Loving The Info You’re With
Earlier this week, in a now deleted letter on his website, Mr. Young requested that either Spotify remove his music or The Joe Rogan Experience for the latter’s ‘false information about vaccines.’ Spotify sided with the 100 million podcast, removing Mr. Young from the platform. Songwriter Joni Mitchell declared and Bruce Springsteen & E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren announced that they will be removing their music as well. Spotify lost $4 billion in market value this week.
As usual, there’s a lot to tackle, so I’ll break it down in smaller, more digestible parts.
In regards to Mr. Young, things aren’t entirely clear cut. Like many musical artists, he doesn’t fully own his catalog, requiring his label Warner Bros-Reprise Records to honor his wish to pull his songs. Furthermore, he complained about Spotify’s sound quality in the past, temporarily removing his music in 2015 because “Spotify streams the artist’s music at five percent of its quality.” His actions are brilliant from a marketing standpoint, but perhaps they aren’t all about Mr. Rogan.
Now the pluck that broke Mr. Young’s guitar string (sorry, I had to….): the December 31st JRE podcast with Doctor Robert Malone, who sports far better credentials than your usual vaccine skeptic. Dr. Malone earned his medical doctorate in 1991 and contributed to early research concerning mRNA and DNA vaccines. An immunologist not immune from social media exaggeration, he touts himself as “the original inventor of mRNA vaccination as a technology, DNA vaccination, and multiple non-viral DNA and RNA/mRNA platform delivery technologies” on his website’s homepage, despite many others being involved in the technologies and research.
Dr. Malone didn’t have a history of courting controversy prior to the COVID pandemic. So what happened in the past couple of years? Again, per his website:
“I used to believe that the FDA, NIH and CDC were working for the people, not big pharma. I thought that if we could just re-purpose already known, safe drugs for emerging infectious diseases, we could quickly find ways to reduce the death rate. I thought that drug and vaccine development were regulated by the Federal government for the common good. What I have learned over the last two years is that regulatory capture of the federal government has warped and shaped the work of Congress and Federal agencies to such an extent that they no longer represent what is in the best interests of the nation, the world and humanity.”
Dr. Malone contends “shortcuts” in the COVID vaccines and the pursuit of big profits are endangering the American people.
So you have a fairly usual story of someone no longer believing in the institutions they once did and becoming a “truth teller” which can be legitimate but also can be exploited for quick profits, fame and influence. For the sake of space and time, let us take his concerns as legitimate.
Dr. Malone compared the focus on mask mandates with a certain 20th century totalitarian regime:
“…the how question of a third of the population basically being hypnotized and whatever Tony Fauci in the mainstream media feeds them-whatever CNN tells them- is true. Let me illustrate that the other day I was looking through New York Times recent articles about Omicron and pediatrics in preparation for this and making some slideshows and I saw this headline in the New York Times. An epidemiologist and a vaccinologist and the title was “How you should think about children and Omicron.” It was blatantly saying this is how you should think-we’re going to tell you how to think, okay? People have got to get that into their head that’s the world we’re in right now. Now what Matthias Desmond has shared with us-brilliant insights-is another one of those aha! Now that makes sense. Which is that this comes from basically European intellectual inquiry into what the heck happened in Germany in the 20s and 30s. You know, very intelligent, highly educated population and they went barking mad. And how did that happen? The answer is mass formation psychosis. When you have a society that has been decoupled from each other and has free-floating anxiety in a sense that things don’t make sense, we can’t understand it, and then their attention gets focused by a leader or series of events on one small point, just like hypnosis, they literally can become hypnotized and can be led anywhere.”
Most reasonable people acknowledge some of Dr. Malone’s points. There’s a hive mind approach regarding the vaccine as citizens, politicians and public figures on both sides are using it as a rallying cry. Either you are sheeple for getting it or a murderer if not. We have ‘decoupled’ from each other and are anxious although we have ample reasons not to be.
The NYT article I believe he’s referring to is “How To Think About Omicron’s Risk For Children” published in the Opinion-Guest Essay section. If the piece were put on the front page without the opinion label, I’d be totally in Dr. Malone’s court. However, with the clear identifiers and slightly less intense title, the doctor overstated his case.
He further undermined his argument with the comparison to Nazi Germany. If you want to make a point about the ‘hive mind’ or dangers of conformity, use something else. History is full of less inflammatory examples. By bringing in one of the most destructive regimes in human history, you distract from your main point.
Here’s a pro tip: If you’re thinking about comparing some political scenario to Nazi Germany, Stalinist Soviet Union or insert totalitarian regime, don’t.
Unless your objective is to get cancelled to cry foul, galvanizing your base. It’s entire possible Dr. Malone wanted that to happen. He has made other bizarre comments in his media blitz. Last June, he retweeted a study claiming the COVID vaccines cause two deaths for every three lives they save. Last October, he claimed the unvaccinated “are at risk from the unvaccinated” on The Sean Hannity Show.
The evidence is overwhelming that vaccines and boosters reduce COVID rates. As I detailed in “It’s Time To Get Poked”, vaccines show major side effects within two months and the smallpox vaccine has been the deadliest in history so far, with one to two deaths per million vaccinated.
Overall, Dr. Malone doesn’t seem to be a credible source, at least concerning COVID vaccines.
Mr. Rogan clarified his position regarding vaccines last April, revealing that his parents got the vaccine while encouraging “many” people to get it. He pointed out that the desire to not spread COVID to others is a different debate than simply protecting yourself, which is true.
A few days after the Malone episode, 2900 medical professionals wrote an open letter to Spotify “to immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform”, also citing Mr. Rogan’s questionable medical claims throughout the pandemic.
The whole scenario raises questions about the intersection between artistic expression and free speech.
In general, I don’t take my medical advice from Joe Rogan or any podcaster, provided they aren’t established medical authorities, but Mr. Rogan has a huge audience averaging 11 million views per podcast- only the Super Bowl beats him, so we have to be mindful of the influence he and his guests have on a wide swath of the population.
Some argue that Mr. Young and musicians leaving Spotify amount to censorship. Per Britannica, censorship is “the changing or the suppression or prohibition of speech that is deemed subversive of the common good. It occurs in all manifestations of authority to some degree, but in modern times it has been of special importance in relation to government and rule of law.”
According to this definition, these musicians are engaging in censorship, but as Britannica articulates, all “manifestations of authority” employ some form of it. The free speech-censorship debate is not new to our times and is a constant battle to find the “sweet spot” between suppression and expression.
The Young-Rogan battle reminds me of the classic Schneck v. United States Supreme Court case, which established the “clear and present danger” test for restricting written or spoken words. As the court ruled: “the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”
From Mr. Young’s perspective, Mr. Rogan is clearly entertaining and spreading information known to be false by the medical community, creating a panic about the vaccines which exasperates the pandemic and puts people in danger.
Since Mr. Young and his fellow musicians aren’t government figures, there’s not as much potential for abuse. They have a limited scope in whom they can influence. It’s far less problematic for private citizens to boycott speech they don’t believe in.
Spotify has a different obligation. Again, they are not a governmental body, but as the host of Mr. Rogan and countless others, they are responsible for their content and its effects on the audience. As journalist Jill Filipovic argues:
“But we’ve always understood that there’s a big difference between artists and musicians, whose crafts have always drawn in elements of fantasy and interpretation, and those like Rogan who claim to speak from a place of expertise and authority. It’s like comparing David Bowie to Walter Cronkite.
Not that Rogan is any Cronkite; he’s not a reputable journalist, or a journalist at all. But he hosts an interview show that purports to inform his audience. It’s not billed as fiction or fantasy — it’s not like David Bowie claiming to be Major Tom (no reasonable person would actually believe Bowie was floating around in space).
Reasonable people, though, may very well believe that when Rogan presents his guests as well-informed experts that they are indeed well-informed experts. Rogan claims his show is an intellectually honest exploration of ideas. The COVID misinformation Rogan is spreading is told as truth. And a startling number of people believe it.
Spotify should not be able to have it both ways. If Rogan’s podcast is more akin to music than a truth exploration of ideas featuring serious experts, then the company should categorize it as fiction or fantasy, and make clear to listeners that what they’re hearing is as divorced from reality as Major Tom as from planet Earth.
Or they should listen to Neil Young and require that their best-paid and most popular podcast hosts not pose a direct threat to public health.”
I won’t claim JRE is as divorced from reality as Major Tom was from Earth, but all the data I can find points to Dr. Malone being incorrect. Therefore, giving him a large platform is a danger to public health. Ms. Filipovic has it right: Mr. Rogan needs to change something: how he labels his show, the vetting of guests and/or challenging them in the moment because sometimes people are the best at discrediting themselves, a la Joseph McCarthy.
If Mr. Rogan continues business as usual, Spotify shouldn’t remove JRE, but can remove certain episodes as they’ve done in the past, provide fact checks/counters in transcripts and/or suggest alternative podcasts in a user’s fee.
Unlike relationships, we can’t love the facts we’re with. We gotta love the objective truth and get to it if we’re not already there.