Something every single person working in the radio industry should understand is that the effects of a transmission spread out far beyond the walls of the studio, and can persist long after the “on air” light goes out. As curators of public opinion, it’s essential to realize that inaccurate or inflammatory reporting can easily sway the results of elections, create hatreds that can take on a life of their own or even result in violence.
Outside of fiction, it’s not often that one single individual manages to tick all the boxes marked “never”, but as far as broadcasting is concerned, Alex Jones is an example no one should want to follow. It may seem cruel to single out one person, but in this case he’s certainly set himself up for it. Few people in modern times are better examples of why basic journalistic standards matter. Mr. Jones, no one cares any more about an imaginary issue because you punched the table. And even when the issue in question is not wholly imaginary, presenting it outside its proper context, or accompanied by speculation that’s nothing short of preposterous, this kind of demagoguery does nothing for your cause’s credibility.
Broadcasting Questionable News Without Presenting Evidence
A full list of his “fake news” items would have to wait for a longer article, but some of the whoppers he’s told were:
- That 9/11 was orchestrated or at least allowed to happen by the U.S. government. The same for the Boston Marathon bombing and nearly every other terrorist attack in recent memory. In actual fact, Jones’ website Infowars may actually have helped inspire the attack in Boston. This is not an isolated instance, and although Jones can’t be held responsible for the actions of others, the culture of paranoia he helps create certainly plays a role.
- Obama was not only a Muslim but also a member of Al Qaeda (this in 2016).
- That the Sandy Hook school shooting was part of a government plot to curtail citizen’s rights to own guns. Interestingly, the debate in the media was instantly and nearly universally framed around gun ownership, rather than improving people’s access to mental health services. Jones’s broadcasts around the event led directly to his followers harassing and threatening parents of the children killed on that day.
The problem here is that none of these represent credible alternative viewpoints as far as the evidence he accompanies them with goes. Jones often relies on inconsistencies in how mainstream media reports on these events, (in contrast) testimony from witnesses who saw what nobody else did, unreliable records or anonymous sources that cannot be corroborated in any way.
Manipulating His Listeners’ Emotions and Fears
Jones repeatedly refers to a coming takeover of the world by a powerful group of politicians and financiers, which seems to be the lynch pin of all his political and social theories. Another favorite topic is a coming citizen’s revolt in the United States. The parallels to totalitarian discourse in past situations will be clear to anyone who’s studied history.
Other imminent threats he regularly warns his listeners about include eugenics, conscious, directed efforts to break up families, destroy religion and promote pedophilia by allowing same-sex marriage, and the creation of a police state complete with concentration camps. While these threats would certainly be worrying, the only way to take them seriously would be to abandon rational thought and accept Jones’s worldview lock, stock and barrel. This isn’t commentary; it’s barely even entertainment, and fearful people are even less likely to think and act rationally.
Making Wild Predictions…and then not Owning up to Them
When a commentator makes a prediction, or allows an expert such as an economist or political expert on air to do so, the audience can usually expect that a great deal of raw data and experienced analysis went into such a projection. There’s also an implicit obligation to stand by them later, admit it if the prediction failed and try to explain why.
Alex Jones simply does not believe in this aspect of journalistic ethics. He and his guests regularly make outrageous claims about the future, that are rarely challenged, and which are simply never mentioned again when they fail to pan out. Whenever he’s criticized for his content or presentation, his default reaction seems to be to label any detractors as enemies of the people while reiterating his views passionately.
Why He Does It
If nothing else, we have to admire Mr. Jones’s persistence, who has been involved in the making of around three dozen “documentaries” aside from his broadcasts, which currently claim somewhere north of two million regular listeners. There’s no doubt that he’s an extremely skilled showman.
Whether he actually believes in what he promulgates, there’s little doubt that Infowars and its various related franchises are quite lucrative. While the site also accepts donations, much of the advertising on Jones’s show is directed at supporting his own online shop and dietary supplements in particular. These are marketed under intriguing brand names such as “Survival Shield X-2” and “Super Male Vitality”.
A person would think that, in a country where freedom of expression covers even madmen like Jones, the operation of the free market of ideas and information would quickly make his fans notice the various flaws in his broadcasts. There are certainly a large number of Alt-Right, Libertarian and Conservative options to choose from. Several of them cover what are called “conspiracy theories”, which have historically often turned out to be true when examined diligently.
The problem seems to be that there seems to be almost no crossover between the Infowars listener base and that of these stations. People don’t like to have their views or beliefs challenged, a natural tendency that can occasionally become pathological. When this happens, they start living in an ideological bubble in which any new message that supports what they already know is automatically accepted, and anything that contradicts it is rejected regardless of its supporting evidence. In a world where “soft power” forms of social influence and control are becoming increasingly important, broadcasters like Alex Jones may in fact be more dangerous to the societal fabric than lone mad bombers.