Comedian and left-leaning activist Jon Stewart defended Joe Rogan in a recent episode of his Podcast The Problem With Jon Stewart. Specifically focusing on the notion that today’s fact is tomorrow’s misinformation, he used the example of the “weapons of mass destruction” as an excuse to go to war with Iraq. A falsehood that justified “preemptive strikes” under the Bush Doctrine resulted in thousands of deaths.
Hindsight is 20/20, and it is easy to make judgments after the fact, but it is harder to forgive mistakes when there does not seem to be an honest broker of information. Social media has become a cause of news for a large part of the populace, with some studies telling at least half of Americans to look to social media platforms for current events. However, these platforms’ priorities do not align with the concept of traditional news. Facebook recently admitted in court documents that their ‘fact checks’ are, in fact, just opinions. An opinion drives a specific narrative that is not always tethered to reality.
Stewart also made the salient point that Rogan is not an ideologue and can be engaged. It is the entire point of free speech. There is a marketplace of ideas, and when people are forced to defend their positions from challenges, it exposes the crazy and lifts the winners. When censorship is allowed to suppress opinions, it skews the results, like a bad climate study. When you defend the right of people to express unpopular ideas, you are defending your right to speak.
The mainstream media also is interested in suppressing people with non-traditional platforms, like Rogan, because they threaten the traditional news business. Rogan’s podcast reaches millions more viewers than cable news. Traditional news is only concerned with preserving traditional news.
In his Podcast, Stewart commented how his doubts about the Iraq war were not censored, but he fails to realize that the gatekeepers still had control over most of the information flow during his time. It is a different world now where comedians can build platforms larger than cable news and target concentrated centers of power. Stewart is right about the necessity for free speech. The only difference between his time and now is that today’s conspiracy theory becomes tomorrow’s fact.