The Joe Rogan Experience is arguably one of the biggest podcast in the world. Each week, millions of people ‘experience’ the show across multiple platforms and episodes, making JRE more viewed and probably more influential than any of the nightly news programs presented by mainstream media.
Since its early days, the defining characteristic of the podcast, in sharp contrast to mainstream media, has been its variety, its diversity of views and vocations. In any given month, guests would include comedians and athletes, scientists and politicos, big celebrities and unknown up-and-comers, voices from all sides of the political and experiential spectrum.
Recently, this has changed.
Over its nearly 1300 episodes, guests of the program have occasionally included people like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson, people whom some on the left classify as ‘alt-right.’ The problem is with a false-equivalency. Here’s how it works:
Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson are alt-right.
Therefore, if they are appearing on a show, the show and its host must be alt-right.
Thus, if the show is alt-right, then anyone who appears on the show, even those obviously on the left, are alt-right.
The result of this has been that the number of left-wing guests on the show has dramatically declined, with few progressives having the guts to withstand the criticism from their own side should they appear.
Whether Shapiro or Peterson are ‘alt-right,’ and what that loaded term even means, are up for debate. But what’s happened is people on the left have effectively taken themselves out of these, or any, debates on one of the largest purveyors of thought and opinion in the world.
Joe Rogan still has guests from all over the spectrum, though now, with a few exceptions like Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang, very few from the progressive left. It has become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy — See! He doesn’t have guests from the left! He must be alt-right! — an act of self-sabotage at the highest level.
Whatever you think of him, Joe Rogan is not Fox News, a platform which openly promotes a narrow, corporate, and conservative message at virtually all times.
So why bother making the comparison at all?
This week, Bernie Sanders held a town hall event hosted and broadcast by Fox News. Like with JRE, the thought of a progressive appearing on Fox caused an uproar in some pockets of the left — how could Bernie drive eyeballs and ratings to a station like that?!?!
Here’s the thing: Fox News has about the same number of viewers as CNN and MSNBC put together. More importantly, many of these viewers are disgruntled Americans from Midwestern swing states, people who voted for Obama before moving to Donald Trump, people less attached to the President than they are to an inherent feeling that something about their country is broken.
For someone seriously seeking to dethrone Trump, these are exactly the people who must be converted.
Here is the fun part about a town hall on Fox News, something progressives used to fighting with corporate Democrats might not realize.
Corporate Democrats fight as if with a scalpel. When Bernie Sanders appeared at a town hall hosted by CNN, the audience questions came from undisclosed corporate Democratic operatives, who asked suggestively about things like sexual harassment and reparations. When Bernie took part in a debate on CNN, his opponent was given the questions beforehand.
Corporate Democrats will cut you down without ever openly engaging in a fight.
Fox News, on the other hand, fights more as if with a blunt hammer. Their attacks are in-your-face and without nuance. This is exactly the reason why Fox rarely has dissenting views on their network — because these types of attacks are the easiest to defeat.
Which is precisely what happened at Bernie’s town hall.
Fox News came with their heaviest hitters — ‘are you too old,’ ‘how are you going to pay for that?’ ‘this “socialism” sure is scary, huh?’ and so on — seemingly not realizing they were presenting Bernie an opportunity to turn each of these normally-unchallenged points on its head in front of their large viewing audience.
In the first 10 minutes, Bernie was given the chance to redefine the ominous “socialism” boogeyman. “Democratic Socialism to me is creating a government, and an economy, and a society which works for all rather than just the top 1%,” he said, challenging the audience,”the American people have got to conclude whether we think it is appropriate and what America is about to have three families owning more wealth than the bottom half of American society, whether it’s appropriate for the top 1% to own more wealth than the bottom 92%”
Within 20 minutes, Bernie had informed the audience of America’s ranking as both the worst and the most expensive healthcare among developed countries, and introduced a mathematical concept previously unheard of on Fox — that a few thousand dollars of taxes is actually less money for a family to pay for healthcare than tens of thousands of dollars in premiums, deductibles, and co-payments. In other words, the only people losing money with universal healthcare are insurance and pharmaceutical companies, money placed directly in the pockets of the 99%
Within 40 minutes, Bernie had answered the question of how he was going to pay for ‘it,’ meaning his platform, adding for good measure, “we pay for what we are proposing, unlike the President of the United States.”
Again and again, Bernie openly ripped Fox News and their simplistic narratives directly in the faces of the hosts, until at one point it looked like poor old Bret Baier was close to tears.
It was like a Thanksgiving dinner where the drunk uncle spewing low-brow Fox talking points actually had to listen to a response. It was like watching an adult debate with a child.
Over 2.5 million people watched Bernie on Fox News. It’s unclear how many in the audience would have been outright converted by his performance. But it is clear that all who watched had their fundamental understanding of the issues and narratives challenged.
This is why Bernie, and other progressives, not only can, but must appear on platforms some on the left find distasteful. In the colosseum of ideas, the narratives of sources like Fox News can barely put up a fight.