What the Portrayal of Elon Musk on the Joe Rogan Experience Reveals About the Mainstream Media
How the mainstream machination blunts conversation and dictates perception
A few weeks ago inventor and founder of Tech giant Tesla Elon Musk appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience, a podcast with the third largest audience in the US and well over 30 million listeners.
Expectations for the episode were high.
Musk had been the most requested guest by listeners of the podcast and all around the globe people listened in their cars, gathered in front of the television, and prepared to tune in.
The conversation did not disappoint.
The episode was a mind-bending exploration of the ideas driving nascent technologies, the processes behind the symbiotic evolution of humanity and artificial intelligence, and the reality that we as a species perceive and inhabit.
The podcast also brought into question the way that humanity chooses to conduct itself and the ramifications associated with our collective actions.
However… pay attention to the mainstream media and you would have been relayed an unjust depiction of events and led to believe an entirely different story.
We are fortunate enough to be privy to a three-hour one-on-one conversation with arguably one of the world’s greatest inventors, critics of Musk’s character aside, and what does the mainstream media choose to underline?
That the man had a puff of a joint.
In a state where MARIJUANA IS LEGAL no less.
A long form conversation with one of the world’s greatest thinkers traversing subjects that pertain to our very existence and the media chooses to zero in on that?
Where is the attention dedicated towards the burning of petrochemicals and the mounting environmental consequences?
How about our symbiotic relationship with technology? The fact that we can already be considered Cyborgs?
The idea that our reality could very well be a simulation?
These are all issues that were discussed at length in the podcast. And these are all issues that were conveniently swept under the rug by publication after publication and a reactionary “look what offensive thing this famous person did” type mentality.
Agenda-Setting and the Mass Media
The above example affirms that the mainstream media doesn’t want people to be focusing on disruptive ideas.
But this isn’t a new phenomenon.
The ability of the press to set the political agenda was observed as far back as 1922 when the mass media first came into existence and reporter Walter Lippmann published his seminal book Public Opinion. In Public Opinion, Lippmann sought to draw attention to the role of mass media as the principal mediator of events that occur in the world and the comprehension of these events in the minds of the public.
Lippmann’s ideas were later affirmed and given greater substance when in 1968 Social scientists Donald Shaw and Max McCombs established Agenda-Setting Theory. During the 1968 US presidential election, Shaw and McCombs uncovered a strong correlative relationship between the emphasis placed on different campaign issues by the media and the judgements of voters as to the salience and importance of various political topics. They concluded that the mass media influences the salience and intensity of attitudes towards political issues, giving voice to the idea of Agenda-setting.
Agenda-Setting Theory is grounded in two primary assumptions. The first is that issues as reported on by the media do not reflect reality but are a filtered and moulded depiction. The second is that when the media concentrates on a few issues in particular, the public is led to perceive those issues as more important than other issues.
The agenda-setting effect is the aggregate impact of repeated messaging. Each message is comprised of slightly different content, but they all deal with the same issue.
In this way, and as was observed in 1963 by political scientist Bernard Cohen:
“the press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about.”
Old Tricks Applied to a Modern Game
Although the landscape within which the media is now situated has changed drastically, what held true in 1922 still holds true today.
On the one hand, the birth of the internet has enabled the dispersion of ideas and perspectives away from centralised outlets and into the hands of civil society.
The fact that I am able to write to you now is testimony to this development.
On the other, acting as a counter balance to this new dynamic has been rising levels of inequality, the growth of the ultra-elite, and the accompanying acquisition of many media outlets by said elite.
It’s no secret that billionaires’ own part or all of the majority of the globes most influential national newspapers, magazines and online publications. The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Fox News to name are few are all owned by individuals whose net worth exceeds 10 digits.
“Billionaires don’t become billionaires by being passive about their interests”
And what better way to protect these interests than to influence what people pay attention to?
It is inevitable that the concentration of resources in the hands of those that stand to benefit from the manipulation of our media diet will lead to biased reporting and a skewed depiction of reality.
Even the most philanthropic billionaires would be tempted to colour the way that issues are represented in the media to advance some end or another. It’s therefore no accident that the media seldom focuses on disruptive ideas. It’s because these ideas threaten the status quo. In other words, they threaten the position of the wealthy benefactors that fund the media machination.
And now, having no control over the unspoilt and nascent industry of podcasting, the mainstream media does the only thing that it can do. It condenses what was a near 3-hour conversation into a single freeze frame, an inflammatory title and quotes taken out of context.
A comment that on the same podcast Musk himself admitted was a mistake.
This isn’t about certain people in the media being disingenuous.
This is the insidious cornerstone of the mainstream machine — the subversion of truth and nuance, the provocation of outrage, and the encouragement of shallow thinking.
Alex Goik is a Media Analyst. He commonly writes for Mogul News and at Foreign Affairs Navigator where he strives to offer fresh perspectives on foreign affairs, tech and China (coupled with the odd analysis of human nature).
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this text belong solely to the author and not those of their employer.