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Insider February 9, 2023 — Misinformation is rampant among top right-wing podcasts

Plus, Ear Hustle co-host Rahsaan ‘New York’ Thomas walks free.

I’ve got more on the wild world of right-wing podcasting today (thanks, Brookings!). Let’s get into it.

Bannon’s podcast is spreading political misinformation, and it’s not alone

I know I have said this before, but it is worth reiterating — Brookings’ project on political podcasts is vital to understanding the scope of partisan media. People underestimate how much influence political pods have and just how difficult they are to moderate. It is something worth keeping an eye on as we approach (oy) another presidential election. 

Brookings released new research today on the frequency of podcasters making false claims on topics like election fraud and covid, and among the top political podcasts, it’s… a lot. The data set looks at political shows that have appeared in Apple’s top 100 and others that are recommended through Apple’s algorithm. As I have written previously, conservative political shows far outnumber liberal ones. And according to the new research, conservative hosts are also the worst offenders when it comes to misinformation.

Steve Bannon leads the pack with an absolutely insane (if not altogether surprising) rate of nearly 20 percent of all episodes featuring unsubstantiated claims. As one of the top proponents of the Big Lie, Bannon was responsible for more than two-thirds of all conspiracy theory claims among podcasts in the data set. 

Even if his determination to spread misinformation is without peer, Bannon may not have quite as big an effect as some of the others on the list. He has been banned from YouTube and Spotify, the two biggest podcast platforms. Meanwhile, programs with much larger audiences, such as The Charlie Kirk Show and Louder with Crowder, also had bad track records, with misinformation rates of nearly 17 percent and 11 percent, respectively. According to report author ​​Valerie Wirtschafter, even when accounting for potential political bias among fact-checkers, “conservative podcasters were 11 times more likely than liberal podcasters to share claims fact-checked as false or unsubstantiated.”

While this is an extension of the larger issues in right-wing media, it also points to a podcasting-specific problem. Podcasting often does not have the same internal guardrails as TV, and once it is published, it is remarkably difficult to moderate. Unless you are getting the kind of scrutiny as Joe Rogan, many instances of misinformation fly under the radar. Companies like Spotify are attempting to use AI to moderate podcasts, but it is unlikely that those solutions will be truly effective by the next election. Podcasts will undoubtedly be a vehicle for political misinformation in 2024; the question is just how much influence they will have.

Ear Hustle co-host has been released from prison

Rahsaan “New York” Thomas, producer and host of Radiotopia podcast Ear Hustle, has been released from prison after more than two decades behind bars. Thomas was a finalist for a Pulitzer in audio reporting in 2020 for his work on the groundbreaking show, which documents life in prison. 

Last year, California Governor Gavin Newsom commuted his 55 ½-years-to-life sentence for second-degree murder. His co-host Walter “Earlonne” Woods was similarly released in 2019 after having his sentence commuted by former California Governor Jerry Brown.

Chore time is podcast time

That’s according to a new YouGov poll that surveyed how Americans listen to podcasts. Nearly half of the respondents who listen to podcasts said they do so while performing household chores, though women were far more likely to respond as such than men (55 percent vs. 43 percent — gee, wonder why!!). Other popular times for podcast listening include during a commute (42 percent), while working out (29 percent), and while cooking (also 29 percent). Also worth noting: 47 percent of respondents said they don’t listen to podcasts at all — which means more than half do! Good for you, podcasts.

That’s all I got. See you tomorrow.