As the backlash to Spotify’s decision to keep hosting Joe Rogan’s misinformation-laden podcast continues to grow, a Sinclair Broadcast Group report on the controversy severely downplayed the kinds of misinformation his program spreads.
As The Washington Post explained it, Rogan posted an interview with anti-vaccine activist Robert Malone on December 31, which prompted a group of hundreds of doctors and scientists to write a letter to Spotify about keeping medical misinformation off its platform. Musician Neil Young saw that letter and gave Spotify an ultimatum: Remove misinformation like that found in Rogan’s podcast or remove his music from the platform. Spotify responded by removing Young's music from its platform. Several other musical artists and podcasters have followed Young in leaving the platform or speaking out in protest, including Joni Mitchell, Brené Brown, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Malone isn't the only guest on Rogan's show who has spread misinformation about COVID-19, but as the open letter from hundreds of doctors and scientists explained:
Dr. Malone used the [Joe Rogan Experience] platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public. Many of these statements have already been discredited. Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust. These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.
Malone had previously been banned from Twitter for repeated violations of its COVID-19 misinformation policies, and YouTube removed the episode in question from its platform, likely for Malone’s comparison of pandemic policies to Nazi Germany.
However, a February 1 report from Sinclair national correspondent Kristine Frazao — which aired on at least 42 Sinclair-owned or -operated stations in 35 states before re-airing the next morning on Sinclair’s National Desk — withheld the identity of Rogan’s guest and the details of the misinformation he spouted. At least 14 Sinclair stations introduced the segment with the same curious script, countering the backlash against Rogan by saying, “There are also mounting free speech concerns about the rush to ban people who present alternate perspectives.” During the report, Frazao seemingly justified the misinformation Rogan pushes on his podcast, without going into details about it:
This Sinclair report not only failed to explain the specific misinformation from Rogan’s program that led to the backlash, it also neglected to cover Rogan’s history of spreading misinformation and right-wing bigotry. Media Matters’ Alex Paterson has documented some of the misinformation and bigotry Rogan’s program spread on Spotify in the previous year. This includes multiple uses of slurs, misgendering, and demeaning of transgender people on his program.
Rogan has also made racist comments about Asian people and made disgusting misogynistic comments about women: On January 30, 2021, Rogan commented on actor Angelina Jolie’s genitals, saying, “Crazy pussy is the best pussy. … She’s clearly crazy.” He also demeaned Jolie for developing Bell’s palsy, saying, “That’s the problem with crazy is crazy comes with all sorts of neurotic shit.” Rogan has also spread quite a lot of COVID-19 misinformation on his Spotify podcast, including:
- On April 23, Rogan encouraged “healthy” young people not to get a COVID-19 vaccine, saying, “If you're like 21 years old, and you say to me, should I get vaccinated? I'll go no.” According to The Verge, Spotify reviewed these comments but did not find them in violation of any policies, thus leaving the episode live. Public health experts and White House officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci condemned Rogan's comments.
- On April 28, Rogan falsely claimed that any lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 “makes things worse,” saying: “It’s worse. It makes things worse, you know why — because people go inside. They are trapped inside and that's where it spreads.”
- On May 14, he falsely claimed that far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was “right” about “actual microchips being injected into your arm to see if you have COVID-19.”
- On June 22, Rogan dedicated an entire episode of his podcast to promoting ivermectin as a prophylactic and therapeutic for COVID-19, even though it’s an unproven and potentially dangerous treatment for the disease. During the podcast, guest Bret Weinstein claimed that a study showed “ivermectin alone, if properly utilized, is capable of driving this pathogen to extinction.” Rogan made unsubstantiated claims about its use for prevention of COVID-19, saying, “All it means is to take the drug to anticipate that you may get it, so if you’re in a high-risk area you take it and it’ll protect you from infection.”
- On July 20, Rogan promoted the right-wing lie that the government was planning to monitor private citizens’ text messages for anti-vaccine misinformation, saying, “Have you seen the new thing about SMS text messages to stop COVID vaccine misinformation? ... Saagar [Enjeti] from Breaking Points sent me this. We were talking about this recently. They are monitoring SMS texts for dangerous misinformation about COVID vaccines.”
- On August 6, Rogan fearmongered that vaccine passports would move the U.S. “one step closer to dictatorship” and lied that getting the coronavirus vaccine is not effective in preventing the disease, saying, “All you hear is take this vaccine that doesn't even prevent you from getting the disease, or you can’t go to the sauna or wherever the fuck you want to go. … If it was a vaccine — it’s more of a treatment than it is a vaccine, really, if you look at it.”
- On August 12, Rogan promoted the baseless right-wing narrative fearmongering that immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border were causing a surge in COVID-19 cases, saying, “They are letting in — so Greg Abbott, the governor, the great governor of the state of Texas, was correct — they are letting in thousands and thousands of people who are positive with COVID.”
- On August 20, he falsely asserted that mRNA coronavirus vaccines are “really gene therapy” and lied that it is “not logical, it’s not rational, and it's not supported by science” to advise people with natural immunity to get a coronavirus vaccine. Notably, Rogan has made the same false claim that mRNA vaccines are a form of “gene therapy” on August 18, September 21, November 8, and November 10.
- On September 23, Rogan fearmongered that vaccine passports will lead to a “social credit system similar to what they have in China.”
- On September 30, Rogan baselessly suggested that President Joe Biden did not actually receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, falsely claiming that it would be unsafe and potentially deadly to do so on live TV.
- On November 10, he repeatedly spread the baseless claim that the Biden administration is trying to stop people from receiving monoclonal antibodies, a COVID-19 treatment, “because it discourages people from getting vaccinated.” Rogan repeated this claim on the November 26 edition of his show, asserting that the treatment is being withheld because “they don't want there to be a very clear path where you don't have to be vaccinated but if you get sick you’re going to be fine.”
- On November 22, Rogan falsely asserted that children do not need to get a COVID-19 vaccine, saying, “They’re trying to say that children need it when they don't. They don't need it.”
- Later in that episode, Rogan baselessly claimed that use of ivermectin “essentially cured COVID” in Uttar Pradesh, India.