What the Neil Young-Spotify moment teaches us | News, Sports, Jobs


The rift between popular podcaster Joe Rogan and aging rocker Neil Young provided one of those times when late-night comics wake up and joke writers start doodling.

Two counterculture icons representing very different demographics – one a Grammy-winning entertainer and the other a former TV host. “Fear Factor” and Ultimate Fighting Championship commentator — clashed, of all things, COVID-19 and the vaccine debate.

Young is pro-science, basically, and Rogan is pro-Rogan. Because Rogan is spreading covid misinformation, Young pulled his catalog of songs from Spotify, which carries them both, and wrote online: “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

Just so you know, I immediately sided with Young because I agree with his principled position, but mainly because: “Cowgirl in the sand.”

Now that other musicians have also pulled their music from Spotify in solidarity with Young, the joke has gotten a bit more serious. Another personal favorite, Joni Mitchell, pulled his music from Spotify, as did Nils Lofgren, who is a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

Needless to say, Rogan isn’t going anywhere and Spotify has done some PR – well, let’s call them tweaks. Now, when Rogan talks about COVID, Spotify will offer some kind of warning label. And Rogan says he will try to be more balanced in the future. It surely helps that Rogan recently signed a deal with Spotify for $100 million. It’s all about the money, you see.

As his fans shrug and say, so what, Rogan must be beaming. Contrition does not suit him. People who have never heard of Rogan before are probably tuned in; people who already loved it don’t lose sleep over the music they probably don’t listen to. Fans listen to his candid talk and jokes and may or may not infer much from his COVID rants.

Diatribes are not (yet) against the law. And, anyway, listeners wouldn’t necessarily change their minds based on a comic’s opinion on something as serious as a pandemic. To the right?

He’s entertainment – the way Rush Limbaugh was, and Dan Bongino and Tucker Carlson are today. Remember that FOX News’ own lawyers successfully defended Carlson against defamation charges by essentially saying the anchor doesn’t deal “real facts” and that viewers shouldn’t take it seriously.

What a catch! The same could be said of Rogan, who at least does not pretend to be a journalist. (Carlson was once a journalist and no one knows where this guy went.)

I love a noble position as much as the next Irish girl and I appreciate the one Young and her ilk have taken. But the Rogan/Young case raises important questions that will stick with us as long as free speech exists. Should opinions be censored – ever? Whatever happened, as Mitchell said, to “Both sides now?”

We generally honor the familiar exception: you can’t shout “Fire” in a crowded theater (for no reason) because people might panic, rush in and get crushed to death. The risk of disastrous consequences is considered greater than the right to say anything, anytime, anywhere.

But what if you spread misinformation during a pandemic that could possibly put people’s lives at risk? Aren’t these two scenarios comparable? And if not, what should be done to mitigate the potentially harmful effects of misinformation?

Great question, KP. No idea. Probably nothing. To take a position. Make noise. Be a better messenger. Listen to Young and Mitchell and stop Rogan.

In a more perfect world, there would be only one set of objective facts and one message for achieving the best possible health outcomes. But we have become a nation of conspirators and disbelievers. We are in a global information war across multiple media platforms and the winners often seem to be those who feed superstition and starve truth.

Bottom line: Rogan is free to voice his beliefs and interview whomever he wants, like infectious disease specialist Robert Malone, who shares his skepticism. If a virologist who worked on the technology used in Pfizer and Moderna vaccines a long time ago, like Malone did, has doubts, why wouldn’t people be interested in hearing what he has to say? ? There are reasons, but none that would prohibit his speech.

Moreover, when people have determined that they cannot trust the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or our country’s designated expert, Anthony Fauci, we are in uncharted territory. Luckily, not all of us are comedians willing to risk lives for laughs. But you risk everything when you start controlling what you have the right to say in the village square.

If what Shakespeare wrote was right and the “the truth will come out” we can only hope he hurries up and shows his face.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.



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