Joe Rogan to Sanjay Gupta: Does it bother you that your network lied about me taking horse dewormer?

Having decided to enter “the lion’s den,” as Gupta described Rogan’s podcast in a piece today for CNN, you would think he would have been prepared for this question. It’s not like Rogan hasn’t mentioned it before. Or that it didn’t get plenty of coverage when he did.

Then again, what would it have meant to have “prepared” for this subject? What could Gupta have possibly said to defend CNN?

“They didn’t lie, Joe. They were just inexcusably sloppy in assuming that because some Americans have resorted to taking the livestock version of ivermectin, you must have resorted to it too.” That was the best response available to him. Go figure that he preferred to stonewall in hopes that Rogan would just let the subject drop. Which he didn’t.

The likely truth: Gupta didn’t make an issue of the false report about Rogan inside CNN because he feared that correcting it would do more harm than good. He’s worried that people are taking ivermectin, an unproven treatment, in lieu of getting vaccinated; the reports about “horse dewormer” make the treatment sound nuttier than it is, steering the public away from it. In Gupta’s heart of hearts, I bet he thinks CNN’s fake news about Rogan was a “noble lie” not unlike Fauci claiming at the start of the pandemic that masking doesn’t work because he wanted to preserve the existing supply of masks for medical professionals. It’s untrue, but it was thought to serve the greater good.

Gupta didn’t do great in the following exchange either. It’s one thing to squirm because you’ve been put on the spot about your employer having behaved irresponsibly. It’s another to let yourself be outmaneuvered as a doctor on the risk of COVID to kids:

I wrote about that a few nights ago in this (paywalled) post. It’s undeniably true that all but a few kids will get over their infection without any near-term difficulty and Rogan’s right that the average young unvaccinated kid is less likely to be hospitalized than a fully vaccinated adult of Gupta’s age. But he’s creating a straw man by framing the choice for parents as either vaccinating their kids and accepting some unknown risk of long-term side effects from the vaccine or letting them go unvaccinated and accepting a minuscule risk that their kids will become severely ill after being infected.

That’s not the choice, I said in my post. The choice is between vaccinating your kid and accepting some unknown risk of long-term side effects from the vaccine or letting them go unvaccinated and accepting some unknown risk of long-term side effects from the virus. Kids have few near-term problems from COVID but there’s no way to know how exposure to a novel germ might affect their development. In adults, infection can affect the brain. Maybe it’s different in kids — or maybe not. Until science has a better sense of the long-term risks, why not assume that a pathogen that’s new to mankind and has already generated long-term symptoms in many adults is more threatening to a child than a vaccine is? If you can give them a shot that generates antibodies that will help them clear that pathogen more quickly from their system, why not do it?

Zeynep Tufekci, who’s written extensively about COVID, made that point too in a Twitter thread this morning. And she made another: Now that COVID is endemic, with some experts predicting 40,000 to 100,000 deaths annually, we have one more disease to manage during the winter. If vaccinating kids helps ease the stress on the population and the health-care system, that’s another point in favor of immunization.

Why didn’t Gupta push back harder on Rogan about that? The conventional wisdom on social media this morning is that, like most media-friendly public-health experts and commentators, he operates in a bubble in which his arguments are rarely challenged. It’s uncontroversial on CNN (or soon will be) that all young children should be vaccinated ASAP. Gupta rarely has to deal with counterarguments so go figure that he wasn’t ready for Rogan’s.

I recommend reading his take on their interview, though, as he corrects some of Rogan’s mistaken impressions about natural immunity and whether vaccinated people are as infectious as the unvaccinated. He probably didn’t convince any listeners of the podcast but it was worth a shot.