The Joe Rogan Podcast’s Move To Spotify Is a Good Sign

The continual success of 'edgy' entertainers shows the strength of Free Speech

Joe Rogan—America’s most popular podcaster—has officially debuted on Spotify. The longtime comedian and mixed martial arts announcer made “The Joe Rogan Experience” available to Spotify subscribers on Tuesday.

And there will be followers aplenty. Rogan’s podcast attracts more than 200 million listens and views per month, and those tuning in cut across demographic and socioeconomic lines. Rogan’s following is just over 70 percent male, but the followers are evenly split between high school and post-secondary graduates. (The average age of a Rogan follower is 24 years old.) Meanwhile, 57 percent of Rogan’s audience reports earning over $50,000 per year, with 19 percent making six figures.

So, what does this all mean?

For one, Rogan’s popularity—validated by the $100 million Spotify deal—proves that free speech, public discourse, and intellectual curiosity continue to survive in today’s America. They may not be thriving in all corners, given the emergence of cancel culture and anti-speech movements on college campuses (among other segments of society), but millions of Americans are eager to explore new ideas and challenge their preconceived notions. Indeed, Rogan prides himself on pushing ideological diversity to the extreme, interviewing Elon Musk, right-wing comedians, evolutionary psychologists, self-described feminists, and gun rights advocates alike.

This is, altogether, worth celebrating. The more speech, the better. Without a First Amendment that is regularly upheld and constantly defended by those like Rogan, American democracy simply cannot function. Taking offense with the intention of silencing “the other” is a perilous path. Restricting speech is the road to tyranny. In the words of Thomas Jefferson: “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God.”

When it comes to free speech, Joe Rogan poses no “threat.” Neither his presence nor the presence of “controversial” guests causes injury of any kind. To the contrary, the enabling of a wide range of ideas—liberal, conservative, and everything in between—only makes our public discourse more robust and more engaging. It satisfies the needs of the intellectually curious, which is what we should all strive to be. It also helps people understand where we actually stand on the issues, as we compare and contrast our own ideas with others.

And, if deplorable ideas are ever exposed, Rogan’s podcast offers the sunlight that can disinfect them. (Of course, this cannot happen if Spotify decides to censor Rogan’s most “controversial” guests, such as Alex Jones or Milo Yiannopoulos. Even their voices should be heard, rather than ignored. All ideas can be articulated, if not condoned.)

Speaking of exposure, Rogan’s popularity also exposes the failings of the mainstream media. At a time when news outlets like CNN are so focused on criticizing the Trump administration (sometimes, for good reason, but far from always), Americans are desperate for greater variety in what they can consume. Whether it delves into the importance of self-defense, the virtues of being alone, or the portrayal of Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, “The Joe Rogan Podcast” offers that variety.

There is something for everyone, which cannot be said of CNN and likeminded news outlets. Hosts like Anderson Cooper or Don Lemon, whose news coverage was more multifaceted pre-Trump, are now primarily concerned with sticking it to the current administration. This is not inherently regrettable, but anti-Trumpism in cable news has already reached a point of over-saturation. Tear into President Trump too often, and news outlets run the risk of desensitizing Americans to his flaws and mistakes. We eventually lose interest, which is ironically a victory for the Trump administration.

The intellectually curious expect more and they deserve better. It’s no wonder that barely 40 percent of Americans trust the mainstream media “a great deal” or “a fair amount,” with most Democrats, Republicans, and Independents agreeing that “traditional major news sources report news they know to be fake, false, or purposely misleading.” In fact, 84 percent of Americans believe “the media is to blame for political division in this country.” That’s right: 84 percent.

And, as news outlets can’t help but “cry wolf,” public trust is only undermined even further. At this point, why wouldn’t Americans turn to the likes of Joe Rogan for a viable alternative?

His Spotify debut leaves us with two key takeaways: First and foremost, free speech absolutism is the best way forward, producing the most winners and fewest losers. Second, today’s journalists need to look themselves in the mirror, resist the urge to become activists, and regain the public’s trust.

Until then, podcasters like Joe Rogan will continue to thrive, while the mainstream media struggles to survive.

Luka Ladan is the President and CEO of Zenica Public Relations and a Catalyst Policy Fellow. Prior to founding Zenica, Ladan served as Communications Director at a leading public affairs firm in Washington, D.C.
Catalyst articles by Luka Ladan