta:
I get labeled that way [right-wing] because of my position on guns, but I’m very pro-choice. I’m very women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights, trans rights. I’m even [for] universal healthcare and I support universal basic income… My parents were hippies. I grew up in San Francisco from age 7 to 11 during the Vietnam War, and the hippies — I mean, that was a formative period of my youth… and that’s why I’m left wingy, and that’s why I’ve never voted for a Republican ever.
The Joe Rogan Experience, January 16, 2020. Guest: political podcaster Jimmy Dore, while talking about the Democratic primaries:
I like Tulsi and I like Bernie… I’ve never voted right-wing in my life. I [always] voted Democrat except for independent Gary Johnson because he did my podcast [smiles]… Family values I admire, but when it gets to homophobia, when it gets to women’s rights, that’s where I break… The idea that we can spend all this money overseas [on foreign wars] but we can’t spend any money on Flint, Michigan or Detroit or the south side of Chicago, that to me is insane. This idea that we’re all on the same starting page is so fuckin’ stupid too. That is a very non-rightwing way of looking at it… You have no idea what it’s like growing up in a crime-ridden, poverty infested, drug addled neighborhood… Don’t have it so that they’re starting out from the time they’re a child with a massive deficit.
Again, consider that this left-of-Democrat podcaster who does not reliably support the political establishment has an audience of 11 million per episode, double what CNN, MSNBC, and FOX combined draw on any given night. So when a guy with this large of a megaphone starts telling people he wants Tulsi Gabbard, Bernie Sanders, or a third-party candidate to become president, of course political and media institutions are going to panic and try to take him out of the game.
Character assassination is the easiest way to achieve that in the internet age, and thus people who have never seen more than two minutes of Joe Rogan’s show follow the mainstream consensus that he is a right-wing transphobic anti-vaxxer.
Also consider that 19% of Spotify users say they have canceled or are thinking about canceling their accounts in protest of Rogan being carried on the service. Rogan has been on Spotify for over a year, and his supposed anti-vax views and controversial guests have appeared on episodes going back through 2021.
That so many users are only now considering leaving the service shows that they know nothing of Rogan’s show and are only responding — as if on command — to the media smear campaign. One might call it a “mass formation” phenomenon!
One thing I’m certain of: If Joe Rogan supported and interviewed centrist Democrats from time to time and had voted for Joe Biden — even with reluctance — the corporate media would have administered this “insider” a gentle scolding and a slap on the wrist for his vaccine comments, and Neil Young would be none the wiser.