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Spotify keeps Joe Rogan's podcast after clips of racist slurs in his episodes surface

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

High-profile podcaster Joe Rogan has apologized again. This time, his apology came in a post on Instagram after video surfaced of Rogan using the N-word and other racist language on his show over the years. His show now streams exclusively on Spotify.

(SOUNDBITE OF INSTAGRAM VIDEO)

JOE ROGAN: Now, 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. I haven't said it in years.

FLORIDO: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has been following the story and is with us now. Hey, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey, Adrian.

FLORIDO: It seems Spotify is standing by Rogan despite this controversy. Can you give us a few more details on what's happening here?

DEGGANS: Sure. So Rogan's apology came as news reports started surfacing that several dozen episodes of his podcast had been removed from its archives by Spotify. So now, singer India.Arie drew attention to the N-word issue by posting on Instagram several clips of Rogan using the N-word on his podcast. And she'd already announced that she was pulling her music from Spotify following the example of artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. But while Neil Young and Joni Mitchell criticized Rogan over allegations he was spreading misinformation about COVID, Arie said she was removing her music over his language around race.

And Rogan said in his apology that he never used the word as a slur against specific people. He would be talking about how other comics used it or the power of the word itself or whatever. But he now understands that white people shouldn't use the word at all.

FLORIDO: And so how has Spotify responded?

DEGGANS: Well, the Hollywood Reporter has a story, noting that Spotify CEO Daniel Ek sent an internal memo to staffers condemning Rogan's language, calling it, quote, "incredibly hurtful" but insisting that the company would not remove his show entirely. Now, there's a website called JRE Missing - "Joe Rogan Experience" - a website dedicated to tracking "The Joe Rogan Experience" podcast, and it says that 71 episodes of the show were deleted from Spotify on Friday after Arie posted her material. So in the letter, Ek also pledged this incremental investment of $100 million to develop music and audio from historically marginalized groups.

FLORIDO: Do you think this is going to be enough to stop the steady stream of criticism that the company has been getting over its connection to Rogan's show?

DEGGANS: I kind of doubt it. I mean, Spotify signed Rogan to an exclusive deal reportedly valued at $100 million. But they're trying to say that they're not a publisher in the traditional sense. They have exclusive rights to more than 10 years of his podcast, but they don't exercise editorial control over his episodes.

But they do have general rules that all podcasters should follow, and some critics have argued that Spotify has been lax in applying those standards to Rogan. Also, critics say that by paying Rogan for exclusive access, that makes them more responsible for his content.

FLORIDO: As a critic, where do you come down on this, Eric? Are Rogan's critics impinging on his free speech and seeking to have him removed from the Spotify platform?

DEGGANS: I'd say he's experiencing what happens when you go from speaking directly to your fans in a smaller way to speaking to the world. He has a new platform. He has a higher profile, and he's got to be more responsible when he talks about these controversial issues and complex issues like COVID or racial slurs.

I'd also say transparency is important. It shouldn't have taken a post by India.Arie to start this conversation. Rogan should have told the world about these episodes first.

FLORIDO: That's NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans. Thanks, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.