Hontz: Media personalities have an ongoing war with truth

%28Graphic+Illustration+by+Charles+Cohen+%7C+The+Collegian%29

(Graphic Illustration by Charles Cohen | The Collegian)

Chase Hontz, Collegian Columnist

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Following the emergence and sustained spread of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years, our nation has been hit with a slew of complex issues stemming from the deadly disease. No issue has been more prominent and dangerous than the spread of COVID-19 misinformation that has seemingly become common practice for attention-seeking media personalities across the country.

Ad

Two years into this unprecedented health crisis, it seems that many among the media have taken it upon themselves to act as self-declared medical experts. There are no two better current examples of this than Fox News host Tucker Carlson and immensely popular podcaster Joe Rogan.

While these two media personalities are far from the only people within their respective fields to be guilty of such actions, they are the two most high-profile examples currently within mainstream American media. As such, it stands to reason that the claims and actions of the two men act as a fair barometer in terms of measuring the COVID-19 misinformation actively being spread by media personalities.

Both Rogan and Carlson have repeatedly been cited promoting baseless claims that methods or tools such as lockdowns, masks or vaccines are ineffective — and possibly even counteractive — in the fight to lessen the pandemic spread. Furthermore, the two have also promoted a number of even more bizarre conspiracy theories regarding COVID-19.

To name just a few, such conspiracies include:

  • Claims that coronavirus vaccines insert government microchips into patients and that the supposed microchips are the doing of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates
  • Claims that the United States government is withholding COVID-19 medical treatment methods and medications
  • Claims that medications such as ivermectin (an anti-parasitic drug for horses) and hydroxychloroquine (a drug designed primarily to treat malaria) are effective in combating COVID-19

While such conspiracy theories are mind-numbingly outrageous, they have unfortunately circulated and gained a great deal of traction among the general public. This is due in large part to Carlson averaging 3.21 million viewers each night and Rogan averaging 11 million listeners per podcast episode.

Needless to say, both “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and “The Joe Rogan Experience” have massive audiences that consistently tune in to hear the two respective hosts spread their wide arrays of COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories.

Considering these alarming statistics, one is led to wonder why these two men might be motivated to spread such harmful misinformation. Furthermore, one also can’t help but wonder what can be done to stop — or at the very least regulate — both Carlson and Rogan’s seemingly endless collection of dangerous lies.

“In a time of crisis amid a pandemic, it is of utmost importance that Americans who are educated on matters regarding the coronavirus exercise their First Amendment right.

“You know, it’s really hard to know what they genuinely believe, said Michael Humphrey, an assistant professor of journalism and media communication at Colorado State University. “What I do know is that it gathers a lot of attention both from the counterpublic as well as mainstream media.

Although spreading misinformation goes against journalistic ethics, there is money to be made in the news entertainment industry — one that isn’t bound by hardcore ethics guidelines — especially when the U.S. recently scored low in overall media literacy.

Ad

“There’s a clear motive to do it from an economic point of view,” Humphrey said. “Whether that’s their motive or not, it’s obvious that would be one of them. As media figures, attention is everything, and they get a lot of attention for doing this.”

When it comes to regulating misinformation, there’s a battle between clickability and truth. Counternarratives such as pandemic conspiracy theories simply get more views.

“The problem is that narratives that don’t necessarily fit in (mainstream media) tend to get more attention than narratives that do,” Humphrey said. “But still, I think that hearing more stories about people who’ve been through COVID, who’ve changed their mind about COVID, who’ve had personal experiences with it through themselves or their family (is important). (There are) lots of stories like that out there, and I think more organized and engaging ways of telling those stories is the best way to deal with this.”

As made clear through the harmful rhetoric consistently being distributed by Carlson, Rogan and others, freedom of speech is a double-edged sword.

While the freedom to openly express opinions and thoughts with one another is quite possibly the single greatest liberty that our country has to offer, it can also act as an incredibly dangerous tool for those who seek to weaponize their speech in the name of profit or self-gain.

In a free society like ours, the only way to effectively combat lies is with an overabundance of truth. There is no democratic way in which reckless figures such as Carlson and Rogan can be silenced. They seem to have chosen to lie for their own financial benefit, and, as disheartening as it may feel, they have the right to do so.

With that being said, it is important to remember the right to free speech acts as a two-way street. In a time of crisis amid a pandemic, it is of utmost importance that Americans who are educated on matters regarding the coronavirus exercise their First Amendment right. I urge all Americans to fulfill their civic responsibilities by drowning out such misinformation by pushing for the truth. Only together can we combat those who seek to harm or divide us through speech.

Reach Chase Hontz at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @HontzCollegian.