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.”
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.”
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.