What a way to mark Black History Month.
Turns out when Spotify’s right-wing podcast host Joe Rogan isn’t spreading lies and misinformation about a life-saving vaccine during a public health crisis, he’s been chronically using the N-word.
One week after he offered a semi-apology for trafficking in Covid lies, Rogan offered another public mea culpa regarding his regular on-air use of racist language, and for comparing a Black neighborhood to the “Planet of the Apes.” The after-the-fact apology rang hollow, since just days ago Rogan was telling his listeners Black people aren’t really Black. This, while 70 older Rogan podcasts got yanked down last week, reportedly because they contained more racist slurs.
Over the weekend, as a compilation clip of Rogan’s 20-plus N-word utterances went viral, actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson walked back his support for Rogan, whose Covid lies prompted a number of famous musicians to demand their catalogs be pulled from the music playlist platform. (Joni Mitchell: “Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives.”)
It’s the latest public relations fiasco for the audio content giant Spotify, the billion-dollar media behemoth that made a huge bet on GOP favorite Rogan, signing him to a $100 million contract despite knowing about the host’s long history of bigotry and baseless conspiracies.
Spotify’s unfolding Rogan fiasco comes as the company does deep damage to its own brand by steadfastly defending a chronic purveyor for right-wing lies and hate; a modern-day Rush Limbaugh. Rather than setting common-sense guidelines for Rogan, Spotify has opted to treat him as untouchable as he wreaks havoc on the company’s image.
Once seen as a fun, feel-good brand for music and podcasts, Spotify is now synonymous with Fox News in terms of peddling toxic content; a poster child for corporate cowardice.
“Its failure to take any meaningful responsibility, other than adding a few disclaimers, is all too reminiscent of the way Facebook, for years, has dodged accountability for spreading so many harmful lies,” noted Margaret Sullivan in the Washington Post.
In refusing to take meaningful action, Spotify is trying, and failing, to present itself as both a steward of free speech, guarding the rights of hosts to say whatever they want, while at the same time paying lip service to the idea of maintaining editorial guidelines.
Here’s the simple fact: When Spotify made Rogan a millionaire one hundred times over with a nine-figure deal to be the exclusive home of “The Joe Rogan Experience,” they knew exactly what they were getting. They knew some of Rogan’s content was so objectionable that Spotify wanted nothing to do with it.
How do we know? Because in 2020 when Spotify purchased the entire Rogan catalog of podcasts and hosted them, dozens of older episodes were deleted, featuring friendly interviews with reprehensible, far-right figures such as Sandy Hook shooting conspiracist Alex Jones, Holocaust denier Chuck C. Johnson, neo-Nazi fan Milo Yiannapoloulos, and Proud Boy founder Gavin McInnes. (Rogan dubbed his interview with the white supremacist McInnes to be “fun times.”) Those chummy chats on a national platform helped normalize their racist and deranged behavior.
At the time, Spotify agreed to silence those interviews because they were, presumably, so objectionable that the company did not want to be associated with them. The same thing happened last week when 70 episodes mysteriously vanished while Spotify was in damage control mode.
But Spotify has remained silent when Rogan and his guests have claimed, “It’s more dangerous to get vaccinated than it is to get Covid,” that you’re “more likely to get infected if you’ve had three jabs,” that Dr. Anthony Fauci “produced the pandemic,” that Biden got a fake booster shot on TV because his aides were afraid he’d die if he got a real one, and the government is monitoring everyone’s texts looking for anti-vaccine messages.
Rogan last year bragged that the company was letting him say whatever he wanted about the pandemic and the vaccine — “They’ve been amazing. Spotify has given me no pushback whatsoever.” That, despite the fact Spotify had in place a policy that “prohibits content on the platform which promotes dangerous false, deceptive, or misleading content about COVID-19 that may cause offline harm and/or pose a direct threat to public health.”
Spotify recently told the Wall Street Journal that it has taken down thousands of podcast episodes in violation of “detailed content policies” related to COVID-19. Just none of Rogan’s. He has violated those rules countless times and none of his Covid episodes have been touched. Last year, when Rogan urged people under the age 21 not to get vaccinated, Spotify somehow concluded those comments were not anti-vaccine.
Late last year, Rogan hosted Dr. Robert Malone, a world-class Covid denier and medical quack, who told Rogan’s millions of listeners that public health experts advocating for vaccines today are akin to Nazis in the 1930s. The episode got banned by YouTube, where the Joe Rogan Experience often gets uploaded, for violating the platform’s rules about trafficking in pandemic lies. For Spotify, the interview, conducted at the height of the Omicron surge which flooded hospitals with Covid patients nationwide, was deemed to be just fine.
Today, the public face of Spotify is an anti-vaccine zealot who has a long history of spouting racial slurs. Rupert Murdoch would be proud.
Reprinted with permission from Press Run