Joe Rogan got his start as a no-nonsense – some would say brash – comedian. He created a brand and a substantial following by taking that unorthodox style to a weekly podcast on YouTube. He has said in interviews that he wants to present himself as a “counterweight to political correctness.” Spotify decided to hitch their wagon to that horse in 2020, offering Rogan $100 million to exclusively air his podcast on their platform. Not an issue, right? The streaming world was bound to start doing big money deals similar to the contracts that professional athletics and the music industry create.
But, the problem was, there was a pandemic happening. The entire world was living with the fear of this new thing called COVID-19 or the coronavirus. People were dying. Literally dropping dead around us. As of last week, 900,000 Americans – fathers, mothers, siblings, friends, co-workers – have died from a virus that two years ago we knew nothing about.
In 2020, most of us lived in exile for months, scared to death that we would contract something that could hospitalize us or worse yet kill us. Near the end of that year, scientists began developing a vaccine that they hoped would halt the spread of COVID and save lives. It is still to date one of the best ways to stop the spread of coronavirus and keep you out of the hospital. Rogan, however, has chosen to use his massive platform to spread information to the contrary.
In April 2021, Rogan recklessly said that people who are healthy “don’t need to take the vaccine.” He doubled down on that assertion by saying that young people (who were also dying by the way) shouldn’t get the vaccine. And then, he doubled down on the doubling down by inviting crackpot doctor Robert Malone on his show. Malone was banned from Twitter for violating the platform’s COVID-19 misinformation policies. Malone has promoted several false and misleading claims about the COVID-19 vaccines and pandemic. His claim of being the mRNA vaccine inventor and his ability to speak fluidly in scientific terms have given him great appeal to anti-vaccine audiences.
The problem here is not being “anti-vax”. I respect an individual’s right to choose what they do with their own body. I don’t think it’s a particularly smart choice; it’s actually extremely selfish. But, it’s your right. Nonetheless, what Rogan is doing is willfully spreading misinformation that has been debunked by multiple sources. He’s using his bully pulpit to allow charlatans like Malone a megaphone and access to millions of listeners. Not cool. And Spotify has apparently sided with Rogan saying that they will now “add content advisories” to episodes that mention COVID-19.
Recently, singers like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and India Arie have asked to have their catalogs pulled from Spotify, the latter of which notes Rogan’s usage of the n-word as a reason to leave the service. Unfortunately, while I support the spirit of those guys, not one among them currently provides the revenue or streams that Rogan does. There’s a saying that “he who holds the gold makes the rules.” And right now, Rogan is the cash cow that Spotify isn’t willing to part ways with.
Look, I’m against censorship in any form. Although I may disagree with what you say, I will forever defend your right to say it. But what Rogan is doing is not a “freedom of speech” issue. It’s not a debate on whether Drew Brees is a better quarterback than Tom Brady. We’re not debating safe sex vs abstinence. We’re talking about a podcast that is spreading wrong information … debunked information … and influencing gullible people to do things (or not do things) that could kill them or a loved one.
We’re here. We’ve arrived at that moment in the culture where death and mayhem are a by-product of dollars and cents. The moment that a multi-billion dollar corporation, that’s already underpaying the artists that are on the platform, allows a podcast host to tout the benefits of a medicine designed to kill parasites in horses instead of reprimanding him and demanding he give factual information … you know we’re in trouble.
With the amount of systemic and life-altering issues going on in our world today, sometimes I feel like I’m the one taking crazy pills.