Over the past few days, people have raged about a video compilation of Joe Rogan uttering “nigger,” “nigga,” and other iterations of the word on his podcast. From what I have seen, it does not appear that Rogan referred to any specific person as a “nigger” or a “nigga.” His sins? Discussing the use of the word “nigger” by various comedians and joking about a visit to Africa being making him feel like he was in the movie “Planet of the Apes.” With rage mounting and undoubtedly feeling pressure from Spotify (his podcast distributor) and the UFC, Rogan released a video apologizing for his use of the term. Concurrently, Spotify appears to have deleted 100 or so of his podcast episodes.
My gut reaction was to shake my head and mutter “hell no” when I saw Rogan’s apology. I don’t doubt that he sincerely believes that he made a mistake. I don’t question that he believes that the use of the term and its iterations is wrong. I, however, believe that he might have committed brand suicide by apologizing.
Rogan has had a target on his back for awhile because he built a brand as the ultimate conversationalist. He explores topics with guests that range from the controversial to the hobbyistic. His guests have included Elon Musk, Lex Friedman, Mike Tyson, Dave Chappelle, Alex Jones, Russell Brand, Edward Snowden, Jordan Peterson, Neil De Grasse Tyson, and John Danaher. Rogan holds this volatile brilliance together by professionalizing the type of conversations that the average American would have over a beer or two, and, unlike mainstream media outlets which rely heavily on producers to essentially script interviews, he does not censor guests.
The uncensored nature of Rogan’s podcast drew its biggest controversy when he interviewed scientists and doctors, Peter McCullough and Robert Malone, who criticize the United States government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rogan’s sincere questions as to their theories created so much controversy that the President of the United States, Joe Biden, took the unprecedent step of publicly begging Spotify to de-platform him.
Spotify refused to do so. Self-righteous and scared mobs, however, have taken to heart Bruce Lee’s admonishment about fighting. They’re like water. If you have a weakness or hole, they’ll find it and exploit it. Thus, it did not take them long to find another weakness to assail Rogan on.
In my opinion, Rogan took the worst possible step. He apologized. What he said was entirely defensible. It was consistent with the spirit of the conversations that he had engaged in on his show for years: uncensored, raw, and honest. His apology, however, gave Spotify license to remove the episodes. In doing so, I believe that Rogan opened the door for Spotify to censor him on additional topics going forward.
Only time will tell, but apologies for free speech are suicide notes. Once penned and published, they’re virtually impossible to take back. The death they lead to is not quick and painless. They precipitate censorship that either forces conformity or lasting silence.
Rogan is an influential voice. He’ll remain relevant for a long time. I wonder how much of the same Rogan we’ll see after his suicide by apology.