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Spotify says Joe Rogan removed podcast episodes amid controversy over racial slur

The “Joe Rogan Experience” Spotify webpage. (Gabby Jones/Bloomberg News)

Some 70 episodes of Joe Rogan’s podcast were removed from Spotify as musicians protest the streaming service for allowing the controversial podcaster to amplify falsehoods about the coronavirus and object to his use of a racial slur.

Spotify’s chief executive said it was Rogan’s decision to remove episodes of “The Joe Rogan Experience” from the platform following discussions with the company about “some of the content in his show, including his history of using some racially insensitive language.”

In a statement, Daniel Ek said it was after those talks and Rogan’s “own reflections” that the podcast host “chose to remove a number of episodes from Spotify." Ek also stressed that the comments “do not represent the values of this company.”

At least one guest who appeared on one of the pulled episodes said they believed Rogan used the n-word during their appearance — and all the purged episodes appear to predate the pandemic.

An episode that medical professionals have criticized in recent weeks for spreading misinformation about vaccines was still available on Spotify. The episode featured an interview with Robert Malone, a doctor and prominent skeptic of the coronavirus vaccines.

The website JREMissing, which tracks missing episodes of the “The Joe Rogan Experience” and records when they were removed from Spotify, first noted that 70 podcast episodes disappeared from the streaming platform on Friday. The Washington Post confirmed that number, though there was one episode that was split into two parts.

Some of the removed episodes feature well-known individuals, such as comedians Amy Schumer and Joey Diaz, and prominent figures on the far-right, including provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and Infowars founder Alex Jones.

More musicians join Neil Young in demanding Spotify remove their content over covid misinformation

Rogan on Saturday posted a video on Instagram to apologize for his past use of the n-word on his podcast, calling it “the most regretful and shameful thing that I’ve ever had to talk about publicly.”

The apology came after singer India.Arie, who recently said she would remove her catalogue from Spotify in response to Rogan’s “language around race,” shared a compilation video on social media showing various moments over 12 years in which Rogan said the racial slur on his show.

While Rogan argued that the clips were taken out of context, he acknowledged that the video looked “horrible, even to me.”

Joe Rogan apologizes for ‘regretful and shameful’ past use of the n-word

The controversy over Rogan’s podcast escalated after artists including Neil Young and Joni Mitchell announced last month that they were pulling their music from Spotify to protest what they view as the streaming platform’s lack of content moderation, particularly around coronavirus misinformation featured in some episodes of the “The Joe Rogan Experience.” Spotify acquired the podcast in 2020 in a reported $100 million deal, as part of the its bid to become a podcasting giant.

Ek, in his statement, said he strongly condemns “what Joe has said” and agrees with his decision to remove past episodes from our platform. But he added: “I want to make one point very clear – I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer. We should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but canceling voices is a slippery slope."

In January, 270 experts called on Spotify in an open letter to “immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.” They singled out an episode of Rogan’s podcast in which he spoke with Malone as an example of the podcast’s “concerning history of broadcasting misinformation, particularly regarding” the pandemic.

Twitter has suspended Malone, and YouTube removed clips of that episode, No. 1757, for violating its community guidelines.

While the controversy and artist protests led Spotify last week to publish its guidelines for content moderation and pledge to append a content advisory to any podcast episode in which the coronavirus is discussed, the full episode featuring Malone — from Dec. 31 — was still available on Spotify.

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In it, Malone compared the country’s pandemic policies to those of Nazi Germany and accused those who believe news outlets and Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, of “basically being hypnotized,” part of an unfounded theory called “mass-formation psychosis.”

Among the purged episodes is a 2018 appearance by Gad Saad, a marketing professor who studies behavioral sciences at Concordia University in Montreal. On Twitter, Saad said that “if memory serves me right,” Rogan had used the n-word in the episode, “but it was not in a racist manner notwithstanding the likely minefield.”

Saad said that he did not remember the conversation in full but that he recalled telling Rogan about a university dean getting fired after recommending a book with the n-word in the title — one, Saad said, that had been written by a Black civil rights activist. “If you’re using the n-word to describe a title, as told to you by a guest on your show, then maybe Spotify should have the most minimal of functioning brain and say, ‘That doesn’t seem to violate anything,’” Saad said in a video.

In a caption accompanying his Saturday apology video, Rogan wrote that there was “a lot of s--- from the old episodes of the podcast that I wish I hadn’t said, or had said differently.”

Rogan said he hadn’t used the n-word “in years” and added: “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.”

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who originally defended the podcast from accusations that it spread public health misinformation, backtracked on his defense after the video of Rogan saying the n-word surfaced.

The actor said Saturday he “was not aware” of Rogan’s past use of the racial slur.

Rogan, in his apology, said he never used the n-word “to be racist, because I’m not racist.”

Arie, in a series of Instagram stories where she posted the compilation, said that Rogan “shouldn’t even be uttering the word.” She said: “Don’t say it, under any context.”

Why artists are leaving Spotify

The incident has put steady pressure on Spotify to clarify how it will weigh promoting the free speech of its content creators against the impact that some can have on public health during the pandemic.

Ek said in another statement last Sunday, “it is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor while also making sure that there are rules in place and consequences for those who violate them.”

Why did Spotify choose Joe Rogan over Neil Young? Hint: It’s not a music company.

Rogan has also said amid the controversy that he would do better research on the coronavirus, acknowledging: “I don’t always get it right.”

According to JREMissing, 43 other episodes of the “The Joe Rogan Experience” have previously been removed from Spotify.

Timothy Bella contributed to this report.