Spotify pulled 70 episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience—the frequently off-course flagship of its ongoing efforts to dominate the podcasting market—off of its listings this week. Not, as it turns out, because of the ongoing attention being put on host Joe Rogan’s attitudes toward the COVID-19 pandemic (and his decisions to platform people like Dr. Robert Malone, a vaccine researcher who’s been accused of spreading harmful misinformation about the disease). The episodes in question all predate the pandemic, and, in fact, Spotify has given no reason whatsoever for the removals.
It does not feel especially coincidental to note that this move—which has been highlighted by JRE Missing, a site that compares the listings of all the old Experience episodes with Spotify’s current roster—comes at roughly the same time that Rogan himself hopped on Instagram to apologize for many instances in which he used a racial slur on his show over the years. That video, in turn, comes after compilations of Rogan using said slur dozens of times have begun spreading online (not for the first time) in light of the current scrutiny on the series.
Rogan’s new video is more-or-less precisely what you’d expect it to be: A mixture of apology and self-defense in which the words “sorry” and “out of context” appear in roughly equal measure. Rogan—who notes that “whenever you’re in a situation where you have to say ‘I’m not racist,’ you fucked up”—assures viewers that he’s not a racist, and calls the entire topic “the most regretful and shameful thing I’ve ever had to talk about publicly.”
This isn’t the first time Spotify has scrubbed episodes from the JRE archives; past conversations with Rogan’s guests from the far/alt-right, including Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, and more, were edited out of Spotify’s listings around the time it signed a multi-year exclusivity deal with Rogan reported to be worth roughly $100 million.
This latest round of pulled episodes is notable, though, both in terms of its size, and the fact that it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the guests in question. (Pulled episodes include appearances from Marc Maron, Pete Holmes, Dan Savage, Iliza Shlesinger, and many more.) Neither Spotify, nor Rogan, have given an explicit statement about the episodes being pulled.
Updated 2/7: Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has issued an apology to the staff of the streaming app after 71 episodes of the Joe Rogan Experience were pulled over the weekend for Rogan’s use of racial slurs. In his letter, he writes that he is “deeply sorry” for the way this controversy has continued to impact them and the harm done by the company’s promotion. However, he says removing Rogan’s podcast would be a “slippery slope.”
The CEO also outlines that the company is going to dedicate an “incremental investment of $100 million for the licensing, development, and marketing of music (artists and songwriters) and audio content from historically marginalized groups.”
You can read Ek’s full letter here:
There are no words I can say to adequately convey how deeply sorry I am for the way The Joe Rogan Experience controversy continues to impact each of you. Not only are some of Joe Rogan’s comments incredibly hurtful – I want to make clear that they do not represent the values of this company. I know this situation leaves many of you feeling drained, frustrated and unheard.
I think it’s important you’re aware that we’ve had conversations with Joe and his team about some of the content in his show, including his history of using some racially insensitive language. Following these discussions and his own reflections, he chose to remove a number of episodes from Spotify. He also issued his own apology over the weekend.
While I strongly condemn what Joe has said and I agree with his decision to remove past episodes from our platform, I realize some will want more. And 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. Looking at the issue more broadly, it’s critical thinking and open debate that powers real and necessary progress.
Another criticism that I continue to hear from many of you is that it’s not just about The Joe Rogan Experience on Spotify; it comes down to our direct relationship with him. In last week’s Town Hall, I outlined to you that we are not the publisher of JRE. But perception due to our exclusive license implies otherwise. So I’ve been wrestling with how this perception squares with our values.
If we believe in having an open platform as a core value of the company, then we must also believe in elevating all types of creators, including those from underrepresented communities and a diversity of backgrounds. We’ve been doing a great deal of work in this area already but I think we can do even more. So I am committing to an incremental investment of $100 million for the licensing, development, and marketing of music (artists and songwriters) and audio content from historically marginalized groups. This will dramatically increase our efforts in these areas. While some might want us to pursue a different path, I believe that more speech on more issues can be highly effective in improving the status quo and enhancing the conversation altogether.
I deeply regret that you are carrying so much of this burden. I also want to be transparent in setting the expectation that in order to achieve our goal of becoming the global audio platform, these kinds of disputes will be inevitable. For me, I come back to centering on our mission of unlocking the potential of human creativity and enabling more than a billion people to enjoy the work of what we think will be more than 50 million creators. That mission makes these clashes worth the effort.
I’ve told you several times over the last week, but I think it’s critical we listen carefully to one another and consider how we can and should do better. I’ve spent this time having lots of conversations with people inside and outside of Spotify – some have been supportive while others have been incredibly hard, but all of them have made me think.
One of the things I am thinking about is what additional steps we can take to further balance creator expression with user safety. I’ve asked our teams to expand the number of outside experts we consult with on these efforts and look forward to sharing more details.
Your passion for this company and our mission has made a difference in the lives of so many listeners and creators around the world. I hope you won’t lose sight of that. It’s that ability to focus and improve Spotify even on some of our toughest days that has helped us build the platform we have. We have a clear opportunity to learn and grow together from this challenge and I am ready to meet it head on.
I know it is difficult to have these conversations play out so publicly, and I continue to encourage you to reach out to your leaders, your HR partners or me directly if you need support or resources for yourself or your team.