Episode 64: Mike Rowe’s Koch-Backed Working Man Affectation

Citations Needed | January 30, 2019 | Transcript

Citations Needed
50 min readJan 30, 2019
Mike Rowe as a scrap metal worker (credit: mikerowe.com)


Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

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Adam: Yeah, you know, my birthday is March 8th, so just saying.

Nima: (Laughs.) Just saying.

Adam: Wouldn’t kill you, wouldn’t kill you.

Nima: (Laughing.)

Adam: Um, anyway.

Nima: In recent years, television personality Mike Rowe, has amassed a wildly popular following due to alleged working-class, straight talk about topics ranging from the affordability of college to reasserting a culture of pride in craftsmanship and labor. From his 5.2 million Facebook followers to his several cable TV programs, his everyman shtick, on its surface, can be very appealing, after all, who doesn’t love a hard day’s work and loathe the detached, ivory tower eggheads?

Adam: But hiding under his superficially appealing everyman shtick is dangerous ideology: one funded by the Koch brothers and other far-right corporate interests, one specifically tailored to pick off a certain constituency of Home Depot democrats while pushing political impotence, anti-union narratives and anti-intellectualism. With a clever combination of working class affectation and folksy charm — often exploiting real fears about a decline in industrialization — Rowe has cultivated an image that claims to be pro-worker, but primarily exists to line the pockets of their boss.

Nima: Later in the show we’ll be speaking with Bryan Quinby, the co-host of the Street Fight Radio podcast.

[Begin Clip]

Bryan Quinby: Basically what he says is just bosses are going to be unfair and you have to be prepared for that and willing to take it as much as you possibly can to get where you’re going. It’s not about empowering the people that work the jobs.

[End Clip]

Nima: So for those listeners of ours who may not know this, Mike Rowe was the host of the Discovery Channel’s like blue-collar, working man show Dirty Jobs, where every week he would do some kind of insanely gross or dangerous job and show what people who really put their lives on the line or like will do the thing that no one else will do. So it’s this very popular show called Dirty Jobs. He has also hosted CNN’s Somebody’s Gotta Do It, imagine where that came from, and has long been a pitchman for the Ford motor company and Walmart. He’s the voice of shows like The Deadliest Catch, American Chopper and Wild Pacific. Chances are you’ve heard him before.

Mike Rowe in Dirty Jobs (credit: NY Daily News, 2008)

[Begin Clip Montage]

Mike Rowe: I’m Mike Rowe and I’m on a mission to find people on a mission.

Mike Rowe: My name’s Mike Rowe and this is my job.

Mike Rowe: One hour guarantees if they’re even one minute late the service is on them. And we are five minutes early.

Mike Rowe: I’m Mike Rowe and I’m spreading the word about Ford.

Bill Maher: On Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe and heads a nonprofit foundation called Profoundly Disconnected. Mike Rowe is over here. Mike, oh with your trademark cap. How are you sir?

[End Clip Montage]

Adam: So some people might find it odd that we’re doing a show in Mike Rowe since we usually do like left-wing attacks on major media figures. One of the things we want to sort of show here is that Mike Rowe is actually very pernicious. He’s very influential in a really subtle way, but largely flies completely under the radar. If you look for criticisms of Rowe from the left, with the exception of, I think, about one article on Jacobin, there really isn’t any. And we find that interesting because he really does promote a very far-right ideology and has a tremendous amount of influence and in fact I think much of his influence derives from the fact that he’s ostensibly a nonpolitical, or apolitical or as he likes to say: Independent. He doesn’t claim sort of one party or the other, which I think gives extra purchase to his far-right, oftentimes like Libertarian, crypto right-wing messaging. We want to start off by saying that, so he had, his major sort of entry point was to show Dirty Jobs. This is what most people know him by, this entire shtick. He didn’t really start to get overtly political until around the fourth or fifth season around 2008 when he started a nonprofit called mikeroweWORKS. That was ostensibly set up to promote vocational training. I guess something he sort of picked along the way either due to his own ideology or his own interpretation of what needed to exist in the world.

Nima: So this nonprofit that he has, mikeroweWORKS, unsurprisingly, is primarily funded by companies that directly benefit from his promotion of things like trade schools. So notable backers include the Universal Technical Institutes, that’s a for-profit trade school company that’s been investigated by state and federal agencies for predatory lending practices. This is particularly ironic, given Mike Rowe’s own avowed hatred of student debt but you know hey, ideology. So moving on, also his nonprofit is funded by Federal-Mogul Motor Parts, that’s an auto-parts manufacturer controlled by none other than Carl Icahn. The Clockwork Home Services, which sells franchises for a number of plumbing and HVAC and electrician companies that’s backed by Centrica, which is a British multinational energy conglomerate. And another one of his nonprofit’s major funders is the Distribution Contractors Association, a trade group for gas pipeline contractors that has lobbied in favor of repealing environmental regulations that limit pipeline construction.

Adam: So he quickly emerged around 2008, 2009, 2010 as a kind of spokesman for a specific type of ruling class elite.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: Not sort of Wall Street, not Silicon Valley, but a large, I think what is probably statistically the sort of majority of wealth in this country, which exists in these sort of proverbial flyover states, a lot of industry, a lot of Big Ag, a lot of infrastructure building, a lot of construction, a lot of real estate interests. Um, he sort of became their main spokesperson and this of course naturally lead him to the attention of the Koch brothers. And this is where I think things get, I think a little bit more sinister, where, so in roughly 2012, according to an unredacted 990 Form, which is an IRS form for a nonprofit that you can find as an artifact on his website. It’s now deleted, but you, if you look a certain way, you can find it. And, just to clarify, he scrubbed the whole website, not just the 990. So, in the year 2012, he received about $50,000 from Charles Koch. This led to further injections of cash of about $300,000, all told as of 2016, he’s received about $350,000 from Charles Koch and the Charles Koch Foundation. Now, this is just to his nonprofit, uh, I want to be clear here, we don’t know if he’s personally taken the money, although we would assume he has, since most of the big funders of his foundation are also also paying Mike Rowe himself. For example, he’s become a spokesman for a company called the name of Strata Tech, which is a vocational school conglomerate throughout the United States. They paid him for that presumably, I assume he to do it for free and they also funded as his, his nonprofit $100,000. Kimberly Clark, who makes Viva towel, who he promotes for, also gave his nonprofit around $400,000. So it’s, it’s, it’s very likely that a lot of the voiceover work and co-sponsorship stuff he’s done with the Koch that he is in fact directly funded by the Koch. This is not something he denies. So the $300,000 is just to the foundation that he runs. Um, and it’s at this point that he became a little bit more overtly political in what was somewhat controversy in September of 2012 during the election he went to a campaign stop in Ohio with Mitt Romney.

Nima: Yeah. Yeah. So he like appeared onstage with Mitt Romney and the best part of that, I think, Adam, is where he was introduced by Romney:

[Begin Clip]

Mitt Romney: Mike Rowe, as you know, um, is a, uh, well he’s a guy who has made a name for himself by doing things other people don’t want to do: really ugly dirty jobs.

[End Clip]

Nima: And like Romney actually says this, he says, remember, this is a campaign stop in Ohio during the presidential election of 2012, so Mitt Romney says:

[Begin Clip]

Mitt Romney: He is nonpartisan. He’s not here to endorse me. He’s not here to add support to one campaign or another. He’s here to talk about his ideas about how to help America create more jobs.

[End Clip]

Mike Rowe at Mitt Romney’s Campaign stop (credit: YouTube)

Adam: Yeah, sort of nebulous jobs. And of course the sort of jobs he’s promoting is this thing, it’s this obsession he’s had since 2010, which is the idea of a skills gap which we’ll get into later, but one of the things that makes Rowe so effective is this ability to enter liberal and left spaces, which is sort of why we’re talking about him. He’s, credulous liberals and centrist media have routinely shared his kind of faux-contrarian, anti-college musings, CNN, Huffington Post, Attention, MSNBC, you name it, shares his viral interviews about the problem with trying to go to an expensive college and the problem of chasing your dream, which is something he constantly rails about. And these right-wing talking points seep into sort of mainstream discourse. And again, these are designed to kind of pick off low information, usually white working or middle class voter who would otherwise maybe vote Democrat but buys into his anti-intellectual, anti-union, anti-regulation agitprop.

Nima: And so it’s, it’s actually unsurprising that he then winds up being a fixture of right-wing media. He’s on Tucker Carlson’s show a lot. He is written about in Breitbart and The Daily Caller, which is backed by the Koch brothers, is like a major booster of Mike Rowe and his brand in general. So like every time Rowe has like a new blog post responding to some random Facebook comment, The Daily Caller will like write it up, like let alone, you know, when he appears on Fox News, which they’ll do that too and like quote him and basically just like provide a transcript of the, of the fucking interview. But even the most innocuous banal stuff that he’s just doing they’ll like have an article about it in The Daily Caller.

Adam: Yeah. And of course the Koch family foundations, the same ones that donate to, to Mike Rowe, have donated, between 2012 and 2015, gave $800,000 to The Daily Caller and another $600,000 in 2016 alone. And in that time, The Daily Caller, ran about 405 Mike Rowe outrage stories or one in every five and a half days. Typically Mike Rowe responds to this, Mike Rowe goes after snowflakes, Mike Rowe responds to Black Lives Matter. So there’s this kind of feedback loop of astroturf outrage designed to push anti-regulatory, anti-union, anti-black messaging that confused media consumers sort of interpret as being organic. That it’s sort of, ‘Oh, here’s this working class guy.’ He sounds off, Daily Caller, but they’re all, they’re all backed by the same fucking people. Like they’re just playing intramural basketball. Like it’s not like there’s no, you know what I mean? There’s no sort of organic there there.

Nima: Totally. I mean it’s very Trumpian. It’s this right-wing celebrity trope of you’re just a common every man who, who has worked so hard that you’re successful and now you’re a celebrity. Like it never works the other way. It’s not like you’re a celebrity because you’re an entertainer, which is your job and so for that job on television, on a TV set, you go and perform the working class duties for the length of like a half hour show and then you’re back in your trailer and fucking hanging out and onto the next thing that you’re producers take you to. So there’s this idea of like, it’s both celebrity news when he’s written about in The Daily Caller and Breitbart and appears on Fox News, so it’s, ‘Oh, you all know this guy from TV,’ but then there’s also the shtick of pretending that he is somehow this like down and dirty blue collar working man.

Adam: Um, and it’s important right now to sort of take some time and talk about what the three sort of primary ideological projects of Mike Rowe are. The first one is anti-unionism. He rails against minimum wage, he rails against unions, he does this whole like ‘unions used to have a purpose’ routine that I’m sure all your right-wing uncles have said because they themselves once belonged to a union. The second ideological project of his is to push this idea of a skills gap and here’s the kind of basic gist of the scam, something that’s been disproven about a million different times, even Matt Yglesias disproved the idea of a skills gap in early January of 2019 in Vox. There’s a lot of studies that have come out. Basically the gist, and you gotta understand the context in which Rowe’s stick evolved, it evolved after the recession, right? At the height of the recession, 2011, 2012, 2013 was this idea that he would go places and they would have all these help wanted signs but couldn’t find anyone to fill it and that we need to therefore fund vocational schools. This was a huge shtick. We’ll table that talk about why that’s bullshit later.

[Begin Cip Montage]

Mike Rowe: Everywhere I went on Dirty Jobs, and I mean everywhere, [there were] Help Wanted signs. Y’know, for the whole run, even at the height of the recession, every single place I visited, every single one had Help Wanted signs out.

Mike Rowe: I saw Help Wanted signs in every single state at the height of the recession.

Mike Rowe: Where I went, Help Wanted signs. Everywhere. Even at the height of the recession, every employer I talked to said the same thing.

Mike Rowe: I saw Help Wanted signs literally in every single state in 2009.

Mike Rowe: In 2009, when the headlines talked almost exclusively about unemployment, everywhere I went I saw Help Wanted signs. Real shortages in these areas.

Mike Rowe: Everywhere I went in my last gig, I saw Help Wanted signs, even at the height of the recession.

Mike Rowe: Even at the height of the recession, so in 2009, I guess it was, when the headlines screamed about 9.2% unemployment, the signs I saw most often were Help Wanted.

Man: Yeah

Mike Rowe: Yeah.

[End Clip Montage]

Adam: And the third thing he does is anti-regulation. He has made a career off bashing OSHA and the EPA and other regulatory agencies, which again, not coincidentally, dovetails with the interest of the Koch brothers, who have spent a tremendous amount of money trying to repeal back regulations because again, the Koch brothers aren’t selling securities on, well I’m sure their portfolios do, but their main business is not selling securities on Wall Street, their business is building shit. It’s building paper towels and window lining and building some, you know, doing real estate. So like they hate regulation.

Nima: Right. So, so OSHA, which is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, it’s a government agency, it has, you know, worker regulations that are enshrined in law. And so this is like one of the ultimate enemies of people like the Koch brothers or you know, people who run businesses that they feel are stifled in certain ways by Big Brother telling them what to do, and you know, that they can’t just have an expendable workforce who falls into some vat and like whatever. So, really to drive home the anti-regulation obsession of the Koch brothers, I will quote from the findings of PR Watch, which is a watchdog group, and they’ve written this quote, “Since Koch Industries bought Georgia-Pacific at the end of 2005, seven employees have been killed by or died from injuries occurring in the workplace. Many others have been injured, losing limbs, or being exposed to toxic chemicals. Looking at fines above $10,000, Koch has been fined $340,000 for ten serious incidents, including the seven deaths. Given the fact that most workplace injuries do not trigger an OSHA report and that OSHA has shockingly low penalties (compared, for instance, to the penalties available under federal environmental law) $340,000 is significant.” End quote.

Adam: So in response to this, again, ideological project of bashing fucking OSHA, Rowe began to champion this idea of “safety third,” ostensibly because, this is not a joke by the way —

Nima: Yeah, this is real.

Adam: Ostensibly because “safety first,” according to him, lulls people into a false sense of complacency that it is someone else’s responsibility which by the way makes no sense. Like he was trying to be provocative but really, it’s just a on-the-nose anti-OSHA, anti-regulation mantra. He somehow parroted this on CNN, MSNBC, he even had a TED Talk, which is sort of the high church of, of liberal thought, and he said the first and most important thing is risk and taking risk. And he said that safety was being overemphasized. Um, and every single time he takes a pot shot at it he goes after these kinds of liberal, the sort of liberal busy bodies at the Humane Society and the EPA. Basically his, his list of enemies are the list of the Koch brothers, which are government regulators who are there to protect the worker. In one TED Talk in 2009, he tells this totally made up story about why OSHA is bad that we should listen to here.

[Begin Clip]

Mike Rowe: Safety first is, I mean going back to OSHA and PETA and the Humane Society, what if OSHA got it wrong? I mean, I, this is heresy what I’m about to say, but what if, what if it’s really safety third? Right? (Audience laughs) I mean, I mean really. What I mean to say is I value my safety on these crazy jobs as much as the people that I’m working with, but the ones who really get it done, they’re not out there talking about safety first. They know that other things come first. The business of doing the work comes first, the business of getting it done. And, you know, I’ll never forget up in the Bering Sea, I was on a crab boat with the Deadliest Catch guys, which I, which I also work on in the first season. We’re about 100 miles off the coast of Russia, fifty foot seas, big waves, green water coming over the wheelhouse, right? Most hazardous environment I’d ever seen. And I was back with a guy lashing the pots down. So I’m 40 feet off the deck, which is like looking down at the top of your shoe, you know, and it’s doing this in the ocean. Unspeakably dangerous. I scampered down. I go into the wheelhouse and I say with some level of incredulity, ‘Captain, OSHA?’ And he says, ‘OSHA? Ocean.’ And he points out there and, (audience laughter) but in that moment what he said next can’t be repeated in the lower 48. It can’t be repeated on any factory floor, any construction site, but he looked at me and he said, ‘Son,’ and he’s my age by the way, he calls me son. I love that. He says, ‘Son, I’m the captain of a crab boat. My responsibility is not to get you home alive. My responsibility is to get you home rich. You want to get home alive. That’s on you.’ And for the rest of that day, safety first. I mean, I was like, so you know, the idea that we create this, this false, this sense of complacency when all we do is talk about somebody else’s responsibility as though it’s our own and vice versa.

[End Clip]

Adam: So yeah, first things first. That story is completely bullshit. I don’t believe it actually happened. I think it’s mostly made up. I think some of it’s probably true. I think some of it’s not. The second thing is, the OSHA-Ocean joke is just fucking dumb. That never happened.

Nima: It’s just not good.

Adam: Um, that he talked to the boss and the boss is like, I don’t care about safety regulations and it’s like, well, yeah, that’s your fucking job. That’s why —

Nima: (Laughs.) That’s why they exist.

Adam: That’s why regulations fucking exist. So assholes like you don’t get people killed because you’re trying to squeeze every fucking nickel and dime out of everyone because the guy above you is trying to squeeze every nickel and dime out of you.

Nima: Right.

Adam: And so on and so forth. That’s why you have baseline safety regulations because the free market can’t fucking police itself. The story is actually a love letter to why you need OSHA. It’s not a criticism of OSHA.

Nima: And it’s also this whole safety third bullshit is such pandering exaggeration because this is the way that Rowe talks about it in a post on his own website when he was setting up a Dirty Jobs episode called “Safety Third.” And so he says this in this post quote, “‘Safety First’ is just not true. If Safety were really more important than catching crab, we’d have no crab. If Safety were really more important than construction, we’d have no buildings. If Safety were more important than washing windows, we’d have dirty windows. If Safety were really and truly first, we’d all wear helmets and wrap ourselves in bubble pack and drive rubber cars at speeds of 10 miles per hour, assuming we ever left the house in the first place, which of course, we wouldn’t. There are many things that we value above a sense of safety — convenience, speed, efficiency, fast-food, sex, roller coasters, motorcycles, rushes of adrenaline, and of course, getting the job done. Certainly, all of these things can be pursued with varying levels of care, and I’m all for taking prudent precautions. But telling me that my safety is more important than my willingness to assume the inherent risk just doesn’t follow. Without risk, there is no need for safety. And of course, there is always risk. Risk is everywhere. It can be understood and managed, but never eliminated. Risk is first. Getting the job done is second.”

Adam: I’m getting angry listening to this. He never fucking, no one ever said that “safety first” meant that you never did anything —

Nima: That’s not a thing. Right. That’s a complete straw man.

Adam: Yeah. This is the typical sort of right-wing sophistry, like ad absurdum sort of bashing something that no one ever suggested to sort of posture and be like a tough realist. I mean this is total like-

Nima: Well, if safety’s first, Adam, then what about breathing? What about your heart?

Adam: We should make sure there’s not strychnine in our meat.

Nima: (Laughing.)

Adam: What’s next? We just fucking wrap ourselves in bubble wrap and fucking jerk off? I mean it’s just, it’s just pure bullshit like —

Nima: (Laughing.) It is such horseshit.

Adam: And so he does this all the time. One of the things he talks about, this is I think the thing you got the most traction on in sort of bipartisan media was this idea of a “skills gap” that the general theory is that there’s all these important vocational jobs, plumber, construction, so forth, sort of skilled vocational, which in his world is the height of all jobs. Of course he doesn’t do them-

Nima: He doesn’t do that.

Adam: Except when he’s acting and this is something the Koch brothers have also been pushing a lot and a lot of these other sort of Koch aligned industry types. Again, Big Ag Industry that there’s this myth that there’s a dearth of of people who can do these jobs. Now you may have noticed this moral panic that also was around when Teach for America came. Teach for America is a Brady Foundation, Walton Foundation funded organization that basically pushed the message in the nineties and when a lot of people bought, that there wasn’t, that there was not enough school teachers in urban areas, in black areas and that they needed to hire white-

Nima: That that was the problem.

Adam: That they needed to hire white do-goodies to go into these areas, to go into inner cities and teach black kids at schools because there wasn’t enough qualified teachers. Now of course there was a lot of qualified teachers. What there wasn’t was there wasn’t qualified non-union teachers. And just the same, what this skills gap is trying to push is it wants to expand the labor base to, you know, in the aggregate, be good, but anytime you expand a labor base, and this is true also with, with the stem fetishization of, of Silicon Valley, anytime you expand a labor base, you reduce wages because if I run a factory and I have ten slots open and only fifteen people can do that job, I don’t have a lot of bargaining power, but if I have ten slots open and a hundred people can do that job because the government just subsidize all their vocational training, suddenly the wages aren’t looking so pretty. And this is really the sort of long term goal, right? Billionaires like the Kochs think in decades, they don’t think in years. Um, and you may say, okay, well we’re educating people for jobs, that’s perfectly fine, that’s good. And I don’t even disagree with that because you still need to have people who are educated, right?

Nima: Sure. Of course.

Adam: But understand that their motives aren’t really pure. The motives are to create a cheap non union labor base. And this is again, really why you don’t want them to study liberal arts. And one of the things that Mike Rowe constantly rails about when he promotes vocational training is that not everybody needs to go to a four year liberal arts college, and he does so in a really snide and anti-intellectual way.

[Begin Clip]

Mike Rowe: I get a lot of heat because I take a position about education that a lot of people misinterpret to mean: don’t go to college. And I would never say, don’t go to college unless you can’t afford it. Or if you’re not sure why you’re going. There’s been a push in this country for the last 40 years or so this suggestion that a four year degree is the best path for the most people. I don’t believe that’s true. On my last gig, I met a lot of people who didn’t go to college who are in fact very smart and very driven and very talented and who prospered, but they were also educated, just not in the traditional way. So I think what’s really important today is to make sure that you talk about the value of a skilled trade in the same way that you talk about the value of academic success.

[End Clip]

Adam: And so yeah, again, the thrust of this is that liberal arts is for the rich people and poetry and Marx and art and film, that’s for the rich people. The poors aren’t really, don’t have time for that. And it’s done in this kind of foe practical way and it’s deeply, deeply, deeply cynical and it’s deeply dangerous to how people perceive education, which is not a linear thing. It’s not supposed to be you study for X and then you only go do X. That’s not really what education is supposed to be. And I know and I know that because we have things called middle schools and high schools.

Nima: Right. It’s not just, like, carpentry training schools.

Adam: Yeah. And so there’s this seething anti-intellectualism that stems from a right-wing ideology that the Kochs have been pushing for years. This is why the Kochs spend so much money on things like campus reform, where they watch, you know, every single person, every obscure Oberlin undergrad for some minor political correctness successive, right?

Nima: I love that you always use Oberlin.

Adam: That’s right. Don’t take it personally. Whatever sort of obscure liberal arts college, like they spend so much money on this stuff because what they want to do is they want to create a regime where being liberal and educating yourself in the liberal arts, even though I know those aren’t the same thing, is, is frowned upon and disincentivized.

Nima: Right exactly. It’s like haughty and excessive and this luxury that real people don’t have.

Adam: Right. Now, the thing is, the “skills gap” turns out is bullshit.

Nima: So just recently on January 5th, 2019 three economists, Alicia Sasser Modestino, Daniel Shoag and Joshua Ballance presented their findings about this so-called “skills gap” at the American Economics Association’s annual conference. And they showed effectively that the skeptics were right all along — employers responded to high unemployment by making their job descriptions even more stringent. When unemployment went down, thanks to the demand-side recovery, suddenly employers got more relaxed about who they would hire for specific roles.

Adam: And in 2017 Andrew Weaver, an Assistant Professor in the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois wrote in the MIT Technology Review that the myth of the skills gap, he said, quote, “The idea that American workers are being left in the dust because they lack technological savvy does not stand up to scrutiny. Our focus should be on coordination and communication between workers and employers.” The general idea is that Mike Rowe, when he tells these anecdotes about how he goes to these places and sees help wanted signs but nobody has the skills, that’s probably mostly bullshit. What he really wants to say is that (a) he wishes the employers he talks to — again, whom he parrots and whom he represents and whose class interests he’s devoted to — is that there’s not enough skilled non union labor to let them control wages. That is true that there’s a lack of eligible employees as far as it goes, but it’s more that they’re not precarious enough and they’re too unionized, and that’s really, that’s really the whole shtick behind the thing.

Nima: Yeah. That’s the whole ideological operation that’s going on.

Adam: Yeah. Having said that, look, it’s true, there are large swaths of this country where people don’t have jobs or the jobs they have are shitty or they’re service jobs, or they’re driving an Uber. That’s true. Uh, the fundamental problem is that instead of providing relief to these people or building industries in these communities we’re gaslighting them all into telling them it’s their fault and that they need to go out and get more education when that really isn’t the problem. The problem is we sent our jobs to other fucking countries.

Nima: Exactly. It’s also, there’s this emphasis on scolding for even questioning why things may not be great for some people. And we’ve touched on this before on the show about this kind of perpetual optimism industry and the, and this is not the same thing, but it is kind of interconnected. The ‘don’t think about the reality of systemic and structural problems in your society.’ Basically ‘suck it up and keep your head down and just do your thing and that’s how to perpetually exist.’ Obviously this works out really well for the Mike Rowes and the Charles Kochs of the world and maybe not so much for the people who are their primary audience pushing this bullshit. And so you see kind of the, the peak of this in something that Mike Rowe created called “The S.W.E.A.T. Pledge.” And S.W.E.A.T. is an acronym that stands for “Skill & Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo.”

Adam: By the way again, responding to a total straw man like no one ever said these things are bad.

Nima: Right. There’s this idea that Rowe pushes all the time that you know, uh, no one values work ethics anymore. And if only more people really understand that working hard was important than like things would get back on track and people’s lives would be just a-okay. But that’s not, people aren’t saying that, you know, work ethic is unimportant. It’s bullshit, it’s a canard. And so you see this in literally a twelve point pledge that Mike Rowe has written, ostensibly, and these are the dozen points.

  1. “I believe that I have won the greatest lottery of all time. I am alive. I walk the Earth. I live in America. Above all things, I am grateful.”
  2. “I believe that I am entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing more. I also understand that ‘happiness’ and the ‘pursuit of happiness’ are not the same thing.”
  3. “I believe there is no such thing as a ‘bad job.’ I believe that all jobs are opportunities, and it’s up to me to make the best of them.”
  4. “I do not ‘follow my passion.’ I bring it with me. I believe that any job can be done with passion and enthusiasm.”
  5. “I deplore debt, and do all I can to avoid it.”

This is my favorite part.

6. “I would rather live in a tent and eat beans then borrow money to pay for a lifestyle I can’t afford.”

7. “I believe that my safety is my responsibility. I understand that being in ‘compliance’ does not necessarily mean I’m out of danger.”

8. “I believe the best way to distinguish myself at work is to show up early, stay late, and cheerfully volunteer for every crappy task there is.”

9. “I believe the most annoying sounds in the world are whining and complaining.” It’s like a Dennis Leary shtick. “I will never make them. If I am unhappy in my work, I will either find a new job, or find a way to be happy.”

10. “I believe that my education is my responsibility, and absolutely critical to my success. I am resolved to learn as much as I can from whatever source is available to me. I will never stop learning, and understand that library cards are free.”

11. “I believe that I am a product of my choices — not my circumstances. I will never blame anyone for my shortcomings or the challenges I face. And I will never accept the credit for something I didn’t do. I understand the world is not fair, and I’m OK with that. I do not resent the success of others.”

12. “I believe that all people are created equal. I also believe that all people make choices. Some choose to be lazy. Some choose to sleep in. I choose to work my butt off.”

Adam: So yeah, there’s this self-help component to it. Nima, we talked about this offline. I am utterly fascinated by like self-help when it kind of merges, which it always sort of does I suppose, but merges with theology where you have this idea that there’s this, again, that could have been written and probably was written by Charles Koch. Right? This is, this is the Koch brothers ideology to the fucking word.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: It is your responsibility, Libertarian this, Libertarian that. No sense of context, no sense of disability, no sense of unionization. There’s no such thing as solidarity amongst workers. Um, but people sort of sign up for this. It’s like a pledge people do and like a lot of people like thousands of people did it.

Nima: You have to pay $12 to like get a copy of the pledge or $100 if you want Mike Rowe to sign it and if you sign up for one of the like scholarships, like the skills based scholarships that Mike Rowe’s nonprofit pushes, you have to sign this pledge as part of the application.

Adam: The thing I’m fascinated by is that like anytime there is a popular kind of self help thing, and I don’t know, I won’t go on too much about it, but there’s this movie called Fireproof with Kirk Cameron. It’s a Christian movie and basically long story short is it’s like a Christian self-help film about fireproofing your marriage and there’s like this forty day challenge where like it involves buying your wife roses and being like a nice guy. Um, and you read, you read it, you’re like okay, those are like pretty reasonable things. Like you know, do the dishes, like compliment your wife. Yeah. That seems okay. And then at the end it’s like, but you have to accept Jesus and the man is in control of the relationship and you’re like, whoa, whoa that seems fashy and weird.

Nima: And then they’re like, roll credits.

Adam: Yeah. But like clearly that, like the reason why that was so popular and the movie made $65 million on some level, it’s astroturfed yes, but on some level it’s speaking to something that’s real, something that is not totally astroturfed. And I really think that that on some level, the Mike Rowe message hit some nerve somewhere that was not being met.

Nima: Right. And you see this kind of nexus where Mike Rowe actually brings this self help religion shtick to his own career because in 2017 he joined this Christian TV channel basically, uh, the Trinity Broadcast Network and you can just see the kind of merging of ideology here and him even getting more overtly political in the things that he says.

Adam: And more overtly Trump.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: He doesn’t, he will never technically endorse a candidate. But again, this was, this was Bill O’Reilly’s shtick for years. Bill O’Reilly in the nineties and early two thousands was like, ‘I’m not partisan, I’m not Democrat or Republican. And this is the no spin zone. I’m a straight shooter.’ But like, yeah, no, he’s Republican. I mean like 99 times out of 100 when some white guy, and I know this as a white guy, I can tell you this, and any time they’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t believe in any party and um, I’m just bipartisan, I’m just a-’ They’re fucking conservative, right? That’s always what they are —

Nima: Like, that’s the line.

Adam: Yeah. Because they don’t want to say, ‘Oh, I want to suck up to corporate interests and a fucking shill and a dumbass, oh no, I’m actually like a rogue rebel who, who, who studiously studied all these things and I happened to come to the same conclusion as fucking Charles Koch.’

Nima: (Laughs.) Right.

Adam: Out of all the gin joints out of all the towns.

Nima: It’s just common sense after all.

Adam: I just happened to come to these conclusions. The fact that my ideological propaganda happens to align with the interest of my wealthy benefactors is a sheer fucking coincidence.

Nima: (Laughs.) Imagine that. And so you see Rowe, you know, routinely railing against raising the minimum wage. You’ve seen him attack Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter. He’s called Bernie Sanders a, a knucklehead. And he complains about the quote “poorly educated” unquote who quote, “don’t tuck their shirts in or pull their pants up” unquote. So, uh, yeah, woof woof there, that is clearly, you know, clearly just kind of what’s on the top of his head as a working man on the Discovery Channel.

Adam: He’s paying, he know, he knows who he fucking needs to pander to, but he doesn’t get his ability to kind of move in and out of liberal and centrist spaces is fascinating and it’s something I’m excited to talk to our guest about.

Nima: So we are about to be joined by Bryan Quinby, co-host of the Street Fight Radio podcast. Stay with us.


Nima: We are joined by Bryan Quinby, better known to most of you as @MurderBryan, that’s Bran with a “y” on the Twitter machine. Bryan, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Bryan Quinby

Bryan Quinby: Thank you for having me. I’m always excited to talk about Mike Rowe.

Adam: (Chuckles.) So, um, you, you’ve been following Mike Rowe for sometime. We just, we just went through a laundry list of critiques of Mike Rowe, specifically the extremely crypto, bad faith nature in which he operates, the way he kind of is sort of designed in a lab to pick off what we call sort of Home Depot Democrats, especially sort of like low information whites who would maybe otherwise vote Democrat but are kind of buying into this garbage. Can you, can you talk about, uh, what your sort of primary, um, overall objections to Mike Rowe are in. What is the sort of the stakes at work here? Like what is, what is the harm done by his shtick in your opinion?

Bryan Quinby: Well, my show covers like labor, like in a very Mike Rowe sense, not like as a joke, but as in like, it’s a lot of people calling into the show, talking about their experiences at work and things like that. And uh, we had gotten into him by reading a thing called “The S.W.E.A.T. Pledge.”

Nima: Oh yeah.

Adam: Yes, yes.

Bryan Quinby: We read that on the show and kind of made fun of it. But like basically what we figured out about the guy is that like, his story to himself is that he got a job, but he wanted to be an actor, he wanted to be a television personality, so he got a job at a movie theater and he worked his way up to what he’s doing now. And that anybody can just go ahead and do that.

Adam: Yeah, there’s a lot being glossed over there in the uh, and the personal bio.

Nima: But he put his, you know, S-W-E-A-T into it.

Bryan Quinby: Yes. I mean he just basically what he says is just bosses are going to be unfair and you have to be prepared for that and willing to take it as much as you possibly can to get where you’re going. It’s not about empowering the people that work the jobs. I mean, you know, he has the image of being this pro labor guy because he did that show Dirty Jobs but like those were all the owners of the businesses. Those weren’t the guys that were doing the actual work and sure, like some of them were, you know, one man operations that collected golf balls off the bottom of like alligator infested golf courses, like out of the water hazards but like he wasn’t defending like the workers in that show. He wasn’t like applauding work. He was applauding like an entrepreneur, what he would consider an entrepreneurial spirit.

Nima: Right.

Bryan Quinby: So I think that he’s to real work what Larry the Cable Guy is to like cable guys, you know, like Larry the Cable Guy’s this guy that just goes by cable guy who’s never really done anything in his life except for stand up comedy and like hit it and now he’s like a working class hero. Mike Rowe is sort of the same thing. He’s like an opera singer. He worked on QVC and somehow ended up through just bullshit becoming some sort of working class hero, but not to like, I don’t think he’s a hero to working class people. I think he’s a hero to the people who oppress the working class people really.

Nima: So a little bit more about that. I think, you know, I’d love to kind of dig into, we talked about it earlier on the show, but really dig into how he got connected with like this Koch brother propaganda machine where it’s basically just this like cycle, like anything he does is driven by Koch brother talking points and then, you know, that’s like recycled through Koch brother funded media and uh, you know, yet he just maintains, as you said, like, ‘Hey, I’m just, you know, hey, I’m just a caveman, right? Like I’m just a working man who like just, you know, happens to now be a TV celebrity and like the voice of Ford trucks. But like, uh, you know, anyone can do that and most of all don’t unionize and don’t worry about anyone’s safety.’ Like how does this all fit together? And like how has this been able to be successful for him?

Bryan Quinby: I really think that the core of it is that like he climbed down in holes, he played worker on Dirty Jobs and like in the end that is what ended up making him something. And I also do think we do know that most of the country thinks of this thing as a meritocracy and does like the story of the guy who, oh, I, because I, I don’t know if you’ve read his, his argument against the minimum wage, but it’s basically that, okay, I got a job at a movie theater. I was tearing tickets and they told me I was doing such a good job that they made me a projectionist and then skip a thousand steps and now I’m just a celebrity that the Koch brothers give a couple of hundred thousand dollars every year to run around and tell people to quit worrying about safety at their job.

Adam: Um, one of the things that I’m fascinated by is um, because if you look at the demographics of the Discovery Channel’s like top shows that you can’t really look at the gradient of the actual shows themselves. But the Discovery Channel in general, the demographics are pretty low income, that is like almost across the board true. And so I definitely think that he’s marketing to a very specific type of person. And he definitely has purchase with a very specific person. One of the things I’m interested, I’m fascinated by is the degree to which his notion of working class is very racialized. If you look at the demographics of who composes the working class, um, it is disproportionately Latino and African American though, not, not by a ton, but I think whites generally make up about 68 percent of the population give and take and they make up about 60 percent of the quote unquote “working class” people who make under a certain amount of money. Um, but the overwhelming majority of people he interviews in the show are white. They’re sort of seen as being more working class and he is, he kind of is the avatar for himself that. Can you talk about the way in which you perceive his kind of a cartoon version of what it is to be working class and obviously things like working for, you know, being a public school teacher or working at Chick-Fil-A as a cash register don’t really seem to fall into that category?

Bryan Quinby: Right. Yeah. That’s something we’ve talked about a lot too, is that like he has this really narrow idea of what working class is and you know, before I was a podcaster for a living, I worked for a cable company and I was a roofer, like both between me and Brett, my partner, we’ve done a million shitty jobs, you know, and like the jobs that he’s, ‘oh you should be a plumber, you should be a welder’ first of all, aren’t like the easiest jobs in the world to get. You can’t just like walk into a union hall and become a plumber. You can’t just, you can’t just pick up welding. It’s not, it takes a lot of work to get through the vocational, like the vocational training to do that sort of thing and also takes eating a lot of shit. You have to use, a lot of people can’t afford to just take a year making $9 an hour so that they can apprentice and learn how to do something. And he does. He ignores the vast majority of jobs of what our working class is doing is service. That was like all I got to do, the only job I had that wasn’t customer service when I got out of high school, I’m 40 now. When I got out of high school, I worked as a cable guy for seven years. I worked, but I also did customer service. I basically just, that’s all the work is and he doesn’t value that. I don’t think he sees that as a real job. He doesn’t, he doesn’t take into account like what sort of mental stresses that kind of stuff puts on people and just, you know, telling people that like you’re supposed to give your body away to the, like he’s basically telling white men pretty much to just, you owe capitalism your body. You have to give it to them so that they can pay you what little bit that you can get. I mean, he’s saying that to everybody that’s watching the show, but it does, you’re right, it does come off very racialized. You rarely see him talking to anybody but white men that you would assume are like Trump voters too and they’re small business owners.

Adam: Yeah. And it’s very gendered too because women make up a disproportionate amount of the working class and women are probably, just a rough estimate in having looked through the demographics of the show and watching a few episodes, probably maybe 15, 20 percent of the people he interviews.

Bryan Quinby: Right. You would think that, I mean, I think that working at McDonald’s is a hard job. And he frames, I worked at Mcdonald’s when I was 16 and it wasn’t easy.

Adam: No, it’s not.

Bryan Quinby: It was like not a fun job to have. I worked at Chuck E Cheese for a year when I was 17 and I like did those jobs and they’re not easy and he, he glosses over those jobs. He kinda doesn’t respect them.

Nima: He just completely dismisses it as being like tough guy work.

Adam: Well you could argue that it’s not, you know, that it’s not novel. Right? I mean he still runs the TV show, right? It has to be novel. But I do think it’s interesting that the novel jobs he seeks out meet a certain racial sort of aesthetic demographic and gender demographic.

Nima: Well, yeah. Well, and as Bryan you were saying, it’s not like Mike Rowe is a welder and he’s shitting on people who aren’t welders or aren’t plumbers, like he’s a performer. He’s an entertainer doing these things basically on TV sets and recording voiceovers in studios, like he followed the thing that he wanted to do and was able to do it and good for him. But he shits on everyone else for not working hard enough and then complaining about it.

Bryan Quinby: I mean I would even say when you say he shits on everybody else for like, he shits on people who are like actually following a thing that’s real. Like he, he’s basically out here telling people he’s telling working class people like ‘Don’t major in English. What’s wrong with you? That’s the stupidest thing I could think of. Go become a roofer.’ And it’s like, what if you know, what if this person wants to be an English teacher or like why can’t that be a thing? A lot of, I don’t get like this idea that like he seems to think that he’s the only person that gets to make a living with punditry or doing whatever the thing is that he’s doing. I don’t even know what he really does anymore. He doesn’t have a TV show.

Nima: (Laughs.) Right.

Adam: Well, this is, so this is, this to me is really the rub here, which is that like, you know, there’s this runaway anti-intellectualism to it, uh, that is extremely classist and it’s extremely oppressive to be put in frank terms, which is, which is the idea that liberal arts education or reading philosophy or doing poetry, art, that these things are sort of inherently for the rich. And he frames it as kind of a pragmatic like straight talk. Like ‘I’m just keeping it real. This is realistic,’ right? Um, but realism has always been a cover for effectively gaslighting people telling people you don’t need that. Now the, you know, in a civilized society, a society with an obscene amount of resources like ours, why can’t you be a plumber and also write poetry? Why can’t you be a janitor and, and be be a cellist. Like why, what is this dichotomy?

Nima: There’s a zero-sumness to it. Yeah.

Adam: Well, because it’s bullshit. It’s a way. Because again, what they don’t want, and this is our general thesis we talked about earlier, is what the Koch brothers and all the other right-wing backers who support him don’t want, is they don’t want people to think critically. They don’t want, they want fucking automatons. They want workers who show up and don’t complain and they obviously don’t want people forming unions, but they don’t even want them reading literature that’s an antecedent to maybe wanting to start a union. Like the whole thing is, is about keeping a workforce that’s fucking dumb and doesn’t ask deep questions.

Bryan Quinby: Yeah, because it is really like a thing where he doesn’t value it at all. Like it’s like, ‘oh, what you’re into fucking poetry, get outta here. Nobody likes poetry.’ And it’s like, well, what if I, I can tell you just from my experience as one of the people that he was talking to for a period of my life is that like, I didn’t like poetry. I went to college and I learned about poetry and now I like poetry. It’s not like a thing that like you can’t develop an appreciation of like, I wish every, like his idea seems to be that nobody needs liberal arts educations. My idea is I wish everybody could get a liberal arts education. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to have people using jackhammers and stuff on the street or whatever he like envisions because I always just with him, it’s always I just envision his idea of what a working classes is is a cartoon. It’s a guy with a hard hat and overalls, jack hammering on the street for no reason, you know?

Adam: Yeah. It’s the, it’s the proverbial working class voter for Trump who’s maybe like 20 percent of the working class tops.

Bryan Quinby: Right. What also bums me out about it is, is that back during the, I think we talk about this a lot with Mike Rowe, is that there was a period where working in a factory was like looked at as like a bullshit job. You know, like, ‘oh, what you’re going to pay them a minimum wage now? They just put things together. What the hell is that?’ And now we’re doing the exact same thing with the main jobs that exist here, which is fast food and like retail, that’s all there is for people to do easily that can just get in and do it and don’t have the time to train. And like there are a lot of things that Mike Rowe talks about that I totally, like, I do wish there was more access to vocational training for, for people in schools. Like if a kid expressed interest in being a welder, it would be nice if we could kind of push them in that direction, you know, or like help them get in that direction so that they can start early if they already know what they’re doing. But like I don’t want to like strip the other richness of the world away from them and just make them, well now you’re a welder. That’s what you do. You’re a welder, you watch TV shows about welding and you’re read books about welding and that’s who you are.

Nima: (Laughing.) So one of my lingering questions here, and it’s been kind of heightened during this interview because of how we’re talking about Mike Rowe and the kind of character that he projects. Like is he sincere in this? Right? Like we’ve been saying like, ‘oh, that’s his vision of, of a worker,’ that’s his vision of this. He’s anti-this, he’s anti-that, he’s pro-this. Like what, how much do we think he really gives a shit about this because like does he see himself as part of that working class? I mean, and how does he square that with being now like an honorary life member of the Barbershop Harmony Society, which is true. So like, like how does all this work? Like is it all just a ruse or is he buying into his own bullshit?

Bryan Quinby: I think that he is buying it. I don’t think he seems like a particularly smart guy. From everything I’ve read by him he seems, as you said, like pretty anti-intellectual. He’s not the type of guy that I think asks a lot of questions.

Adam: Oh man, it’s, it’s funny. I have a totally different read on that. I actually think he’s pretty brilliant.

Bryan Quinby: I really think that he’s the type, I don’t, I think that he believes-

Adam: In the sense that Donald Trump is, he’s a good, he’s a brilliant marketing mind.

Bryan Quinby: Right. But in a sense of Donald Trump that he believes whatever somebody in a suit tells him, if somebody comes up to him in a suit and is like, you know, ‘minimum wage is really bad for this and this and this reason.’ Then he’s like, ‘Oh yeah, hell yeah. I’ll run out and tell people that,’ you know, ‘I’ll, I’ll put on a pair of overalls and tell people that.’

Nima: And then also tell people not to listen to people in suits.

Bryan Quinby: Yeah. Yeah. And I think he believes all this stuff. I don’t think that this is, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that he believes everything that he says. But I also think that when you’re, I mean he has to know who the Koch brothers are and he has to know who these people are that he’s taking money from.

Adam: He certainly knows who’s buttering his bread and he knows and he knows, he knows what to say to get that and in many ways he’s gone more overtly right-wing.

Bryan Quinby: The thing you guys put in the notes that like I really liked because this is why Brett and I started covering him is he also gets, he gets a lot of space in left and centrists, not leftists. Leftists tend to know him and see it.

Adam: Yeah. He’s, he’s surprisingly effective at getting stuff on Huffington Post and Attention and CNN and MSNBC. Like he’s, he’s. Because again, he frames it as something that’s good for the working class. Um, which kind of leads to my question, which is kind of my big question here, which is we had Thomas Frank on talking about populism a few months ago and he, he had mentioned that the Democrats had conceded the language of the working class and not just in sort of a racialized way, but the working class in general for black, white, Latino, so forth. They have conceded that to the Republicans and they’d been overrun by middle managers and lawyers and that there that there was a sort of contempt amongst Democrats, but in terms of language and how they hold themselves and how they speak about what’s good and what’s bad, although policy wise, obviously much better than the Republicans, but nobody pays attention to policy, and that they had sort of given up on working class aesthetics and values and and the things that people generally value like hard work and that someone like Mike Rowe can kind of step in. A huckster like Mike Rowe can kind of step in, in the same way that after the recession there was potential for huge leftist unrest and Obama kind of rechanneled it into these kind of kind of pseudo solutions and then that got in many ways rechanneled into the astroturf for the Tea Party also funded by the Kochs. That he kind of steps it and scratches an itch that’s real. To what extent do you think that that’s the kind of failure of neoliberalism to really talk about the nature of work and the value of work as being filled by these by these right-wing forces including Rowe?

Bryan Quinby: Right. Yeah. I think you’re right that Thomas Frank is correct that they have ceded all of it because like when we started doing our call in show, it was treated like such a, like people think that our call in show is like this revolutionary thing because we let people call and talk about their jobs for three hours every week and it’s like I think something that hasn’t happened in left spaces for awhile and like the problem also is when the Democrats decide to run somebody that does speak the language of the working class, he’s always a concern. It’s always a white male and conservative and they have this idea of what that person is supposed to be. He’s got to be white. He’s got to be male and he’s got to be a conservative guy or a centrist, but pro life or something like that. When the truth is like you could almost run anybody as long as they expressed like, as long as they expressed how tough it is to work in this world, like we are like really screwed and to allow the Republicans to be the ones that go out and sort of say ‘you deserve it’ because that’s what Mike Rowe does. He’s basically like, ‘you deserve it.’ ‘You’ve got a job at Arby’s, so you deserve to be miserable for the rest of your life.’

Adam: Because that’s the thing is like he, he obviously, he obviously panders to a specific type of petit bourgeois, like a kind of business owner, you know, the most, the only people in the Earth, more hardcore Republican than cops are small business owners right?

Bryan Quinby: Oh yeah.

Adam: That’s why he centers them, you know, and then, but the fact that your average worker making $10 an hour at Walmart or $8 an hour at Walmart in, especially if they’re white, I think that’s a big important qualifier, they identify more with the guy who, you know, their manager or the guy who runs the small business than they do, you know, a Latino immigrant, so forth.

Nima: Right. Who’s like working at the cash register next to them.

Adam: Yeah like his entire shtick seems to further entrench that to kind of further solidify that, that racial sort of aesthetic based solidarity. And I think that’s super interesting to me. It’s really is best looked at as like a, a project almost like an ideological project.

Bryan Quinby: Yeah, I would agree with that. He is doing really well. I would love to see more people. I’d love that you guys are doing this show because more people need to hear about this guy.

Adam: He flies under the radar. I think I saw like one Jacobin article that was vaguely critical and that was it. Like he mostly kind of flies under the radar and he’s, again, I think he picks off, I think I said on Twitter that he was more dangerous, more dangerous than a Ben Shapiro because he like, he picks off, I think Liberals and Democrats with a lot of toxic ideology in the same way that like charter school stuff did.

Nima: It’s pretty stealthily sinister.

Adam: Yeah, I think so. Of course-

Bryan Quinby: Right, he does a good job of making himself just look like a regular guy, you know? I mean like, it’s funny because you talk about like the times where he was doing Dirty Jobs and you can just picture him sitting in a makeup chair and having them rub dirt on his face and his clothes and then having him stand in a hole and be like, ‘wow, this is crazy what you’re doing,’ you know?

Adam: Yeah. A photo shoot.

Nima: Right, with all of his handlers and like safety harnesses around. Right? Like, and so I actually, Bryan, I really want to ask you this. So we talked earlier on the show about this thing that Rowe pushes, this concept called “safety third” where, you know, he kind of is mocking the, the idea of safety first on job sites and how it’s really just about these like, you know, shitty regulations and whatever and that doesn’t really mean anything. And so, you know, from your experience talking to actual working people, people who work whatever job that may be, what do you hear from them about the concept of safety? Are they really antagonistic toward regulation, about keeping people alive?

Bryan Quinby: That’s never been like actually, like OSHA was always sorta a thing that they brought up, I mean when I was working for instance, there were times where I thought this stuff was bullshit, you know, like just because like I didn’t want to wear a hardhat, you know, like I thought they look nerdy so I didn’t put it on. But like I don’t remember workers ever really being against OSHA and, and most people kind of consider it like, they do feel like, well at least I’ll make it home. Like I want to make it home. I’m not looking to give my life to this job. You know?

Nima: And it seems like that’s what Mike Rowe is demanding for you to be taken seriously as a worker.

Bryan Quinby: That’s what he, he really does feel like you owe. He, I think in his perfect world, you would basically sign over the rights to your body to your employer. The day you turn 18, you get to decide what you’re going to do or maybe the Koch brothers get to decide what you’re gonna do and then you sign yourself over and that’s what you have to be for the rest of your life because that’s what it feels like. It feels like he’s like this extraordinarily lucky guy that like it did all work out for him and I, I’m in like an extraordinarily lucky guy that a bunch of stuff like worked out for me. But I also know that it was a fluke and that not just anybody can do like what I can do. I think Mike Rowe has this thing in his mind that just like, you just put your mind to it and if you decide you want to be the Dirty Jobs guy, then you can just be the Dirty Jobs guy. You just got to start out, you know, you’ve got to start out, you got to get into the field and then you just get there.

Nima: (Laughing) And then you just become the Dirty Jobs guy.

Bryan Quinby: Yeah.

Adam: You can’t even do that because all the things he uses for his job are liberal arts, like the, the, you know what I mean? Like his, his communication skills.

Nima: He has a degree in communications.

Adam: Yeah. That’s all liberal arts education. So you can’t even. You’re not even allowed to do that if you’re poor.

Bryan Quinby: Right. He doesn’t want you doing. Yeah. He doesn’t want you doing that. That’s a waste of time.

Adam: Rich kids, rich kids go to fucking Montessori schools. They go to liberal arts education. The CEO of Goldman Sachs is sending his kid to, you know, Harvard to study philosophy. They know that as well as anyone else that like, that’s how you become rich. You know Mark Zuckerberg, you know, he came from an upper middle class family when he was on his application to Harvard he spoke Latin, he spoke English and he spoke Spanish. You know, and this is while he was taking graduate level math classes in high school, like these things are only allowed for the rich and the CEOs. Everyone else has to go be a fucking drone.

Bryan Quinby: Yeah. And in “The S.W.E.A.T. Pledge” he does say that we’re all created equal but we don’t start out from the same place and it’s like well that’s the fucking problem. That’s what we’ve all been trying to say that like it’s not fair that the person that was born at, because of the neighborhood you were born and you have to work at Burger King or work back and forth between Burger King, Target and McDonald’s for your whole life and then this rich kid just gets to live a life of luxury, which he never brings that stuff up. Like I would think a real working class hero guy would talk about inheritance and would talk about how the one percent is there because they hand off their money to each other as they go. Like all these people started on third base and like that’s something, that’s something that the working class needs to hear. Instead he is telling them that they all did it through sheer, like grit and hard work. That’s how Mark Zuckerberg got where he is.

Nima: Well, I don’t even think like that necessarily enters into, like he never identifies what he terms as success, right? Because then it would reflect back and be completely anathema to what he’s actually talking about. But he, it’s all this kind of just tropey bullshit of, you know, the world isn’t fair. I’m okay with that. I do not resent the success of others. Like I won the greatest lottery of all time because I’m alive on Earth and I live in America. Like therefore like if that’s you then shut up. Like it’s all, it’s all this like shut up, stop whining, you know, stand for the fucking anthem. Like it’s all wrapped up into this horseshit of never question anything. Your lot in life is where you are and just accept it and then like give your, your body over to this and when you die then like hey, well you know, fuck it. Because like you worked and it’s like period, like. But that doesn’t mean anything like, like I, I don’t think, I don’t even know what his definition of work is.

Bryan Quinby: No. And you’re right also about the success thing. I don’t know what his definition of that, I don’t know what he thinks a successful person is. It’s just somebody who’s broken from a life of, of giving. Because like I, look, I only did it for , I’m supposed to do it til I’m 62. I did it till I was 32 and I have a bad wrist, a bad back and bad knees, just from like doing that. I don’t know, like where I would be now if I had stuck with it and just kept working like I don’t know, like, I was making $16 an hour when I quit after working at a place for seven years. There’s just, it’s really not a fair system. And there’s, the other thing that he doesn’t talk about his upward mobility, like this idea, then we can all eventually become the manager or the small business owners.

Nima: Right. That’s not even part of it.

Bryan Quinby: Yeah. He never talks about that. He never talks about how there’s 50 people on a team and one of them, one or two of them may move up, but the other 50 are still like integral to the team, the other 48 are still integral to the team working. He doesn’t value them. He thinks that they should be looking to move up constantly.

Nima: Well, there’s, in a way, there’s nothing aspirational about his shtick. It is all based on like obedience and complacency and just acceptance. Like it’s, it’s basically, it’s basically a mantra of accepting everything and questioning nothing.

Bryan Quinby: Yeah, you are where you are and like you’re lucky you’re there.

Nima: And so and so come in early, stay until after your kids are asleep and destroy your body because that’s who you are.

Bryan Quinby: Yes. And that’s who you were supposed to be. You were born to be that person. Unfortunately.

Adam: I think that’s a, a nice place to stop. Um, as three born podcasters. I think this was an extremely enlightening conversation. I’m glad that there was so much visceral hate of Mike Rowe and then I wasn’t, I wasn’t alone. This is, this seems like a mutually mutually hateful session.

Nima: Yeah it’s very reinforcing.

Adam: That was the quickest interview we’ve ever had. I felt like that went by in four minutes because we all just had seething rage. I’m really glad you came on because, um, that was awesome.

Nima: Uh, everyone you have been listening to our conversation with Bryan Quinby, co-host of Street Fight Radio podcast, who better known to a lot of you as @MurderBryan on Twitter. Uh, Bryan, thank you so much for joining us today, man. This was great.

Bryan Quinby: Thank you for having me. It was.


Adam: So, that was great. He clearly had a lot of anger and opinions about Mike Rowe, so that was, that was good to get his perspective.

Nima: So yeah. Thank you everyone for listening to this episode of Citations Needed. Uh, you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed and become a supporter of our work, uh, our work ethic through Patreon.com —

Adam: We earned it. Give us your money. Don’t be lazy.

Nima: (Laughing) Take a risk, get the job done, and support Citations Needed for fuck’s sake. Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. And an extra special shout out goes to our critic level supporters. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Production consultant is Josh Kross. Production assistant is Sophia Steinert-Evoy. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Research and writing for this episode by Ethan Corey. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again for listening everyone. We’ll catch you next time.


This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, January 30, 2019.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.



Citations Needed

A podcast on media, power, PR, and the history of bullshit. Hosted by @WideAsleepNima and @adamjohnsonnyc.