The Case of Joe Rogan: Vaccine Policy and Freedom of Speech
Recently, Joe Rogan, one of the largest podcast hosts in the United States (10.6 million YouTube subscribers), expressed the following opinion about the vaccination of young adults:
If you are 21 and ask me if you should get the vaccine, I would say "no". If you are a healthy person and exercise all the time, and are young and eat well, I don't think you have to worry about this.
This comment created a furor in the United States, where the government's target is vaccination of the entire adult population. For these few sentences he received a sharp reprimand from the White House and Dr. Fauci, who accused Rogan of being selfish and endangering vulnerable members of society.
Given the very low covid risk for this age group, Rogan’s comments seem to make some sense. Wouldn't it be more altruistic, rather than selfish, to let a vaccine dose first go to someone who needs it more? Either way, such criticism is ludicrous when it comes from a government that so often acts contrary to the interests of society.
Additionally, considering the way in which the covid vaccines were launched, some skepticism on the part of Joe Rogan, and the general population, seems warranted. Indeed, these vaccines have become available so quickly that their Phase II and the Phase III development has been conducted in parallel and is not yet completed. In the US, the covid vaccines are currently approved only as emergency measures by the FDA, though nearly 260 million Americans have already been vaccinated.
In the case of AstraZeneca, the pressure to get a vaccine out as quickly as possible caused an issue in the dosage during the first distributions. In many European countries this vaccine has not been recommended to young people because of a perceived risk of blood clots. In Russia, an antibody test is recommended before vaccination to ensure that the patient is not already immune, in order to avoid wasting doses and to avoid overloading the body with antibodies.
In this context, it does not certainly seem shocking to suggest, like Joe Rogan, that healthy young adults may not really need to get vaccinated.
Government Agents Attacking the Opinions of Private Citizens
In reality, the real question is not whether Joe Rogan was right or wrong in saying what he said. Criticism of a citizen by the US government is disturbing regardless of the comments that were made. What about freedom of speech when the state criticizes an individual's speech?
The protection of freedom of speech and of the press in the USA is among the strongest that exists. The First Amendment to the Constitution in theory offers extremely robust protection with its famous words: "Congress will not make any law curtailing freedom of speech, or of the press."
But this implies that it is not unconstitutional for the authorities to publicly judge the speech of its citizens, such as Rogan. As reported by Glenn Greenwald, this represents in practice a government control of speech. He quotes a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner who notes that:
Politicians have realized that they can silence the speech of those with different political viewpoints by public bullying.
For politically "sensitive" subjects, authorities do not accept deviations from their official story. This deleterious situation has existed since long before the pandemic. Today, it is about vaccine policy, but yesterday, about the war on terrorism, about Russiagate, about the corruption of Joe Biden, and many other topics. Greenwald explains:
When it comes to censorship of politically adverse content, sometimes explicit censorship demands are unnecessary. Where a climate of censorship prevails, companies anticipate what those in power want them to do by anticipatorily self-censoring to avoid official retaliation. Speech is chilled without direct censorship orders being required.
Concretely, this means that when Joe Rogan is publicly criticized by the authorities, countless other content is never published. This process of media self-censorship, without open and direct coercion from the state, is of course part of the propaganda system that Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky famously called "manufacturing consent."
For intrepid journalists who still take the risk of publicly challenging the official consensus, the lucrative and prestigious positions in mainstream media are no longer accessible. As shown by Greenwald, the risk to their reputation that they incur is real, because they are also then systematically victims of unscrupulous practices, such as being accused of being a conspiracy theorist or of inciting terrorism. These accusations, usually completely unfounded, can destroy careers in the toxic politically correct environment that exists in the United States.
Unfortunately, it doesn't end there. The authorities go much further than these mafia methods of intimidation. The main social networks in the US are now filled with reliable servants of the state, who filter and deplatform persons or publications at the request of various state institutions, the same way that mainstream media has behaved for ages.
With respect to covid vaccine policy, for example, Facebook and YouTube today systematically expunge comments and videos that are not in line with the official version of governments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO). The fact that these institutions have often changed their opinion about which health policy to recommend does not seem to be a problem.
A Constitution Is Not Sufficient Protection
This situation with Joe Rogan should remind everyone that the fight for individual freedoms, including freedom of speech and of the press, is a permanent struggle. No document, be it the US Constitution or the Declaration of Human Rights, gives an absolute guarantee against the violations of these freedoms by the state, as shown by many historical examples.
The authoritarian tendencies of nominally democratic governments are nothing new. Indeed, these governments have a natural interest in trying to influence—not to say shape—public opinion. Recent history shows that in collaboration with traditional mainstream media and now social networks, the government is willing to do almost anything to prevent the electorate from understanding its real behavior. The fame of Joe Rogan will at least have contributed a little to exposing this truth.