Tuesday, October 19, 2021


Charlie Warzel used to write for The New York Times. He now has a Substack site called Galaxy Brain, where his latest post has a bothsider feel that suggests he hasn't left Times thinking behind.

Warzel's post is about a recent appearance on the podcast of COVID skeptic Joe Rogan by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who reports on medicine for CNN. Rogan recently told his audience that he was sick with COVID and was taking the right's current favorite treatment for the disease, ivermectin. Gupta, knowing that Rogan has a large audience of skeptics and denialists, apparently hoped he could sway a few of them with mainstream science.

Though he'd probably deny it, Rogan is part of the right-wing media infrastructure, so he did to Gupta what you'd expect a right-wing interviewer to do to The Enemy: He hyperbolically attacked the doctor, with the obvious intention of "owning" him. Rogan, you see, was taking ivermectin in the form prescribed for humans. CNN had correctly noted that ivermectin is used in veterinary medicine. To Rogan, this was a "lie." From the transcript:
Joe Rogan: (02:44)
Before we get to that, does it bother you that the news network you work for out and out lied? Just outright lied about me taking horse de-wormer.

Sanjay Gupta: (02:55)
They shouldn’t have said that.

Joe Rogan: (02:56)
Why did they do that?

Sanjay Gupta: (02:57)
I don’t know.

Joe Rogan: (02:58)
You didn’t ask? You’re the medical guy over there.

Sanjay Gupta: (03:01)
I didn’t ask. I should have asked before coming on your podcast.

Joe Rogan: (03:02)
But they did it with such glee.

Sanjay Gupta: (03:03)
No, Joe.
Just as inevitably, the right seized on this brief moment as a refutation of Gupta, CNN, and the entire mainstream approach to COVID.

To you and me, this is a sign that right-wing media voices are toxic and dangerous. To Warzel, it's a sign that the discourse is bad, and everyone is at fault.

Warzel's post begins, "Today, I want to talk about a way that our media ecosystems can take even relatively boring exchanges and turn them into internet chum that helps basically nobody." He blames Gupta for starting the "chum" process:
... once Gupta tweeted the appearance, the anodyne conversation quickly and expectedly turned into culture war fodder, beginning with Gupta’s tweet:

Gupta doesn’t do himself any favors here with the self-aggrandizing ‘lion’s den’ and the ‘my friends told me not to do it’ schtick. Honestly, it’s extremely reminiscent of the Rogan/IDW ‘This is the dangerous conversation they don’t want us to have’ variety. Again: this was a pretty tame conversation! What’s important is that the tweet and the interview were immediately seized upon by online opportunists....
Warzel accepts at face value Rogan's assertion that CNN's use of the term "horse de-wormer" is a "lie" -- it is, at most, a mild misrepresentation -- and now he treats Gupta's use of the term "lion's den" as another appalling provocation. Warzel blames the tweet, in part, for right-wing reactions like the ones shown above, as if the right-wing media would have held its fire had Gupta only tweeted a little more nicely.

Then, according to Warzel, it's bad that Gupta went on the show of his CNN colleague Don Lemon and Lemon asserted that, in fact, ivermectin is a horse de-wormer.
But once this segment blew up in right-wing and mainstream media critic circles, CNN anchor Don Lemon confronted Gupta about it as well on his show. Lemon wanted to push back on Rogan’s critique and Gupta’s comments. “[Rogan] did say something about CNN and lying that I don’t think is correct,” Lemon said to Gupta. “Ivermectin is a drug that is commonly used as a horse de-wormer so it is not a lie to say that the drug is a horse de-wormer. I think that’s important. And it is not approved for Covid.”

Gupta nods along and agrees. He’s trying to thread a needle here....

Of course, this Lemon/Gupta segment itself also became grist for the right wing/MSM criticism outrage mill. Gupta was accused of backsliding and bending the knee to CNN. He was also accused of being two-faced, saying one thing to Rogan and one thing to Lemon. None of this is true.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m equating Rogan’s vaccine views or his platforming of wrong people like [COVID denialist Alex] Berenson with CNN’s annoying and disingenuous dunking. What I’m trying to get at is that the conversation this whole thing devolved into is so far afield of the kind of important conversations we could/should be having about vaccination and the pandemic as to be a massive waste of nearly everyone’s time.
But Warzel is effectively equating Gupta's tweet and Lemon's defense of CNN with what Rogan broadcasts. He's saying it all poisons the discourse more or less equally.

In fact, nobody from the left or center wants to have this fight. We'd all like people to get vaccinated, wear masks, and avoid medical quackery until we've got the pandemic under control. The right absolutely wants to have these fights. Joe Rogan's express purpose is to pick fights like these, and that's also the purpose of every right-wing media and social media figure who proudly proclaimed that CNN is awful and Rogan owned Gupta. They fight us when we challenge them and they fight us when we bend over backward to accommodate them. Why doesn't Warzel understand this.

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