ANDERSON – Some of us might like to see Joe Rogan stripped of his podcast and left with no place to spread all of those conspiracy theories. We cheer when Neil Young says it’s either him or Rogan. We offer high fives when more musicians line up to join the fight. Rogan, after all, is spreading lies. He should be silenced.

Maybe we ought to rethink. In an essay for the Daily Beast, philosophy instructor Ben Burgis of Georgia State University suggests progressives shouldn’t be so comfortable with the idea of a private business such as Spotify denying a guy like Rogan a platform. Burgis rejects the suggestion that private businesses should have every right to limit free speech. He also rejects the common refrain that free speech protections shouldn’t apply to misinformation. He insists it’s not that simple.

“The problem is that, in practice, all political disputes are at least partly disputes about facts,” he writes. “Will raising the minimum wage result in increased unemployment? Do the police pull over Black drivers in such a disproportionate way that it’s best explained by racism? How many civilians are killed in the drone war?”

Rogan doesn’t pretend to have all the answers about COVID-19 or pretty much anything else. “These podcasts are very strange because they’re just conversations,” he says in a nearly 10-minute video uploaded to Instagram. “And oftentimes I have no idea what I’m going to talk about until I sit down and talk to people. And that’s why some of my ideas are not that prepared or fleshed out because I’m literally having them in real time, but I do my best, and they’re just conversations, and I think that’s also the appeal of the show.”

Rogan specifically mentions two of the so-called experts who have appeared on his show, Dr. Peter McCullough and Dr. Robert Malone. Rogan calls them “highly credentialed, very intelligent, very accomplished people.” Others have called them crackpots.

McCullough, a cardiologist based in Dallas, claimed during an appearance in December that the pandemic was planned, that the COVID-19 vaccines were experimental, that previously infected people had “permanent immunity” and that a federal reporting system showed vaccines had killed thousands of people. Fact-checkers found all of those claims to be inaccurate.

Malone, meanwhile, has been banned from Twitter for violating the platform’s COVID-19 misinformation policies, and YouTube has removed videos of an interview he did with Rogan. Malone claims to be the “inventor” of mRNA vaccines, but he’s really just one of countless scientists involved in the effort.

Rogan insists his guests simply have views outside the mainstream. “I do not know if they’re right,” he said. “I don’t know because I’m not a doctor. I’m not a scientist. I’m just a person who sits down and talks to people and has conversations with them. Do I get things wrong? Absolutely.”

He insists, though, that he’s always eager to set the record straight. “I try to correct it because I’m interested in telling the truth,” he said. “I’m interested in finding out what the truth is, and I’m interested in having interesting conversations with people that have differing opinions. I’m not interested in only talking to people that have one perspective.”

His critics will argue that guys like Rogan are dangerous in the midst of a pandemic. They say spreading misinformation about the virus and the vaccines might very well cost lives.

Burgis offers his own warning. “Any progressive willing to weaken free speech norms for the sake of whatever positive impact shutting up Rogan might have in the short term, though, should think long and hard about how this movie is likely to end,” he said.

“It might end with some company deciding your thoughts should be silenced. It might end with your side left without a platform to speak.” 

Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI News Indiana.