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Spotify Signed Joe Rogan for $100 Million But Won’t Hold Him Accountable for Spreading Misinfo, Hate

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Image Credit: Joe Rogan Experience/YouTube

Comedian Joe Rogan has come under fire for spreading COVID-19 misinformation, using racial slurs and other harmful rhetoric on his Spotify podcast. Musicians such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell have pulled their music from the platform in protest of his $100 million contract reportedly paid by Spotify, raising questions how responsible audio platforms should be over hateful content. “He’s made it clear that he doesn’t have any intention of changing the lies and hate he spreads on his podcast, and it’s far past time that Spotify came to the plate and actually moderated the content on its platform,” says Alex Paterson, a self-described “Joe Rogan watchdog” and senior researcher for the LGBTQ Program at Media Matters.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “Find the Cost of Freedom” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Neil Young’s former bandmates have also asked to remove their music from Spotify in protest of Joe Rogan. This is_Democracy Now!_, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Calls are growing for the audio-streaming app Spotify to remove Joe Rogan’s podcast from its platform after he promoted misinformation about COVID-19 on his show and as video resurfaced showing Rogan making repeated racist comments. Last Friday, the Grammy-winning singer India Arie joined other artists who have pulled their music from Spotify as she shared a viral video showing Rogan using the N-word on his show two dozen times.

JOE ROGAN: Like, you know, the [bleep] thing. … Yes, saying the word [bleep]. … You’ve already said [bleep]. … It’s just like [bleep]. … Saying [bleep]. … She’s called you a [bleep], like this. … Boy, that he’s a [bleep]. … But starts calling him [bleep].

AMY GOODMAN: Other resurfaced videos show Joe Rogan saying Black people have “different brains” and comparing a neighborhood with “no white people” to the Planet of the Apes. Rogan posted an apology video on his Instagram account last weekend in which he addressed the video supercut.

JOE ROGAN: I’m making this video to talk about the most regretful and shameful thing that I’ve ever had to talk about publicly. There’s a video that’s out that’s a compilation of me saying the N-word. It’s a video that’s made of clips, taken out of context, of me of 12 years of conversations on my podcast, and it’s all smooshed together, and it looks [bleep] horrible, even to me. Now, I know that, to most people, there is no context where a white person is ever allowed to say that word, never mind publicly on a podcast. And I agree with that now. I haven’t said it in years.

AMY GOODMAN: In a video response Wednesday, India Arie said she thought some of Rogan’s apology was disingenuous, and added, “Spotify is built on the back of the music streaming, so they take this money that’s built from streaming and they pay this guy $100 million but they pay us 0.003% of a penny?” she said. Arie also cited writer Roxane Gay and others in clarifying she wanted Spotify to curate its content, not censor what is on its platform.

INDIA ARIE: Censorship is being at the threat of loss of life or freedom for your words. No one’s being censored here. She said this is not censorship; this is about curation — curation meaning choosing what you want in a space, choosing the space you want around you. Curation. This is not about censorship. This is about curation. And so, Spotify is making a choice about the space they choose to curate. I and other creators are making choices about the space we want to curate. … My conversation is not about Joe Rogan. It is not about Spotify. It is about my integrity and my dignity.

AMY GOODMAN: Spotify has now deleted scores of past episodes of Rogan’s podcast. But Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has refused to cancel Rogan’s exclusive contract. In a memo to Spotify workers, Ek wrote, quote, “Canceling voices is a slippery slope,” unquote.

The watchdog outlet Media Matters published a compilation of times Joe Rogan has spoken about the impunity he operates with at Spotify. This is a part of it.

JESSICA KIRSON: 'Cause I didn't.

JOE ROGAN: Did they know that you’re Jewish, though?

JESSICA KIRSON: Yes!

JOE ROGAN: Well, then, they’re [bleep].

JESSICA KIRSON: You can’t say that.

JOE ROGAN: But I did.

JESSICA KIRSON: Yeah, but you’re not allowed.

JOE ROGAN: But I’m on Spotify. You can get away with it.

PATRICK BET-DAVID: The part that —

JOE ROGAN: That’s just because the world has gotten more controversial.

PATRICK BET-DAVID: Yeah.

JOE ROGAN: I have changed nothing. And Spotify has asked me to change nothing. They’ve never come to me —

PATRICK BET-DAVID: But that’s the part, yeah.

JOE ROGAN: Yeah. They’ve never —

PATRICK BET-DAVID: Kudos to them.

JOE ROGAN: No, they’ve been amazing.

PATRICK BET-DAVID: Yeah.

JOE ROGAN: I’m very happy with them. Spotify has given me no pushback whatsoever. … Spotify didn’t seem — I mean, I had to take a chance, but they didn’t seem like they were going to censor me in any way.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Alex Paterson, senior researcher for the LGBTQ Program at Media Matters and their self-described “Joe Rogan watchdog.”

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Alex. You’ve said Rogan has 11 million listeners per episode. You’ve watched hundreds of episodes. I want to begin with the racism, with the N-word. And, of course, that’s also linked to COVID misinformation. But can you talk about what he has said over the years, the deal he made with Spotify? I mean, this goes way back. Spotify had to know what he was saying, what they were buying.

ALEX PATERSON: Absolutely. When Spotify cut Rogan a $100 million check to come on their platform exclusively, they knew what they were getting. And Rogan has delivered on that. He has continued to spread anti-trans hate, racist tropes and sexist remarks on his podcast. I heard you play his apology video, but this week on his podcast he said he was happy that that video came to light, and he called it a “political hit job.” He’s made it clear that he doesn’t have any intention of changing what he’s — the lies and hate he spreads on his podcast. And it’s far past time Spotify came to the plate and actually moderated the content on its platform.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us a little more about Joe Rogan, for those who have never heard about him, how this whole story exploded.

ALEX PATERSON: Joe Rogan is a comedian and MMA commentator who rose to stardom in the United States first through acting in comedy, then he was the host of Fear Factor, and now he has the most popular podcast in the world. He has 11 million listeners per episode, which is about four times as many viewers as broadcast cable TV news shows like Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson receive per night. So, what Spotify has on its hands is a serial misinformer that’s reaching a huge, huge audience.

And he’s not only spread hateful remarks on his podcast, but he regularly lies about the pandemic. Over the past year and a half, he has encouraged people not to get vaccinated, and he’s repeatedly lied that mRNA vaccines are a form of gene therapy. And it’s clear he’s one of the most prominent COVID-19 misinformers in the U.S. And Spotify is completely failing to do anything about it.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve reported that, as you said, that Rogan is one of the most prominent misinformers about COVID in the media landscape. In April, he said on his podcast he believes healthy 21-year-olds don’t need to get vaccinated.

JOE ROGAN: [People say, “Do you think it’s] safe to get vaccinated?” I’ve said, yeah, I think, for the most part, it’s safe to get vaccinated. I do. I do. But if you’re like 21 years old, and you say to me, “Should I get vaccinated?” I go, “No. Are you healthy? Are you a healthy person? Like, look, don’t do anything stupid, but you should take care of yourself. You should — if you’re — if you’re a healthy person and you’re exercising all the time and you’re young and you’re eating well, and, like — I don’t think you need to worry about this.”

AMY GOODMAN: Alex Paterson, your response?

ALEX PATERSON: The clip speaks for itself. This isn’t a symptom of Joe Rogan’s podcast. This is something he’s doing almost every single day. He has also lied that President Biden perhaps didn’t get vaccinated on live TV because he could have died. And he recently said that children don’t need to get vaccinated. He has also pushed unproven and potentially dangerous treatments on his podcast. He was one person who made ivermectin pretty much a national debate overnight. And Spotify’s response is —

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what ivermectin is.

ALEX PATERSON: Yeah, ivermectin is a widely available prescription that people have started to take to try to treat COVID-19. But largely, when you look at the research, there’s no proven methods for it to treat COVID. And what’s more, it can be taken in excess and have dangerous outcomes.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to, what, a few days ago, January 25th, Joe Rogan hosting a Canadian conservative public figure Jordan Peterson on his podcast. Peterson spent almost an hour attempting to discredit climate science.

JOE ROGAN: We still have a weird idea of nuclear because of the several — you know, whether it’s Three Mile Island, Chernobyl. There’s been a few disasters. Fukushima —

JORDAN PETERSON: Yeah, more people die every year from solar energy than die from nuclear.

JOE ROGAN: Who dies from solar?

JORDAN PETERSON: Guess. Guess how you die from solar.

JOE ROGAN: Sunburn?

JORDAN PETERSON: No, you fall off the roofs when you’re installing it.

JOE ROGAN: Oh.

JORDAN PETERSON: Yeah, “oh,” right?

JOE ROGAN: That’s gravity.

JORDAN PETERSON: Yeah, gravity. Gravity.

JOE ROGAN: Yeah.

JORDAN PETERSON: And, you know, that’s a good example of unintended consequences.

AMY GOODMAN: Alex Paterson, if you can respond?

ALEX PATERSON: One thing I think that clip shows is that Rogan’s episode at any point in time has the ability to become a lightning rod for right-wing misinformation. There we see clear lies about climate change. And also in that episode, Rogan and Peterson claimed that Michael Eric Dyson isn’t actually Black, and spread other racist tropes.

And what has Spotify done in response to that episode? Nothing. Potentially 11 million people took that directly and take it for truth. And what we’re seeing is that this is repeatedly happening on Rogan’s show. And I’ve listened to over 350 hours of his podcast in the last year, and we’re just now seeing people take action against him. And until Spotify does something, I think we’ll continue to see artists and content creators leave the platform.

AMY GOODMAN: Alex, let me ask you about Spotify saying they’re keeping Rogan, they’re not going to censor him. That’s a “slippery slope,” the CEO, Ek, says. And also, to repeat what India Arie, the musician, said, “Spotify … built on the back of the music streaming, so they take this money that’s built from streaming and they pay this guy $100 million but they pay us 0.003% of a penny?”

ALEX PATERSON: It’s simple. Money talks. And right now Spotify is showing that, above all else, it wants to profit off Joe Rogan’s lies about the pandemic and his hateful bigotry. And it sends, clearly, a message to artists of who’s most important here.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2020, you shared a clip from Rogan’s podcast when he lied and claimed left-wing people, I think he put it as, were starting forest fires, which led to outrage that led to Rogan apologizing. But Spotify didn’t take any action.

ALEX PATERSON: Yeah, the CEO of Spotify, Daniel Ek, has stood by Rogan time and time again, when Rogan lies about vaccines, when he spreads lies straight from Fox News. An additional point I want to make is that it’s not just Rogan on the platform. Media Matters has identified an entire network of right-wing pundits and anti-vaccine skeptics who have spread harmful misinformation on the podcasts. Steven Crowder is one. He hosts a podcast that is played on Spotify, and he recently proposed the ideas of Omicron parties. That episode is still on Spotify, despite the platform having rules that explicitly prohibit people from encouraging others to get infected with COVID-19.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve said that Rogan evades accountability by inviting others on to voice the false or extremely discriminatory ideas.

ALEX PATERSON: Mm-hmm, yeah. I’d love to point out, he has a really cunning way of avoiding any accountability. When you look at Rogan’s podcast, it’s comedians, scientists, professors, and then a ton of right-wing and far-right pundits, people like Alex Jones, like Ben Shapiro. And Rogan knows what he’s doing. He knows the sort of rhetoric these people are going to spread on his podcast. And then, on the rare occasion he is actually held to account in the media, he has a really cunning way of avoiding any accountability. He claims to be a, quote, “moron.” And that’s not true. He knows exactly what he’s doing here. And both Rogan and Spotify know the influence he has.

AMY GOODMAN: What is Media Matters calling for?

ALEX PATERSON: We’re calling for Spotify to publish and enforce robust rules around misinformation on its podcast — on its platform. If you look at Spotify’s current platform rules, it makes two mentions of COVID-19. It doesn’t say anything about masks, distancing, preventative measures or downplaying the pandemic. And then, in part of that, what I mentioned is, Spotify has to actually enforce these rules. This week Joe Rogan downplayed the severity of children being raped. He said it would be fine for 13-year-old boys to have sex with adult women. Spotify doesn’t allow content that suggests it’s OK to groom children for sex, but Spotify hasn’t done anything in response. We’re just really asking them to take accountability for the content that they’re creating.

AMY GOODMAN: Alex Paterson, we thank you for being with us, senior researcher for the LGBTQ Program at Media Matters and their self-described “Joe Rogan watchdog.”

Coming up, American Reckoning, a new documentary about unsolved crimes from the civil rights era ini Natchez, Mississippi. Stay with us.

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