The least we should expect from Spotify and Joe Rogan

February 7, 2022, 6:27 PM UTC

Two summers ago, on a 20-hour drive from Michigan to Texas, I decided to find out what all the Joe Rogan fuss was about.

Somewhere along a desolate stretch of Arkansas highway, I turned on an episode of the comedian’s wildly popular podcast. The guest: conservative commentator Ben Shapiro.

For nearly two hours, Rogan and Shapiro volleyed over issues of race and criminal justice. Shapiro spouted his usual right-wing dogma. Rogan, meanwhile, pushed back at times with pointed questions and well-founded skepticism, taking stances that would more align with a left-leaning pundit.

I left the conversation mostly unimpressed with Rogan’s logic—countless critics offer far more educated and insightful thoughts on race—but appreciative of his willingness to host an open-ended forum with someone whose opinions skew conservative.

Therein lies the Rogan rub. One day, he’s a refreshingly anti-establishment figure, a welcome counterbalance to the traditional media’s tightly-drawn lines for acceptable discourse. The next day, he’s a boorish lunkhead spewing irresponsible and prejudicial nonsense to millions of devoted listeners.

This is what Spotify signed up for when the streaming service gave him $100 million to bring The Joe Rogan Experience exclusively onto its platform. 

And it’s why Spotify CEO Daniel Ek finds himself staring down the company’s biggest firestorm to date. Rogan is facing intense backlash for the second straight weekend, this time for repeating the N-word on dozens of podcasts and comparing a predominantly Black neighborhood to Planet of the Apes in a past episode. (Rogan endured criticism late last month for hosting two guests promoting COVID-19 anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.)

So far, Ek continues to side with Rogan. Spotify took down about 70 episodes believed to contain the N-word and Ek condemned some of Rogan’s speech, but Ek ultimately concluded that “I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer.”

Rogan called his past use of the N-word “regretful” and “shameful,” adding that a clip of him repeating the slur was taken out of context. Rogan suggested he merely quoted others’ use of the word, rather than maliciously directing it at an individual or group. (Interestingly, Rogan expressed contrition several months ago about his use of the N-word to less fanfare.)  

Spotify doesn’t yet have much financial incentive for dumping Rogan. Headline-grabbing boycotts by artists Neil Young and Joni Mitchell haven’t widely spread throughout the music community, and Ek didn’t sound too concerned in a recent earnings call about mass subscription cancellations. 

Maybe this will change if Taylor Swift and Drake take up the cause or spring-quarter revenue tanks as subscribers flee. But barring a bigger firestorm, Rogan doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere. 

And if that’s the case, here’s the least we should demand from him and Spotify moving forward: accountability.

Hold Rogan to his commitment of self-improvement. Listen for his use of insensitive and prejudicial language. Watch to see if he has “more (COVID-19) experts with different opinions right after the controversial ones,” as he suggested he should. Blast him publicly when he falls short.

Hold Ek to his pledge, made this weekend, to “an incremental investment of $100 million” for supporting musicians and audio content creators from “historically marginalized groups.” Make sure that money gets spent in a timely fashion on high-value projects.

This solution certainly will fall short for those calling for Rogan’s removal from Spotify. But in a business environment that allows him to keep his mic, we should, at a minimum, expect that all sides grow from this Joe Rogan experience.

Think that Joe Rogan should be dropped from Spotify? How would you pressure the company to do it? Believe that Daniel Ek is taking the right approach? Drop me a line here.

Jacob Carpenter


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From the article:

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