Rogan and Goldberg in the Sinners’ Stool
The Remedy For Misinformation Is More Discussion—Not Elite Curation
Joe Rogan and Whoopi Goldberg have been sent to the sinners’ stool for transgressions against reigning orthodoxy.
The diverse identities and perspectives they represent have occasioned a clarifying moment. It’s an opportunity we should seize.
Rogan Changes the Game
Joe Rogan is a force of nature. His podcast is extraordinarily successful, outpacing the reach of legacy news and opinion outlets.
Rogan stands apart. He listens respectfully to guests of varying points of view. He asks penetrating questions. He’s not seeking to impose his preexisting views, but to inform himself and his audience.
He’s refreshingly open to changing his mind.
Rogan’s not readily categorizable in partisan political terms. He’s had kind words—and tough words—for politicians ranging from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump.
The Joe Rogan Experience is an apt title for his program. Rogan offers his audiences a participatory role. The contrast with the stale, formulaic conventions of legacy outlets could not be more stark.
Unsurprisingly, Rogan’s unanticipated success is received as a threat to the self-conception and status of elites in journalism and politics.
Traditional, prestige outlets that once aspired to speak to and for the nation are increasingly serving segmented audiences. They interact in a self-involved loop, intensifying partisan and cultural tribal identities and conflict. Such divisive practices serve the financial interests of media outlets, and the political interests of partisans.
This is occurring amid the high tide of meritocracy as an upper middle-class ethos. Many in this group, including journalists and others in the political class, comport themselves as sharing a distinct identity. Many appear to view their possession of formal education credentials as an indicator of earned privilege. They approach the public square not so much to persuade as to instruct. They recite the catechisms of democracy, yet often seem to view elections as blank-check plebiscites to ratify their status.
Joe Rogan declines to acknowledge the jurisdiction of established journalistic gatekeepers. His approach is perceived as a rebuke to their conformity of viewpoint. He ignores their idols. His career path stands in defiance of the “professionalization” of the media that has accompanied its viewpoint homogenization and loss of influence. People who’ve accumulated massive student debt to obtain a master’s degree in journalism are being schooled by an entertainer previously best known for “The Fear Factor.”
The Next Nationalism is a reader-supported publication. To support our work, please consider becoming a paid subscriber.
Perhaps it was inevitable that the pandemic response would bring long simmering criticism and resentment of Rogan to a full boil. There’s no better test of one’s bedrock values of free expression than a public health crisis.
Rogan has been roundly criticized by the prelates of the approved narrative of the pandemic. He’s attacked for granting a platform to individuals who question or challenge the elite consensus.
Words and deeds and identity intersect in the decisions of Americans to vaccinate. The unvaccinated are at significantly greater risk of infection, posing risks to themselves and others.
Such concerns have focused efforts to de-platform Rogan. Several entertainment celebrities, following 70s singing sensation Neil Young, declared they would sever their ties to the digital service Spotify unless Rogan were removed.
Spotify elected to maintain its arrangement with Rogan.
Whoopi Goldberg’s History Lessons
As the Rogan contretemps continued, another media flareup ensued.
Whoopi Goldberg, a longtime comedian and commentator, found herself in hot water for offering a bizarre, perhaps entirely original interpretation of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime.
According to Goldberg, the Holocaust
is White people doing it to White people; y'all go fight amongst yourselves…. If you're going to do this, let's be truthful about it, because the Holocaust isn't about race. It's not about race.
Viewers might be forgiven for thinking they’d inadvertently tuned into Drunk History—except the Comedy Central show has far higher standards of accuracy.
Goldberg, née Caryn Elaine Johnson, subsequently backed off from these indefensible reinterpretations of uncontestable facts.
Contra Rogan, Goldberg is not in hot water for creating an unruly platform that questions the received wisdom of the moment. She unguardedly expressed an unaware, casual antisemitism that has begun to reappear as the lamentable history of the Nazi era recedes in memory.
Goldberg was not seeking an exchange of views. Her framing was that racism must be comprehended through one lens—White oppression of Blacks in the American historical context. She appears to believe that her personal identity confers an expectation of unquestioning deference to her views on race.
The View is an apt name for her ABC program. Goldberg and her colleagues reliably offer a single viewpoint: comfortable, cosmopolitan, upper-middle-class, culturally left-leaning sensibilities. As a foil, they generally include a suitably isolated, corresponding voice from the right.
Meeting the Moment
Rogan and Goldberg have each apologized for their missteps. This is appropriate.
For the moment, both of their positions appear secure.
Goldberg has been suspended for two weeks by ABC. The network CEO explained:
Effective immediately, I am suspending Whoopi Goldberg for two weeks for her wrong and hurtful comments. While Whoopi has apologized, I’ve asked her to take time to reflect and learn about the impact of her comments. The entire ABC News organization stands in solidarity with our Jewish colleagues, friends, family and communities.
It's a fair question whether Goldberg should have been admonished in this way. The misunderstanding behind her comments is profound. Nonetheless, our focus would be better placed on the idea and errors expressed, not the individual who unartfully expresses them.
The Rogan and Goldberg incidents point toward a recurring issue in American history.
Who should decide questions of national governance? Should coercive power be reposed in elites? Or should it remain with the people at large, who hold ultimate authority?
As with so much else, Thomas Jefferson eloquently framed the question:
I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.
Rogan’s approach is consistent with the Jeffersonian ideal. He’s striving to serve his audience. He’s committed to making corrections to factual errors and giving context to disputes that relate to values as well as data.
ABC’s apparent position is that after two weeks off the air, Goldberg will return to the program, business as usual.
That would be unfortunate.
Far better that ABC offer wide-ranging discussions of the issues Goldberg raised.
It would be informative to recount the bizarre conceptions, irrational distinctions, and ceaseless cruelties of Nazi racial laws, based on a hierarchy with “Aryan” Germans at the summit.
Such discussions could engage Americans in contemporary debates relating to individual and group identities. This could include examination of renewed notions of racial hierarchies offered as an alternative to a race-neutral or colorblind vision. It could explore how racism should be defined as our understandings and sensibilities evolve.
Whether the topic is vaccination or racism, Rogan and Goldberg have the right, as Americans, to their own views. Rather than seeking to instruct the rest of us, they are uniquely positioned to dedicate their platforms to helping millions of us learn and grow and advance our national experiment.
Images: Sinners Stool—Kim Traynor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Norman Rockwell Freedom of Speech— Office of War Information, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.