Joe Rogan's Podcast of Gold: Illustration of a man sitting on bags of money and boxes labeled "ivermectin," "anti-vax fringe platforming," "Kids don't need vax," and singing into a microphone. With a "Rogan Experience" sign behind him, he is singing, to the tune of "Heart of Gold," I wanna earn... Money to burn ... I've got a podcast worth its weight in gold ... Mis-in-formation, It pays the bills, son, And keeps me mining this podcast of go-o-old...
Credit: John Cole, / CTNewsJunkie via Cagle Cartoons / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Barth Keck

During a recent scroll through my Facebook feed, I was struck by a post from someone I know personally – that is, not just some random Facebook “friend”:

“You don’t need carbs or sugar, you don’t need veggies, you don’t need fruit, you don’t need fiber. You just need meat, fat, and water to be in optimal health.”

The post went on from there, but you get the gist. I responded with an excerpt from “Healthline,” a credible source (according to Media Bias/Fact Check) that outlined both the benefits and downsides of a “carnivore diet.”

My FB companion was persistent, citing a variety of technical terms (triglyceride level, gluconeogenesis, glycation) and encouraging me to listen to a podcast called “The Plant Free MD,” his primary source for nutrition information.

I listened to portions of several episodes, noting the confident and informed tone of Dr. Anthony Chaffee, the podcast host. And that’s when it struck me: While I typically devote much of my media-literacy curriculum to social media, I should also devote time to podcasts, which have steadily become a potent source of information – and misinformation.

I admit I’m not a podcast guy; I’ve always preferred the written word. However, I might soon be an endangered species (if I’m not already).

“Roughly half of U.S. adults say they have listened to a podcast in the past year, including one-in-five who report listening to podcasts at least a few times a week,” according to a new Pew Research Center study. “Among U.S. podcast listeners – those who have listened to a podcast in the past 12 months – 29% say that staying up to date about current events is a major reason they listen to podcasts.”

In a study of Apple’s Top 100 podcasts as of November of 2020, the Brookings Institution found “the rate at which popular podcasts endorsed misleading narratives rose dramatically after the election, with more than 50% of all episodes (344 of 666) between November 3 and January 6 endorsing unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud or related claims.”

“While digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter have received significant scrutiny for their role in permitting the spread of those narratives, far less attention has been paid to podcasting,” added Brookings. “By virtue of both its intimacy and its scale, podcasting can serve as a powerful vector for misinformation.”

Perhaps no podcast better exemplifies the simultaneous powers and pitfalls of the format than “The Joe Rogan Experience” with its 11 million listeners. Rogan’s “average Joe” persona is engaging as he discusses a variety of topics with multiple guests. But that creates a potential problem, a point I’ve noted before:

“Rogan’s casual and conversational style actually exacerbates the damage caused by guests’ misinformation. As Vanessa Otero of Ad Fontes Media explains, Rogan’s laid-back approach prevents him from fact-checking his guests effectively, especially in real time.”

Moreover, Rogan is not shy about interviewing virtually anyone who claims expertise on a topic, an approach that resulted in his hosting a physician who spouted COVID-19 misinformation. Consequently, 260 medical professionals took exception and wrote an open letter calling on Spotify to “establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.”

For his part, Rogan – who’s also a professional comedian – offered an apology of sorts in a nine-minute video but also had this to say during one stand-up routine: “I talk shit for a living – that’s why this is so baffling to me. If you’re taking vaccine advice from me, is that really my fault? What dumb shit were you about to do when my stupid idea sounded better?”

Rogan can joke all he wants, but millions of people still hang on his every word whether the topic is COVID-19 or professional wrestling. After all, “Listening to a podcast is like hanging out with friends and enjoying a discussion on a topic that you’re interested in,” according to “The Podcast Host,” a website resource for podcasters. “That relationship that’s established helps listeners keep coming back.”

Quite likely, that’s how my Facebook friend feels about Dr. Chaffee as he assertively discusses his plant-free diet. I get it. Why would such a poised and credentialed professional mislead people about their diets? To that point, I sincerely wish my Facebook friend the best of health. 

As for me, I’ll stick to this advice, corroborated on a number of credibility-checked sources: “Overall, the carnivore diet is unnecessarily restrictive. Eating a balanced diet with a variety of healthy foods is more sustainable and will likely afford you more health benefits.”

In other words, my information diet is just like my food diet: balanced. I consume more than just meat and podcasts.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 32st year as an English teacher and 18th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him here.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.