Joe Rogan apologizes as backlash hits Spotify

Entertainment

NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — Podcaster Joe Rogan has apologized and pledged more balance on his show amid a backlash against COVID-19 misinformation on the streaming service Spotify that wiped more than $2 billion off its market value last week.

Rogan’s show, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” has been the most listened-to podcast on Spotify and is central to its plan to expand beyond music and take on rivals such as Apple and Amazon for a share of the podcasting market.

Spotify said it would add a content advisory to any episode with discussion of COVID to try to quell the controversy, a first step into the field of content moderation that other platforms such as Facebook have found challenging and costly.

Rogan is a prominent vaccine skeptic and his views on vaccines and government mandates to control the spread of the virus alienated prominent figures from singer-songwriter Neil Young to guitarist Nils Lofgren to best-selling U.S. professor and author Brené Brown. Young requested his music be pulled from Spotify last week amid Rogan’s vaccine claims.

Rogan’s podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” was the most listened to in the U.S. and worldwide in 2021 and streams exclusively on Spotify. Colby Hall, founding editor of Mediaite, discussed the cultural relevancy Rogan has on “Morning in America.”

“It’s funny to think this, but Joe Rogan has way more cultural currency currently than does Neil Young,” Hall said. “If you would have said that two years ago that you would have sort of laughed like the MMA host and former host of ‘Fear Factor’ is bigger than Young. But that’s where we are.”

Rogan responded to the fallout on Sunday, saying in a video on Instagram that he was only seeking to have conversations on his podcast with people who have “differing opinions.”

“I’m not trying to promote misinformation, I’m not trying to be controversial,” Rogan said. “I’ve never tried to do anything with this podcast other than to just talk to people.”

Rogan additionally welcomed the idea of adding advisories before podcasts related to COVID-19.

He also said that he schedules the guests on his podcast himself, and that he would try to book doctors with different opinions right after he talks to “the controversial ones.” Rogan noted that he earlier sat down on the show with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the chief medical correspondent for CNN, Dr. Michael Osterholm, who is a member of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, and Dr. Peter Hotez from Baylor College of Medicine.

Hall said he believes Rogan’s everyman appeal is the reason followers keep listening despite the backlash and misinformation.

“He [Rogan] admits that he doesn’t know what he’s really talking about. And because of that, he comes across, understandably, as very authentic, and relatable, because he’s a host that feels like the normal audience,” said Hall. “But unfortunately, when he brings on people that sort of spout kind of dangerous disinformation, he amplifies that in a way. That’s dangerous, and I think that he needs to take more responsibility.”

Joni Mitchell said last week she is seeking to remove all of her music from Spotify in solidarity with Young. Earlier, hundreds of scientists, professors and public health experts asked Spotify to remove a Dec. 31 episode from “The Joe Rogan Experience” in which he featured Dr. Robert Malone, an infectious-disease specialist who has been banned from Twitter for spreading COVID-19 misinformation.

Some doctors, including infectious disease expert Dr. Monica Gandhi, worry Malone could turn people into skeptics when the risks vaccines pose are outweighed by their benefits.

“Immunology is indisputable,” Gandhi said on “NewsNation Prime.” “People can get naturally infected, but it’s not as safe as getting the vaccine. I can tell you with everything I know that vaccines work.”

Spotify shares were up 2% in pre-market trading on Monday but still at their lowest since May 2020, after the controversy and a broader sell-off of tech stocks in January eroded more than a quarter of its value.

Hall says he doesn’t believe the backlash will affect Spotify longterm.

“This is a big winner for Spotify and Rogen because it’s a controversy and we’re all talking about it. I think I think it’ll go away,” Hall told NewsNation’s Adrienne Bankert.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said late on Sunday that he might disagree with the views of some individuals on the platform but that it was “important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor.”

Last week, “Delete Spotify” trended on Twitter in response to Young’s music removal with some people deleting their accounts. There are more than 381 million subscribers with 172 million of them paying for their subscription, according to Spotify. So even with users canceling their subscriptions, it is unlikely to make a dent in Spotify’s audience.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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