By Rich Lowry, Syndicated Columnist.
There have been many unpleasant paid jobs throughout history, from executioner to leech collector to nitpicker. Now, to this litany of gruesome and onerous work, must be added being employed by Spotify in the 21st century.
The CEO of the streaming company, besieged by a highly motivated cancellation mob out for podcaster Joe Rogan’s scalp, apologized to his employees in a statement for “the way The Joe Rogan Experience controversy continues to impact each of you.”
According to Daniel Ek, the Spotify team has been left “feeling drained, frustrated and unheard.” Yes, following inane and hysterical commentary on Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms about the alleged evils of a podcaster who interviews people and listens to their views, then posts the recordings for other people to listen to as they choose, must be wrenching.
To his credit, Ek hasn’t canceled Rogan and he backed free speech, although from a defensive crouch. Indeed, his groveling, cant-filled missive is characteristic of such statements by organizations under pressure to suppress unwelcome views. They almost always accept the premises of the cancelers and treat the aggrieved as delicate hot-house plants on the verge of collapse if they don’t get their way.
Is it too much, for once, for people in a position of supposed authority to tell the offended to get over it and buck up like adults living in a free society?
Ek’s statement suggests the answer is still “no.”
He assured Spotify employees that he’s thinking about “what additional steps we can take to further balance creator expression with user safety.” He promised to consult outside experts on this question. He also pledged to devote $100 million, equal to the amount Spotify spent on its licensing agreement for Rogan’s podcast, on licensing, developing, and marketing music and audio content from “historically marginalized groups.”
“I deeply regret,” he reiterated, “that you are carrying so much of this burden.”
All in all, it was a performance worthy of a college dean trying to talk down students who may come for him or her next.
What, for instance, does “user safety” mean? Listening to a song or a podcast is not like operating a piece of dangerous heavy machinery. Anyone getting behind the wheel of, say, a mobile hydraulic crane needs absolutely to know what he is doing at imminent risk of causing harm to himself or others. Someone listening to an uncongenial podcast can turn it off and listen to something else or nothing at all, in total safety.
As for “unheard,” it is leftwing argot that has seeped into the mainstream. It is a meaningless term in this context. If a coder at Spotify feels unheard, so what? It isn’t his or her job to opine on controversies over content. Moreover, all too often those claiming to be metaphorically unheard insist that the only way to get themselves heard is to make someone else literally unheard via cancellation.
The pledge of $100 million for more content is at least a gesture toward the notion that the solution to speech you don’t like is more speech. Yet, it reeks of a shakedown and an implicit bargain throwing resources at the would-be cancelers of Joe Rogan so they will go away and try to cancel someone else.
Ek clearly believes that by giving ground, by putting content warnings on some Rogan podcasts and removing others, while making apologetic sounds, he can weather this storm. Maybe. But the fever for cancellations won’t end until the likes of Ek are courageous and tough-minded enough to tell the mob and its whiny fellow travelers that offensive speech isn’t a threat to anyone’s safety or emotional well-being, and that they’re done pretending otherwise.
The debate over speech in this country is too often defined by people using their childishness and sense of entitlement as weapons. That won’t change until leaders are unafraid to tell them in frank terms to grow up.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.