Joe Rogan spreads unfounded conspiracy theory that COVID-19 started in a lab

Rogan: “There is more evidence that it comes out of a lab in Wuhan”

Influential podcast host Joe Rogan spread an unfounded claim that COVID-19 “comes out of a lab in Wuhan,” though he later acknowledged that “obviously I don’t know where it came from.” Rogan came under fire and had to apologize last week for spreading the debunked conspiracy theory that “left-wing people” had been arrested for starting fires on the West Coast.

The Washington Post wrote that experts have rejected the “fringe theory” that the coronavirus started in a lab, quoting researchers as saying, “Based on the virus genome and properties there is no indication whatsoever that it was an engineered virus.” Snopes called it “one of the conspiracy theories that have plagued attempts to keep people informed during the pandemic” and wrote that the “vast majority of scientists who have studied the virus agree that it evolved naturally and crossed into humans from an animal species, most likely a bat.” NPR similarly reported that “virus researchers say there is virtually no chance that the new coronavirus was released as result of a laboratory accident in China or anywhere else,” and The Guardian reported that intelligence agencies also said there was no evidence. (Fox News has been instrumental in spreading this conspiracy theory despite there being no evidence for its claims.)

During the September 23 edition of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan said, “There is more evidence that it comes out of a lab in Wuhan.” His guest Frank von Hippel doubted the claim, and Rogan acknowledged that “obviously I don’t know where it came from, a lab or people eating bats.” After this, a member of his team displayed a Daily Beast article noting that a group associated with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon was behind a study suggesting “China manufactured COVID.” The article explained, “The study goes against basically all scientific evidence and expert opinion. But it fits with the former Trump adviser’s anti-China posture.”

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Citation From the September 23, 2020, edition of The Joe Rogan Experience

FRANK VON HIPPEL (BIOLOGIST): This is just like what we’re going through now with COVID because that began from people eating bats and bush meat --

JOE ROGAN (HOST): Allegedly not. There is more evidence that it comes out of a lab in Wuhan. That it somehow or another when they were doing these -- because you know there is a level 4 lab in Wuhan. Bret Weinstein, who is also a biologist, was on my podcast, he was explaining -- I’m not, I would butcher it if I went into detail about it -- but he was explaining all the indicators that point to the fact that this was a virus that was used for research. And that they were using it to, you know, to learn more about or come up with strategies to defeat coronaviruses. And that same lab that’s in Wuhan, in 1998 -- or not, excuse me, 2018 -- just two years ago, was cited for safety violations. And--

VON HIPPEL: Yeah, and there have been cases in the past even with bubonic plague where research labs inadvertently released the plague into the local population.

ROGAN: Yeah.

VON HIPPEL: My guess is though when this is all said and done it’s going to be from eating bush meat in China, that the people will have eaten bats, or they’ve eaten pangolins that got infected by bats. HIV is the same kind of thing, right? People eating chimpanzees, they’re getting this infection and then it causes a pandemic around the world. So we’re seeing more and more of these diseases because we’re punching into this habitat we’ve never been in before. People are eating the animals and getting sick from it.

ROGAN: Well, obviously I don't know whether or not it came from a lab or whether it came from people eating bats. And I think ultimately it’s not really the big concern. The big concern is dealing with the virus itself. But Bret seemed to be fairly convinced without -- I mean he couldn’t say without any uncertainty, but he is fairly convinced that it came from a lab.

(PRODUCER OFF-CAMERA): I just, as you were saying this I stumbled across this online. It seems to be related but --

[Daily Beast story appears on screen: Steve Bannon-Linked Groups Push Study Claiming China Manufactured COVID]

ROGAN: OK, but this is Steve Bannon. “Steve Bannon-linked groups push study claiming China manufactured COVID.” Yeah, but see the thing is even if China did and this guy pushed it, you would be suspicious. You’d be like, “Oh, great. Now it’s politicized.” Again, they’ve politicized a fucking pandemic disease. And now it becomes this thing about the trade war with China or, you know, or coming up with reasons why people should be suspicious of China.

The segment is notable given that on September 17, Rogan pushed the debunked conspiracy theory that “left-wing people” are “lighting forest fires” on the West Coast, as Media Matters first reported. After widespread condemnation, Rogan made a rare apology for his remarks and acknowledged that they were not true, stating, “It was a really fucking stupid mistake that won’t happen again.”

Rogan is one of the most influential podcast hosts in the world, and he has frequently used his platform to attack and demean trans people and to spread misinformation

In May, he signed an exclusive licensing agreement worth more than $100 million with Spotify, which began streaming 11 years of his show as well as new episodes on September 1. Notably, numerous past episodes featuring right-wing guests were not uploaded to Spotify’s library, including interviews with far-right bigot Milo Yiannopoulos and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

On September 16, Vice reported that Spotify staff members felt “alienated by Spotify's hosting of certain The Joe Rogan Experience (JRE) episodes,” particularly those that targeted trans people. Nevertheless, Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek defended hosting the episodes, and a spokesperson said they did not violate Spotify’s content guidelines -- which claim to protect trans people from hateful content.