Last week, while interviewing comedian Jimmy Dore on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, Jimmy and Joe had the following exchange:
“My show was never about guests, my show was all about my opinion, and calling out bullsh*t,” Dore said.
“You’re doing the right thing,” Rogan replied. “I’m doing the wrong thing because they all keep asking to be on my show.”
“I’ve had requests from all of them,” he continued. “Biden, Warren, Mayor Pete.”
“How do you resist that sh*t?” Dore asked.
“Because I’m gonna have my friends. I’d rather talk to my friends,” Rogan responded, suggesting that he has no plans to speak to any other presidential candidates.
In this brief exchange, Rogan admitted to possibly the greatest blunder of his entire career. After interviewing other presidential candidates (Sanders, Yang, and Gabbard), Rogan apparently turned down interviews with the others. The immediate response from many of his fans was to say, as Joe himself says, that he simply does not want to interview people he does not think are fun or interesting to talk to. That is the concept of the show, after all: Rogan interviews whoever he feels like interviewing. But, be that as it may, Rogan did fumble the moment. In order to understand why, let’s talk about who Rogan is and what he has said in the past about the need for long-form discussions with candidates for president.
Rogan is part of a group of alternative independent media personalities sometimes referred to as the Intellectual Dark Web. Like his compatriots, he is quick to criticize mainstream media outlets. In fact, a hallmark of the IDW associates is their particular disdain for how major news media channels like CNN and MSNBC report politics. In recent months, much of their criticism has focused in particular on the Democratic primary debates, which are badly in need of reform. They are hyperbolic, the moderation is biased, the setups for debates are full of gotcha questions, and candidates are judged by their ability to generate sound bites and choreographed conflicts. In short, the current format does not allow voters to get to know a candidate very well. Rogan and the IDW feel this problem is a deep threat to our democracy.
For example, here is a recent exchange Rogan had with candidate Tulsi Gabbard:
Gabbard started by saying, “You’ve got 60 to 75 seconds to get your point across, to talk about hey here’s my position, here’s what I would do with North Korea, here’s what I would deal with immigration reform in 60 seconds or less.”
Rogan replied, “We are going to let our potential future leaders discuss the most important things on Earth, and it’s going to be interrupted by what, gum [commercials]? It’s so dumb.”
Finally, gabbard added, “People are getting really turned off by it. They have alternatives. They’re not getting anything of value from the conversation that’s happening on these debates that are really like political reality TV. They are completely set up for conflict and confrontation to drive up ratings so … the corporate media can make more money."
Clearly, Rogan supports changing how debates are held. To that end, one of the reforms that have been proposed by the IDW and the anti-establishment Left more broadly is a style based on long-form conversations, with enough time to allow candidates to say everything they want to say about a topic. The idea would be to provide a more in-depth and somewhat toned down conversation with candidates so that voters can actually get to know what they are like in the real world, as opposed to on a spotlit podium adhering to a rigidly timed question-answer-debate format. In fact, the type of long format conversation that seems to be the most common suggestion among Rogan fans is–surprise, surprise–Rogan’s show. Most of his fans would love to see him invite the candidates on the show, mostly because of the entertainment value, but also because of how beneficial such a format would be to our democracy. A petition has been circulating on Change.org to have Joe Rogan moderate the Democratic debates this year. As of now, over 250,000 people have signed the petition.
Of course, it is highly unlikely that Joe Rogan will ever moderate a Democratic debate, but the next best thing would be to have him interview all of the candidates on his podcast. Doing so would solidify the claim that long-form interviews are valuable politically and viable from a commercial perspective. In some ways, Rogan has already proven as much by hosting Gabbard, Sanders, and Yang, which gave each candidate much wider exposure than they otherwise would have received, including millions of views on youtube and via podcast downloads. To have the entire slate of presidential candidates on his show would solidify its reputation as a forum for authentic political conversations, put it on the map as a regular campaign stop in future elections, and secure Rogan’s place as one of the greatest political interviewers of his generation.
So what’s the problem here? Why didn’t he do it?
Well, as Rogan said, he just was not interested. He didn’t want to interview the other candidates. And hey, that’s what the show is all about.
You can’t fault the guy for being himself, even if it does suck that Rogan is who he is in this one regard. It would have been very interesting to see what might have happened if Rogan and the IDW had put their money where their mouth is and hosted all of the presidential candidates instead of just those whom Rogan finds interesting. To rely on one man’s taste here is fine, and it is, again, his show. But that does not change the fact that it is a missed opportunity for the audience and Americans in general. Rogan talks a big game about the need to reform the debates, but when given the opportunity to make a change, he failed to seize the moment.
The movement to reform the debates is crucial, and it will grow as 2020 continues. The Democratic debates are not over yet, but they will likely force candidates to perform the same uselessly dramatized routines as all of the debates so far have. There is no sign that the Commission on Presidential Debates will change the way the presidential debates are conducted during the general election. But perhaps the way to reform the system is not to take something old and change it, but to create something brand new. Rogan might not be the right person for this job, granted. But his example could serve as inspiration for a long format debate. In any case, if a new format somehow does emerge out of the establishment’s response to the current dissatisfaction with the debates, then Rogan will deserve some credit. Even if he has not taken the lead in creating the new platform, he has moved the conversation forward.