The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Why does anyone care what Ben & Jerry’s, Whoopi Goldberg and Joe Rogan think?

A smartphone displays the Spotify page for "The Joe Rogan Experience" podcast. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The dumbing down of America can be traced in the recent controversies involving three well-known opinionators whose influence is in inverse proportion to their perspicacity.

Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream maker with more than half a million Twitter followers, posted a statement that no one needed about the looming war in Ukraine that no one, except possibly Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, wants. “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war,” the company wrote. “We call on President Biden to de-escalate tensions and work for peace rather than prepare for war. Sending thousands more US troops to Europe in response to Russia’s threats against Ukraine only fans the flame of war.”

This tweet, which seemed to blame President Biden, not Putin, for escalating tensions, provoked well-deserved incredulity. Twitter wits suggested that “appease-mint” is their least favorite brand of ice cream and wondered about the foreign policy views of Breyers, Haagen-Dazs, and Blue Bell.

Alas, this is hardly the first foray into foreign policy from an ice cream brand whose best-selling flavor, appropriately enough, is called “Half Baked.” Last year, Ben & Jerry’s announced a boycott of the West Bank and East Jerusalem while continuing to peddle its products in China — a far more egregious human rights violator than Israel. Well, what do you expect from a company whose board is long on cute nicknames (one member is “Wonderful Woman,” another is “Green Goddess”) but short on foreign policy expertise?

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Next we come to Whoopi Goldberg, the talented comedian and actor who was suspended for two weeks from ABC’s talk show “The View” for her ill-informed comments about the Holocaust. She was under the misapprehension that because both Adolf Hitler and his victims were White, therefore “the Holocaust isn’t about race. … It’s about man’s inhumanity to man.” Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Nazi Germany would know that Hitler viewed Aryans as the “master race” and Jews as “Untermenschen,” or sub-humans. Evidently, however, that is knowledge that Goldberg — a high school dropout whose stage name comes from a “whoopee cushion” — does not possess.

Finally, most egregious of all, Joe Rogan. The No. 1 podcaster in America is constantly apologizing these days — and he has much to be sorry for. His podcast, which Spotify paid a reported $100 million to carry, is a superspreader of covid-19 misinformation. He has discouraged young people from getting vaccinated, announced that he was treating his own case of covid with the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin (not a medically recognized treatment), and featured guests who compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust.

After Neil Young and other musicians demanded that Spotify remove their music in protest, Rogan issued a halfhearted apology in which he used lack of preparation as his defense: “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.” How self-incriminating. Perhaps Rogan should flesh out his ideas before sharing them with millions of people?

No sooner had Rogan apologized for spreading covid misinformation than he had to apologize for using the n-word and airing other racist slurs. “I know that to most people there is no context where a White person is ever allowed to say that word, never mind publicly on a podcast, and I agree with that now,” Rogan said. He agrees now? How can anyone living in the United States not know from the earliest age how offensive that word is?

But then there is an awful lot that Rogan — a college dropout, former mixed martial-arts fighter and comedian — does not know. He admitted last year: “I am a f---ing moron. I am a cage-fighting commentator. … I am not a respected source of information even for me. But I at least try to be honest about what I am saying.”

If Rogan is, by his own admission, a “moron” and not a “respected source of information,” then why he is granted one of the biggest megaphones in America? The same question might be asked about Goldberg and Ben & Jerry’s. That anyone would pay any attention to what they say about public policy is a damning indictment of our society.

We are suffering, as Tom Nichols noted, from “The Death of Expertise.” We are the land where every covid crackpot says, “I’m doing my own research” — which usually consists of googling the views of other crackpots. Why not listen, instead, to the scientific experts? Because, in our “idiocracy,” entertainment is more important than expertise. Lack of knowledge is practically a prerequisite for influence. Knowing things makes you suspect as a snooty, out-of-touch elitist.

That’s why a former reality TV show host became president, and a former cage-fighting commentator became the top podcaster in America. We are paying a significant price for the lack of gatekeepers — and the resulting surfeit of ignoramuses — in both our politics and our media.