The New York Times editorial board wanted to make their Democratic primary endorsement a big deal. They published candidate interviews and broadcast the process on the FX reality show The Weekly on Sunday night. The show was a platform supposedly indicative of their decision’s significance.
But a much more powerful endorsement came just a day later. And it only took seconds.
Joe Rogan says he's voting for Bernie pic.twitter.com/2jGct9ncwp
— Nathan Bernard (@nathanTbernard) January 21, 2020
Comedian and DMT-adoring podcast host Joe Rogan said on The Joe Rogan Experience (JRE) Monday that he’d probably vote for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. It was an offhand statement, not a formal endorsement. There was no big reveal or attempt to manufacture hype or anticipation. Rogan just blurted it out while answering a question posed to him by, ironically, Times opinion editor Bari Weiss, who regularly smears Sanders and his surrogates as anti-semitic. But the internet shockwaves were almost immediate. Sanders supporters celebrated online, some calling for Rogan to run as the Vermont senator’s vice president. Others elevated older Rogan clips during which he seems to advocate for universal healthcare.
Your job pays your health insurance premiums, you’re healthy, & don’t think you should have to pay for someone else’s healthcare?
— Becca ♒️ ??? (@Becca2400) January 19, 2020
Within hours, it became obvious that Rogan’s endorsement, even a tepid one, means far more than the Times’ in 2020.
Podcasts are the most influential form of new media, and even in an oversaturated field Rogan dominates. JRE consistently tops Apple’s podcast charts, both for most overall downloads and individual episodes. He attracts listeners from across the political spectrum with his sometimes questionable choice of guests, elevating people with reductive, racist and downright dangerous worldviews like Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Alex Jones and several others. He’s an entertainer, not a journalist, and generally refrains from challenging his guests on their extreme positions which draws criticism, particularly from the left. But Rogan’s politics are fluid—he seems to skew libertarian, but regularly displays progressive leanings. And that’s why every Democratic candidate has tried to get on his show.
Every 2020 dem candidate has tried to go on Joe Rogan and he rejected all of them except Tulsi, Bernie, and Yang pic.twitter.com/qEG8nz7kqN
— Cory Scott (@coryascott) January 17, 2020
The sheer size of Rogan’s audience makes his podcast an idea political platform. Sanders understands this firsthand. His 2019 appearance garnered nearly 11 million views on YouTube and positive responses from subscribers and commenters. But it’s not just that Rogan’s podcast accumulates more than 200 million downloads per month. It’s that people don’t associate Rogan (or independent podcasts in general) with the baked in constraints and biases of major media organizations. Rogan’s listeners don’t necessarily tune in for politics. They’re looking for entertainment and distraction. When Rogan gets political, they’ll likely pay attention out of their respect for him and general interest in his no-bullshit longform conversations. By going on Joe Rogan, you’re reaching people who might otherwise not hear or think twice about your message. And you’re reaching a ton of them.
Contrast that with the Times editorial board’s endorsement display. It featured a gaggle of journalists trying to look serious and objective while grilling candidates on the issues. But they focused on issues only avid New York Times readers care about and appeared smarmy throughout. Their decision to split their endorsement between Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar—labelling the latter as a “realist”—confirmed that disconnect. It’s the exact opposite of JRE where Rogan rarely takes himself too seriously, and a sign that the Times self image as the paper of record has outgrown its actual influence.
Most Sanders supporters likely weren’t surprised when the Times editorial board didn’t endorse their candidate. Major media outlets have been lukewarm on Bernie from the beginning, and that’s putting it lightly. But enormous swaths of average people gather news and information from new media like Rogan’s podcast. They’re people the Times will never reach. And that makes Rogan’s endorsement that much more meaningful.