Accepting Joe Rogan's invitation to "debate" RFK Jr. is a sucker's bet
The right has turned the word "debate" into a signifier of bad faith.
Personal note from Aaron: Sadly, my dad passed Saturday following a lengthy and courageous battle with leukemia. I put together a Twitter thread paying tribute to him and his life that you can check out here, and you can read the obituary I wrote for him here. I appreciate your support during this difficult time. You’ll be seeing less of my writing in the newsletter the next couple weeks, but thankfully I have lots of good stuff lined up from brilliant contributors like Lisa Needham and Noah.
Programming note: I won’t be doing a podcast this week. It’ll return next week.
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Last weekend, Peter Hotez — scientist, pediatrician, vaccine expert — was bringing home a Father's Day cake when he was accosted by two people waiting outside his house. They shoved cell phones in his face and demanded that he debate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the conspiracy theorist and anti-vaxxer running a quixotic campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Spotify podcaster Joe Rogan, a frequent promoter of anti-vax lies and conspiracy theories, had Kennedy on his show last week. Hotez quote-tweeted a link that criticized the podcast.
Rogan responded by offering Hotez a $100,000 donation to the charity of his choice if he’d come on the show and debate Kennedy. Elon Musk, the owner of Twitter, amplified the challenge and mocked Hotez.
The result was a massive social media pile-on. In addition to stalkers at his home, Hotez received death threats, some of which included Nazi imagery. (Hotez is Jewish.)
Why would a call to honest, open debate lead to death threats and stalking? After all, in theory, people interested in debate are presumably open to new ideas and learning new things. “Let’s talk” shouldn’t be a reactionary rallying cry for (among others) Nazis.
The problem is, “Debate me” has become a bad faith propaganda tool for the right, designed to legitimize lies and target opponents for harassment. It’s ripped from the right-wing “free speech” playbook, which demands that bad actors deserve access to every platform and every audience — or else.
Mano-a-mano cage matches are entertaining, but they aren’t good for exchanging ideas
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