Outlets reporting on Joe Rogan also promote medical quackery and Covid misinformation.
Through their advertising partners, they are profiting from conspiratorial pseudoscience.
First of all a little context; I am not a Joe Rogan Fan. I have listened to his podcast when he has had guests I am interested in (like Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang) but in general I find him a little low brow and, well, gullible. When, last week, Spotify decided to ditch Neil Young and keep Joe Rogan, I went with Neil. I had actually been having a bit of a moment with the Godfather of Grunge in the previous month or so. Something about the Ukraine crisis had put that song, “Keep on rockin’ in the free world”, in my head. Anyhow, for me Spotify is all about music, and losing an iconic artist like that put a major gap in the library where some righteous dad-rock should be.
I am also, in general, concerned with issues of information in the public sphere. So when google recommended I check out an article on Ars Technica called ‘Joe “just conversations” Rogan defends misinformation like a classic grifter’, I clicked. The article is essentially about comparing Joe Rogan to Gwyneth Paltrow, pointing out they both use the same language, and hock dubious wellness products and questionable health advice.
The problem is, so does Ars Technica. Their health reporter, Beth Mole, writes ‘The Goop website is still happy to tell you that your liver and kidneys don’t work and you need to “detox.” This, it is implied, is a bad thing to go round telling people.
But just a few thumb-scrolls below, the Ars Technica site does the same, showing, on the mobile site where I first encountered the article:
The black text is kind of hidden by the dark theme, so I have adjusted to contrast to make it clearer:
Tell me again, Beth, how real journalists (who are so distinct from shady podcasters like Joe Rogan) would want nothing to do with this kind of garbage? Ok great. Now tell your boss.
A quick look at the web version brought up a different set of ads, including one spruiking the advice of a cardiologist about “this one food”. This and other ads served when I hit refresh led to the website of a Dr. Steven Gundry, a cardiologist turned quack who says real doctors are lying to you and promises to reveal secret cures that will solve all your problems. A quick look at Wikipedia shows he has been rebuked by the The American Heart Association for inflated claims about MRNa vaccines causing heart problems — exactly the kind of misinformation Ars Technica is attacking Joe Rogan for promoting, because he cares more about money than people’s health. Not like them, right?
These ads are served by a third party chumbox provider called Outbrain (who have a market-cap of just under $700 million USD). Chumboxes present a randomized mix of editorial content and advertising, deliberately confusing the news consumer as to which is which. Ars Technica is not alone in this hypocrisy. The Outbrain website includes an impressive list of publications with whom they partner to place advertising:
A preliminary look at Time and Men’s Health — at least their coverage of the Rogan/Young dispute, didn’t show them promoting anything that bad.
The same could not be said for the New York Post, part of the Newscorp empire, the largest news publisher in the world. Its coverage of the Rogan story did have a similar, Outbrain powered, chumbox. So did nine.com.au — part of 9-Fairfax, the second biggest publisher in my home country of Australia (after Newscorp) — complete with pseudoscientific, quack cures.
It’s true that Joe Rogan put the misinformation in the content itself, not advertising. But that’s because (it seems to me) he’s actually dumb enough to believe it, and is expressing a sincere if misguided concern. These media behemoths, on the other hand, know exactly how dangerous this stuff is, and promote it for the money, cynically using intermediaries such as Outbrain to maintain the flimsiest pretense of plausible deniability.