On Thursday morning, Bernie Sanders took to twitter to share a clip of Joe Rogan seemingly endorsing him in the Democratic primary. The Vermont senator posted a clip of Rogan from one of his recent podcasts with New York Times op-ed columnist Bari Weiss, where the comedian stated he would probably support Sanders in the upcoming election.
”I think I’ll probably vote for Bernie. Him as a human being when I was hanging out with him, I believe in him. I like him, I like him a lot,”, Rogan said before dismissing the recent controversy between Sanders and fellow candidate Elizabeth Warren. “Look, you could dig up dirt on every single human being that’s ever existed if you catch them in their worst moment. That said, you can’t find very many with Bernie. He’s been insanely consistent his entire life. He’s basically been saying the same thing, been for the same thing his whole life. And that in and of itself is a very powerful structure to operate from.”
The endorsement, followed by Sanders’ amplification of Rogan’s support, has sparked newfound controversy and debate surrounding the campaign and has divided the senator’s supporters on social media.
Rogan is a well known comedian, former Fear Factor host and beloved UFC commentator with an exceptionally successful podcast called The Joe Rogan Experience, which has over seven million YouTube subscribers and is downloaded tens of millions of times each month. However, Rogan is almost as controversial as he is popular due to the selection of questionable guests he has hosted on his show over the past few years, including far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, disgraced far-right political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, and conservative commentator (and homophobe) Steven Crowder.
While there is much for the Sanders campaign to gain from Rogan’s endorsement, it has also created a schism between the senator’s supporters, especially among those who do not approve of Rogan’s world view or approach to his podcast. This article will attempt to lay out the various pros and cons from Rogan’s endorsement while determining its significance on the upcoming election.
Over the past decade, Joe Rogan has managed to build a podcasting empire. His show, The Joe Rogan Experience, is one of the most popular podcasts available on the internet, and was the second most downloaded podcast on Apple’s network in 2017 and 2018. The podcast also receives tens of millions of views on YouTube each month, mainly from the highly coveted young male demographic who are drawn to the relatable, laid back nature of the podcast.
Over the last couple of years, Rogan’s podcast has also become politically significant. In 2019, the comedian hosted three 2020 Democratic presidential candidates: Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, and Bernie Sanders. Rogan later claimed that other Democratic candidates like Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren requested to appear on the show but were not accepted as guests.
Yang was the first 2020 presidential candidate to appear on the show. A fringe candidate with a loyal base of young supporters, Yang’s campaign later reported a significant spike in campaign donations stemming from his appearance on the show. “Everything is up and to the right since the Joe Rogan podcast,” Yang’s campaign manager told the Daily Beast. “That was the key. That was the moment.”
Then in August 2019, Rogan hosted Sanders on his podcast, where the two discussed health care, gun laws, and — naturally — aliens. The hour-long appearance was important for several reasons. Firstly, it showed that Sanders was communicating left-wing values on platforms that did not represent his ideological stance. By appearing on the show, Sanders not only promoted his own policies, but successfully exposed Rogan’s audience to left-wing ideas in a favourable and persuasive manner.
Secondly, it was arguably a better platform for Sanders to deliver his policies than mainstream media has proven to be since the Democratic primaries began. While Sanders has not gotten a fair shake from outlets such as MSNBC, CNN, and the New York Times, he was allowed the time to reach non-traditional constituencies while on Rogan’s podcast without being interrupted or written off. He managed to persuade a portion of Rogan’s audience while still delivering his pro-working class message.
Sander’s appearance on Rogan’s show clearly left a positive mark on the host, as Rogan has since admitted that he would “probably” vote for the Vermont senator, even going so far as to say that “when I was hanging out with him, I believe in him.” If that is how Sander’s impacted Rogan after a single podcast appearance, imagine the effect it had on the millions of impressionable young minds that listen to Rogan’s show. The opportunity to win back some of the voters that mainstream Democrats have alienated is something that Sanders should continue to do and proves that he would be a formidable challenger for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
While Joe Rogan is an exceptionally popular podcast host with a cult-like following, he has also proven to be a controversial figure with a willingness to push the boundaries when it comes to acceptable guests on his shows.
Over the past decade, Rogan has hosted a wide range of characters that fall across the entire political spectrum, including liberals, conservatives, reactionaries, innocuous weirdos, conspiracy theorists, and snake oil salesmen. His list of guests include the likes of Edward Snowden, Richard Dawkins, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Jesse Ventura, Mel Gibson, Robert Downey Jr., Elon Musk, Bob Lazar, Roseanne Barr, Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, and Mike Tyson. There is no common denominator between the aforementioned guests except for their status as well-known figures.
However, Rogan has hosted several figures who should not have been offered such expansive platforms. These include Alex Jones, who promotes conspiracy theories on his InfoWars network such as white genocide, vaccines, and climate change denial. Some of his most despicable actions include claiming that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 and the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018 were false flag operations, which led to parents of victims and survivors being harassed and threatened.
Despite Jones’ reputation, Rogan still referred to him as the “most misunderstood guy on the planet” in 2019. By normalizing people like Jones as a loveable lunatic and harmless weirdo, Rogan is inadvertently exposing his audience to hateful and xenophobic rhetoric and contributing to their potential radicalization.
Rogan has also been guilty of transphobic comments over the past few years, most notably when discussing trans MMA fighter Fallon Fox in 2013, whom he referred to as a “f***ing man.”
“She calls herself a woman but... I tend to disagree,” Rogan said on his podcast in 2013 (h/t Bleacher Report). “And, uh, she, um... she used to be a man but now she has had, she’s a transgender which is (the) official term that means you’ve gone through it, right? And she wants to be able to fight women in MMA. I say no f***ing way. I say if you had a dick at one point in time, you also have all the bone structure that comes with having a dick. You have bigger hands, you have bigger shoulder joints. You’re a f***ing man. That’s a man, OK? You can’t have... that’s... I don’t care if you don’t have a dick any more…”
Fox, a natal male who transitioned in 2006, had served in the Navy as a operations specialist 2nd class for the U.S.S. Enterprise to support her daughter. She was also forced to quit college and to work as a trucker in order to save money for gender reassignment surgery. Yet despite the fact that she had transitioned seven years earlier, she was still made the target of Rogan’s bullying campaign.
“Look, [Fox is] huge! She’s not just huge, she’s got a f***ing man’s face,”Rogan continued. “I mean, you can wear all the lipstick you want. You want to be a woman and you want to take female hormones, you want to get a boob job, that’s all fine. I support your life to live, your right to live as a woman. Fight guys, yes. She has to fight guys. First of all, she’s not really a she. She’s a transgender, post-op person. The operation doesn’t shave down your bone density. It doesn’t change. You look at a man’s hands and you look at a women’s hands and they’re built different. They’re just thicker, they’re stronger, your wrists are thicker, your elbows are thicker, your joints are thicker. Just the mechanical function of punching, a man can do it much harder than a woman can, period.”
While Rogan promotes himself as a free thinker who is happy to discuss topics with both sides of the political spectrum, he has also allowed his podcast — and its substantial audience — to be hijacked by charlatans, conspiracy theorists, and bad faith actors who end up influencing his impressionable audience. However, while Rogan’s support for Sanders is controversial given Rogan’s past mistakes, it should be placed in relative contrast with the countless controversial characters who have previously endorsed Democratic candidates and were not met with the same level of scrutiny.
While Sanders’s willingness to amplify Rogan’s endorsement is problematic given Rogan’s questionable perspective on several topics, it is hardly the most controversial endorsement that a Democratic candidate has received.
In 2016, Bernie Sanders criticized Hillary Clinton’s ties to Henry Kissinger during one of the Democratic debates, admitting he found it “rather amazing” that she was proud of her relationship with Kissinger. He added that Kissinger — whose legacy includes much of the Vietnam War and the genocidal bombing of Cambodia — was “one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country.”
”I’m proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend,” Sanders added during the debate. “I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.”
Instead of referring to Kissinger as the war criminal he is for helping orchestrate the carpet-bombing of Cambodia which killed between 150,000 to 500,000 citizens among other crimes, Clinton referred to him as a “friend.” And while her comments were criticized by the media, it highlighted the hypocrisy of establishment democrats and their willingness to put aside controversial differences in the pursuit of self-interest. In the end, Clinton’s comments about Kissinger had little effect on her winning the Democratic nomination. She continued to rack up endorsements, this time from celebrities like Beyoncé and Jay Z, Lena Dunham, Bruce Springsteen and Kate Perry. The Kissinger comments became a thing of the past.
Sanders has proven that he can communicate through American pop culture after endorsements from Jack White, rapper T.I, Norah Jones and Brandi Carlile, as well as interviews with the likes of Cardi B and Killer Mike. And while Sanders did not need to amplify Rogan’s endorsement to reap its benefits, it highlights his willingness to take advantage of opportunities to capture a voter base that is generally skeptical of Democrats and their policies.
Rogan’s fan base does not have a primary political allegiance — their allegiance is to Rogan, who has taught them to question everything. Winning them over is a coup because many are potentially undecided voters. It could also open the door for other progressive voices to be featured on Rogan’s show, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib among others.
In response to the criticism, Sanders spokeswoman Briahna Joy Gray released a statement saying that “the goal of our campaign is to build a multi-racial, multi-generational movement that is large enough to defeat Donald Trump and the powerful special interests whose greed and corruption is the root cause of the outrageous inequality in America. Sharing a big tent requires including those who do not share every one of our beliefs, while always making clear that we will never compromise our values.”
While Rogan’s transphobia and questionable guests should be criticized, it is understandable why Sanders would use Rogan’s platform and support at such a crucial stage of the presidential campaign.
It is strictly political.