Over 70 episodes of the Joe Rogan Experience were quietly removed from Spotify on Friday, adding yet another development in the ongoing debate over whether the streaming giant is responsible for monitoring misinformation and harmful content posted to its platform.
Among the episodes removed include interviews with Amy Schumer, Marc Maron, Bill Burr, Andy Dick, Tool frontman Maynard J. Keenan, and Iliza Shlesinger.
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It’s unclear why the episodes in question were pulled, and representatives for Rogan and Spotify did not respond to Rolling Stone‘s requests for comments. However, eagle-eyed fans of the controversial podcast on Reddit observed that many of the deleted episodes contained racial slurs, ableist language, and other content that could be deemed insensitive. Users noted episodes featuring Tom Segura and Greg Fitzsimmons were likely removed for usage of the n-word. (The repeated usage of racially charged language on the Joe Rogan Experience led singer-songwriter India Arie to pull her music from Spotify earlier this week.)
Still, Reddit posters said, some of the removed episodes featured guests known for being particularly tame — including documentarian Louis Theroux and comedian Pete Holmes — or lacked noticeable offensive content.
A handful of Rogan’s more controversial episodes — like those featuring conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and neo-fascist men’s rights activist Gavin McInnes — were excluded from Spotify shortly after the podcaster launched his partnership with the company in September 2020. According to the website JRE Missing, a total of 113 of the podcast’s 1,770 episodes are now absent from the platform.
On Saturday, Rogan posted an Instagram video offering an apology for his past excessive use of racist language, alluding specifically to a viral video compilation of clips in which he used the n-word — which he said were “out-of-context” — while avoiding discussion of the removed podcast episodes.
Calling the controversy the “most regretful and shameful thing that I’ve ever had to talk about publicly,” Rogan offered his explanation for using racist language.
“I haven’t said [the n-word] in years, but for a long time, when it came up in conversation, instead of saying ‘the n-word,’ I would just say the word,” he said. “I thought as long as it was in context, people would understand what I was doing.”
In one instance, Rogan said, he used the n-word during a conversation about comedian Redd Foxx to illustrate how “times have changed.” The podcaster also cited times he quoted comedians Richard Pryor, Paul Mooney and Lenny Bruce as times in which he used the slur.
“It’s a very unusual word, but it’s not my word to use,” he admitted. “I’m well aware of that now, but for years I used it in that manner. I never used it to be racist, ’cause I’m not racist — but whenever you’re in a situation where you have to say ‘I’m not racist,’ you fucked up. And I clearly have fucked up.”
The episodes’ removal comes on the heels of a weeks-long public dispute over the presence of misleading information on Spotify, with Rogan and his podcast squarely at the center of the controversy.
First to bring attention to the issue was a group of medical professionals and scientists, who signed an open letter calling on Spotify to take action against misinformation on the platform after Rogan interviewed Dr. Robert Malone, a virologist and Covid-19 skeptic popular with the anti-vax set. Not long after, Neil Young made several public declarations against the streaming platform’s inaction — including the now-infamous “They can have [Joe] Rogan or Young. Not both” — before pulling his music from Spotify entirely. Joni Mitchell, Nils Lofgren, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, and Roxane Gay soon followed suit.
On Jan. 30, Spotify announced the company would begin adding a “content advisory” warning to any podcasts that discuss Covid-19, and that it would prohibit its contributors from “content that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medical information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health.” Yet, the company denied the new measures were prompted by public backlash to Rogan’s podcast.
“I think the important part here is that we don’t change our policies based on one creator, nor do we change it based on any media cycle or calls from anyone else,” Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said during a company-earnings call Wednesday. “Our policies have been carefully written with the input from numbers of internal and external experts in this space. And I do believe they’re right for our platform. And while Joe has a massive audience — he is actually the number-one podcast in more than 90 markets — he also has to abide by those policies.”