Psaki on Joe Rogan: We want Spotify to "do more" to fight COVID misinformation than just post disclaimers

A leftover from yesterday that’s worth flagging belatedly. Psaki doesn’t specify what she wants Spotify to do but she’s been a fan of draconian penalties for COVID misinformation in the past. Remember last summer when the White House spent a week seeding a moral panic about anti-vax propaganda on Facebook? Asked at the time what she thought should happen to people who post misinformation, Psaki said they should be banned — from all social media platforms, not just the one they posted it on.

Comprehensive deplatforming, the favored solution of the Biden White House. That would operate as a de facto death penalty for those who want to participate in online discourse.

Questions about what a private company should do in matters of speech should always draw the same reply from politicians and their flacks: No comment. Any “suggestion” for action backed by the regulatory power of the government is never really a suggestion. Even if Psaki sincerely meant it that way, Spotify will listen to a soundbite like the one below and naturally wonder what it might mean for their business if they ignore her exhortation to “do more.” Will the feds try to retaliate? Will Spotify find doors slammed in its face in Washington if and when a policy issue comes up that catches the attention of its lobbyists?

Government doesn’t make suggestions, it sets rules. And so its “suggestions” will always be viewed as threats. Either Psaki keeps forgetting that or she has it very much in mind in saying stuff like this, which makes it cheerfully sinister.

I thought the uproar over Rogan would be dying down by now. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell quit Spotify over the weekend, Rogan forthrightly apologized and promised to do better on Sunday, and now we would all move on. That’s not how it’s shaken out. Celebrities are taking sides. Some stars, like The Rock and Kevin James, have rallied to Rogan’s defense. Others, typically of Young’s and Mitchell’s generation, have rallied to theirs. The latest:

India Arie just yanked her music from Spotify to protest Young’s “problematic” comments about race, not the vaccines. And, uh, Mary Trump withdrew her podcast from the platform in protest.

None of these people are what we might call “highly relevant” in 2022. But they’re working on recruiting people who are to their cause:

Where’s this headed? Even those who cover the digital beat can’t begin to guess. Rogan could pledge to avoid the topic of vaccination entirely going forward, but doing that would amount to capitulating to his critics. If he remains on the platform on the condition that certain subjects are off-limits, the people who want to silence him would have succeeded. Their goal isn’t to deplatform him, it’s to stop him from inviting on guests who’ll discourage listeners from getting vaccinated.

And to stop him from discouraging those listeners himself:

One writer at Ars Technica compared Rogan’s shtick on vaccines to Gwyneth Paltrow’s shtick on “wellness.” They cater to vastly different audiences but the M.O. is the same, letting a commitment to open-mindedness become an excuse for abandoning quality control. “In this world where conversations are always innocent, facts can’t be verified, experts can’t be vetted, and science can’t be trusted, there’s a lot of room to peddle unproven products and harmful misinformation. It’s exactly the world Paltrow and Rogan want you to buy into,” writes Beth Mole.

But even so, there’s almost no way Spotify will boot Rogan. Vanity Fair is right: They need him waaaay more than he needs them. The company’s A-list podcasts are a bust, with one very big exception.

The Joe Rogan Experience, which debuted in the earlier and comparatively quaint podcasting era of 2009, towers over its Spotify peers. Part of that has to do with the reality that the company’s other big-ticket deals just simply haven’t gained the same traction. Harry and Meghan have produced a lone 33-minute holiday special since inking a reported $25 million Spotify contract in December 2020. (They currently don’t have anything else in development with Spotify, someone familiar with the matter confirmed.) The Obamas, whose 2019 deal was rumored to be in the same general ballpark, have produced a few compelling shows, including one podcast hosted by Michelle Obama and another in which Barack Obama teamed up with Bruce Springsteen. But the buzz around these efforts has paled in comparison to the couples’ best-selling memoirs, or even the award-winning features they’ve produced for a separate content deal they have with Netflix. Moreover, informed sources told me the Obamas’ production company, Higher Ground, has been frustrated with Spotify at times, finding it difficult to get additional shows off the ground. I’m told the Obamas are more interested in lifting young new voices than carrying shows themselves, and that this focus hasn’t always aligned with Spotify’s.

Weird but true: Most of the pressure to take a stand against Rogan is on A-list musical acts like Taylor Swift despite the fact that the 44th president of the United States, a Democratic icon, is exclusive to the platform. If the Obamas don’t care about Rogan babbling about ivermectin, why should, say, Beyonce?

Some reporter should ask Psaki that at the next briefing. “Do you think it’s irresponsible for Barack Obama to continue to do business with a platform that promotes Joe Rogan’s vaccine misinformation?” Watch the steam come out of her ears.