Good Monday Austin:
Alex Jones and his comrades on Infowars popped the cork on some champagne last night to celebrate his victory over Megyn Kelly on her new show, Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly.
Jones, Mike Cernovich, who the New Yorker last fall dubbed the “meme mastermind of the alt-right,” and who has emerged as an integral part of Infowars, well-sourced in the Trump administration, and Andrew Torba, the founder and CEO of the newish free speech social network Gab.ai, who was new to me, joined in the toast on an Infowars broadcast simultaneous with the airing of Kelly’s report on Jones based on her recent interview of him here in Austin.
Did Jones and company have reason to celebrate?
If you are a citizen in good standing of Jonestown and enjoy the Alex Jones Kool-Aid, there is probably nothing in last night’s report that will cause you to stop imbibing from that Dixie Cup of flavored water.
And, if, perhaps, you knew nothing about Jones but have been desperately looking for a madcap messiah who you can listen to four hours a day, six days a week, who will reveal to you, hour by hour, day after day, the way the world really works, then maybe last night was Kismet.
But, if you are not prone to conspiracy thinking, and you did not come to last night’s show with a strong sense of who Alex Jones is, my guess is that you were left with the impression that he is a dangerous crackpot with no regard for the truth or the damage his on-air theorizing can cause and the pain it can inflict.
And you may wonder, and even worry, about what is it about President Donald Trump and Alex Jones that has made the latter a trusted news source for the former.
Alex Jones is an interesting character. The fact that he has such a vast audience says something about something, and is worth trying to figure out.
But what really makes Alex Jones newsworthy and consequential is his influence on the president of the United States, who has all or our lives in his hands.
Megyn Kelly doesn’t, on her NBC show, have the confidence and mojo she had when she was the Queen of Fox, back when she was confronting Donald Trump at the first Republican presidential.
But, as tentative and scripted as she sounded last night, ultimately, she had Alex Jones’ number.
From Hank Stuever at the Washington Post:
Megyn Kelly’s interview Sunday night with the bellicose conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was certainly dreaded, but, in execution, it was far from dreadful. Kelly, who has many miles to go before she finds her footing as a big-time newsmagazine anchor, can and has done worse.
To the slightest relief of decent people everywhere — some who may have been watching NBC’s “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly” against their better nature — the host was tougher on Jones that she was with Russian President Vladimir Putin a couple of weeks ago. She challenged Jones, whose Infowars radio show and multimedia platform draw millions of followers, on some of his wildest and most dangerous assertions, including his statements that the 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., was an elaborate hoax.
Unsettling as it may be to have to aired it at all, Kelly’s 20-minute segment on Jones and his influence (his fans include President Trump) seemed to have benefited greatly from the pre-criticism and brouhaha that swirled around it last week (one NBC-owned station declined to air it; an advertiser backed out), assuring that Kelly and her producers delivered a tightly edited, firmly reported, no-nonsense story about someone who tells dangerous lies. Kelly’s instincts here aren’t wrong: Viewers who don’t want to hear a single word from Jones need to know more about him and the people who believe him.
Rather than let Jones run away with it, “Sunday Night” let him show himself to be an impertinent, ill-informed, foulmouthed, possibly deranged egomaniac with a forehead constantly beaded in sweat. It showed viewers how Infowars grew and sustains itself by peddling right-wing merchandise and Jones-endorsed dietary supplements. It looked briefly back at Jones’s early days as just another cable-access kook in Austin, and revealed the flimsy, almost nonexistent definition of “research” (articles he and his staff find online) that sets the Infowars agenda.
The segment didn’t rise to the vaunted effectiveness of the 1954 “See It Now” showdown between CBS’s Edward R. Murrow and Sen. Joseph McCarthy, but, in the often selective memory bank of American culture, nothing ever will.
So yes, even as he was being exposed to a larger audience as a creepy and unseemly figure, Alex Jones and Infowars may also benefit from last night’s show and have reason to celebrate.
Here’s how Megyn Kelly’s 17-minute report on Jones opened last night. (Transcript courtesy NBC via RealClear Politics.)
MEGYN KELLY: First tonight, our report on the incendiary radio host, Alex Jones. For years, Jones has been spreading conspiracy theories, claiming, for instance, that elements of the U.S. government allowed the 9/11 attacks to happen and that the horrific Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax. Some thought we shouldn’t broadcast this interview because his baseless allegations aren’t just offensive, they’re dangerous. But here’s the thing: Alex Jones isn’t going away. Over the years, his YouTube channel has racked up 1.3 billion views. He has millions of listeners and the ear of our current president. We begin our report with his reaction to the recent terrorist attack in Manchester, England.
KELLY: ALEX JONES WAS NEARLY 5,000 MILES AWAY FROM MANCHESTER, ENGLAND WHEN A SUICIDE BOMBER KILLED 22 PEOPLE AT A CONCERT LESS THAN FOUR WEEKS AGO. DESPITE THE DISTANCE, AND WITH FEW FACTS KNOWN, JONES DID WHAT HE OFTEN DOES: JUMPED MOUTH-FIRST INTO CONTROVERSY.
ALEX JONES (May 22, 2017 YouTube video): A big bomb goes off at a pop star’s rock concert bombing a bunch of liberal trendies.
MEGYN KELLY: You said, “It was a bunch of liberal trendies who were killed, the same people who are promoting open borders, bringing Islamists in.
ALEX JONES: Yes.
MEGYN KELLY: In response to which, many people looked at the victims, many of whom were 15, 14. There was a little eight …
ALEX JONES: No. I’m sorry I didn’t blow ’em up. I know. But I did something bad, though?
MEGYN KELLY: No, that – that you …
ALEX JONES: Oh, no, no, no, no …
MEGYN KELLY: … would suggest that …
ALEX JONES: ‘cause …
MEGYN KELLY: … that an eight – that an eight-year-old, right? There was Saffie Rose Roussos, eight years old, that she was a liberal trendy, right? ‘Cause that’s what you said about the victims is what has people upset …
ALEX JONES: No, that’s – yeah, no, no. The media misrepresenting and clipping that the way you did. I got home at, like, 6:00, heard about it. The ages of the victims weren’t even known. But they were saying it was jihadi. And I said, “How crazy is it that liberal trendies are now the victims?” And then I start going and looking. Of course, if there’s kids being killed by Muslims, I’m not saying that it’s their fault.
MEGYN KELLY: THAT PATTERN: RECKLESS ACCUSATION, FOLLOWED BY EQUIVOCATIONS AND EXCUSES IS CLASSIC ALEX JONES.
That pretty much nails it.
Like President Trump, the narcissist in Alex Jones makes it impossible for him to ever truly admit he is or was ever wrong, or to genuinely apologize for anything he’s ever done.
From Jack Shafer at Politico: Megyn Kelly Pantses Alex JonesFor all the pre-interview fuss, NBC’s new star exposed the InfoWars host for what he is. But the controversy was never really about him.
When Kelly’s show finally aired, she took the mendacious Jones apart in such a textbook manner you had to wonder what all the shouting had been about. The Jones pattern, she said at the segment’s top, is making “reckless accusations followed by equivocations and excuses” when questioned. The two best examples of this are his promotion of the “Pizzagate“ lies about a satanic child porn ring and his wild allegation that Chobani was “importing Migrant Rapists,” as InfoWars hyped its report on Twitter. In both cases, lawsuits have forced Jones to retract and apologized for airing these dishonest stories, and yet in conversation with Kelly he still hedges and quibbles like a con artist in an effort to have his conspiracy pizza and keep his yogurt, too. Likewise with the pathetic claims about the Sandy Hook killings. He’s still throwing the see-through drapery of devil’s advocacy to blur the fact that on most subjects he’s talking out of his tinfoil hat.
Short of waterboarding him, I don’t know what more Kelly could have done to expose Jones’ dark methods. She was needlessly defensive in her presentation, acknowledging that some people thought the segment shouldn’t have been broadcast because it would increase Jones’ profile. But as she pointed out, Jones isn’t going away, and his audience is growing. What’s more, Jones “has the ear of our president,” and spurious things InfoWars says have a way of getting repeated by his phone-pal President Donald Trump, who has saluted the InfoWars host in the past. She didn’t take Jones down, but really, who could have in a newsmagazine segment? But she did do a credible job of exposing his lies. Give her a B+.
Megyn Kelly kept her eye on the ball – the ball being Jones’ connection to Trump.
MEGYN KELLY: HE AND HIS COMPANY, INFOWARS, HAVE BEEN STEADILY GAINING FOLLOWERS FOR YEARS, PRODUCING RADIO SHOWS AND WEBCASTS, WHICH REACH MILLIONS A MONTH. BUT JONES’ INFLUENCE HIT NEW HEIGHTS WHEN HE ATTRACTED A VERY FAMOUS FAN: THEN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE DONALD TRUMP.
DONALD TRUMP (On Alex Jones’ show December 2, 2015): I just want to finish by saying your reputation is amazing.
MEGYN KELLY: IN DECEMBER, 2015, MR. TRUMP APPEARED ON JONES’ RADIO PROGRAM, OFFERING PRAISE AND PROMISES.
DONALD TRUMP (On Alex Jones’ show December 2, 2015): I will not let you down. You will be very, very impressed I hope and I think we’ll be speaking a lot.
MEGYN KELLY: SEPARATELY, BOTH MEN HAD SUPPORTED THE FALSE STATEMENT THAT BARACK OBAMA WAS NOT A NATURAL-BORN CITIZEN. AND THEY’VE HAD MORE IN COMMON SINCE.
ALEX JONES (February 24, 2017): I agree with Trump on that. He agrees with me. And then we got articles, “he’s following Alex on coal.” “He’s following Alex on guns.” “He’s following Alex on borders.”
MEGYN KELLY: THE 2016 CAMPAIGN WAS GOOD FOR INFOWARS. ITS YOU TUBE MONTHLY VIEWS REACHED 83 MILLION IN NOVEMBER 2016, MORE THAN FIVE TIMES HIGHER THAN THE PREVIOUS NOVEMBER. AND WHEN MR. TRUMP WON, ALEX JONES FOUND HIMSELF WITH ACCESS TO THE SEAT OF POWER. INFOWARS GOT A TEMPORARY WHITE HOUSE PRESS PASS FOR THE FIRST TIME, AND JONES SAYS MR. TRUMP CALLED HIM AFTER THE ELECTION TO THANK HIM FOR HIS HELP.
MEGYN KELLY: You have said that it’s surreal to say something on Infowars and then hear it come out of the President of the United States’ mouth a couple days later.
ALEX JONES: I mean, that has happened. But, I mean …
MEGYN KELLY: Do you think he’s watching?
ALEX JONES: I mean, I know Trump watches and sees the clips and things.
MEGYN KELLY: WE DID FIND INDICATIONS OF THAT. ON JULY 22, 2015, INFOWARS PUT UP THIS VIDEO, CLAIMING IT SHOWED DRUG TRAFFICKING ALONG THE US-MEXICO BORDER. ALTHOUGH WE DON’T KNOW WHAT IT ACTUALLY SHOWS.
INFOWARS REPORTER: We actually witnessed a drug smuggling operation from Mexico into the U.S. …
MEGYN KELLY: THREE DAYS LATER, MR. TRUMP GAVE THIS SPEECH IN IOWA.
DONALD TRUMP: Big story, it’s all over the place now – guys swimming across, and big bags of stuff, it’s drugs, swimming across the river.
MEGYN KELLY: THIS WAS INFOWARS PREVIEWING THE FIRST PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE BETWEEN DONALD TRUMP AND HILLARY CLINTON.
ALEX JONES (September 25, 2016): I think she’s going to show up – on drugs though – she’s going to be whacked out.
MEGYN KELLY: AND MR. TRUMP’S TAKE NOT LONG AFTER:
DONALD TRUMP (October 15, 2016): We should take a drug test prior, because I don’t know what’s going on with her.
MEGYN KELLY: DONALD TRUMP ALLY AND FREQUENT INFOWARS GUEST ROGER STONE UNDERSCORED THE CONNECTION BETWEEN JONES AND THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN IN A TWEET LAST SPRING. IT READ: “MSM ELITES DON’T SEE THAT @REALALEXJONES AND @INFOWARS REACH MILLIONS OF @REALDONALDTRUMP SUPPORTERS AND HELPED MAKE THE TRUMP REVOLUTION.”
ALEX JONES (February 22, 2017): Donald Trump calls me. The secretary says, “Donald Trump would like to talk to you, Mr. Jones, would you like to talk to him? Yes, boom.”
MEGYN KELLY: WHILE JONES HAS BOASTED OF HIS CONTACT WITH THE PRESIDENT ON HIS RADIO SHOW, HE DOWNPLAYED IT IN HIS INTERVIEW WITH US, CLAIMING THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA, OR MSM, HAS EXAGGERATED THEIR CONNECTION.
ALEX JONES: I think my influence on Trump is way, way lower than what MSM has said.
MEGYN KELLY: Well, what kind of access do you have?
ALEX JONES: He’s just called sometimes and, you know, talked about politics or thanked me, stuff like that. That’s it.
MEGYN KELLY: Would you describe yourself as friends?
ALEX JONES: No.
MEGYN KELLY: Friendly?
ALEX JONES: Sure.
MEGYN KELLY: And how many times has he called you?
ALEX JONES: I don’t want to get into all that.
MEGYN KELLY: What is it, do you think, about Alex Jones that President Trump finds so amazing?
CHARLIE SYKES: That’s a scary question.
MEGYN KELLY: CHARLIE SYKES IS A CONSERVATIVE WRITER AND CONTRIBUTOR TO NBC NEWS. HE’S BEEN CRITICAL OF PRESIDENT TRUMP.
CHARLIE SYKES: Obviously, there’s a conspiratorial turn in the president’s thinking and in his imagination. And those darker impulses are fed into by Alex Jones.
Jones greatest vulnerability with the broader public – the easiest way for his detractors to identify the careless, callous poison of his words – is his assertion that the Sandy Hook shootings were a hoax.
He now offers mealy-mouthed explanations that he was merely playing the devil’s advocate by expressing the conspiracy theorizing of his listeners, that he was “war-gaming” the situation, that, yes, it was not a hoax, that children really died – probably, maybe, I don’t know – because he can never completely overcome his conspiratorial gut instinct, let alone genuinely express regret about the pain and anguish he caused.
Which is why his video message to Sandy Hook parents yesterday is truly breathtaking in its smarminess.
I woke up this morning, on Father’s Day, I was holding my young infant daughter in my arms, looking into her eyes, sitting out on the back porch, hearing the birds sing and it just brought tears to my eyes, thinking about all the parents who have lost children on Father’s Day or Mother’s Day, who have to then think about that. Parents should never have to bury their own children.
And that’s why on Father’s Day I want to reach out to the parents of the slain children of that horrible tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut, and give you my sincere condolences.
I’d also like to reach out to any of the parents who lost a child at Newtown to invite them to contact me to open a dialogue because I think it’s really essential that we do that instead of letting the MSM (mainstream media) misrepresent things and really try to drive this nation apart.
Right now is a time for unity and peace in our country, I think now more than ever.
I can’t really think of anything in my experience quite as shameless as this.
I don’t think even President Trump could pull this off.
I can’t imagine a Sandy Hook parent watching this without becoming physically ill.
From last night’s show.
MEGYN KELLY: ALEX JONES REPEATEDLY CLAIMED THAT THE SHOOTING NEVER HAPPENED. HERE HE IS ON INFOWARS IN DECEMBER 2014.
ALEX JONES (on his show): It took me about a year with Sandy Hook to come to grips with the fact that the whole thing was fake.
MEGYN KELLY: You said, “The whole thing is a giant hoax. How do you deal with a total hoax? It took me about a year, with Sandy Hook, to come to grips with the fact that the whole thing was fake. I did deep research. And my gosh, it just pretty much didn’t happen.”
ALEX JONES: At that point, and I do think there’s some cover-up and some manipulation, that is pretty much what I believed. But then I was also going into devil’s advocate. But then we know there’s mass shootings, and these things happen. So again …
MEGYN KELLY: But you’re trying to have it all ways, right?
ALEX JONES: No, I’m not.
MEGYN KELLY: If you wrongly went out there and said it was a hoax, that’s wrong.
ALEX JONES: But what I already answered your question was, listeners and other people are covering this. I didn’t create that story.
MEGYN KELLY: But Alex, the parents, one after the other, devastated. The dead bodies that the coroner autopsied …
ALEX JONES: And they blocked all that. And they won’t release any of it. That’s unprecedented. Even …
MEGYN KELLY: All of the parents …
ALEX JONES: … even the reports.
MEGYN KELLY: … decided to come out and lie about their dead children?
ALEX JONES: I didn’t say that …
MEGYN KELLY: What happened to the children?
ALEX JONES: I will sit there on the air and look at every position and play devil’s advocate.
MEGYN KELLY: Was that devil’s advocate? “The whole thing is a giant hoax. The whole thing was fake.”
ALEX JONES: Yes. Because I remember, even that day, to go back from memory, then saying, “But then, some of it looks like it’s real.” But then what do you do, when they’ve got the kids going in circles, in and out of the building with their hands up? I’ve watched the footage. And it looks like a drill.
MEGYN KELLY: When you say, “parents faked their children’s death,” people get very angry.
ALEX JONES: Yeah, well, that’s – oh, I know. But they don’t get angry about the half million dead Iraqis from the sanctions. Or they don’t get angry about all the illegals pouring in …
MEGYN KELLY: That’s a dodge.
ALEX JONES: No, no. It’s not a dodge. The media never covers all the evil wars it’s promoted and all the big things …
MEGYN KELLY: That doesn’t excuse what you did and said about Newtown, and you know it …
ALEX JONES: Oh, but I – here’s the difference. Here’s the difference. I looked at all the angles of Newtown. And I made my statements long before the media even picked up on it.
MEGYN KELLY: IN OUR INTERVIEW, WE ASKED JONES NUMEROUS TIMES WHAT HE NOW BELIEVES. AND HE NEVER COMPLETELY DISAVOWED HIS PREVIOUS STATEMENTS.
ALEX JONES: I tend to believe that children probably did die there. But then you look at all the other evidence on the other side. I can see how other people believe that nobody died there.
MEGYN KELLY: OF COURSE, THERE IS NO “EVIDENCE ON THE OTHER SIDE.”
AFTER PRESIDENT TRUMP TOOK OFFICE, THE NEWTOWN BOARD OF EDUCATION WROTE TO HIM, IMPLORING THE PRESIDENT TO TRY TO STOP JONES AND OTHER HOAXERS LIKE HIM, SAYING JONES CONTINUES TO SPREAD HATE AND LIES TOWARDS OUR TOWN.
ALMOST FOUR MONTHS LATER, ACCORDING TO THE BOARD CHAIRMAN, THE PRESIDENT HAS YET TO RESPOND. THE LIES ABOUT SANDY HOOK HAVE HAD REAL WORLD CONSEQUENCES.
JUST THIS MONTH, A FLORIDA WOMAN WAS SENTENCED TO FIVE MONTHS IN PRISON FOR SENDING DEATH THREATS TO A SANDY HOOK PARENT. HER DEFENSE ATTORNEY SAYS SHE WAS PRIMARILY MOTIVATED BY INFOWARS.
OTHER VICTIMS’ FAMILY MEMBERS HAVE BEEN HARASSED OR THREATENED, TOO. THE FAMILIES SAY THAT JONES’ WORDS HAVE CAUSED LASTING PAIN, AND THEY FEAR THE HARASSMENT WILL CONTINUE.
MEGYN KELLY: THE CONSEQUENCES OF JONES’ ACTIONS ARE NOT LIMITED TO SANDY HOOK. IN 2016, JONES PROMOTED A CONSPIRACY THEORY KNOWN AS “PIZZAGATE.” INFOWARS CLAIMED A CHILD SEX RING WAS BEING RUN BY DEMOCRATS OUT OF A NUMBER OF BUSINESSES, AND SPECIFICALLY POINTED TO A WASHINGTON D.C. PIZZERIA.
ALEX JONES (on his radio show): You got to go to Infowars.com and actually see the photos and videos inside these places.
MEGYN KELLY: JONES ENCOURAGED HIS LISTENERS TO INVESTIGATE THE CASE THEMSELVES, AND ONE DID, BRINGING A SEMI-AUTOMATIC RIFLE TO THE SHOP AND FIRING SEVERAL ROUNDS. NO ONE WAS HURT AND THE SHOOTER WAS ARRESTED. THE PIZZA SHOP OWNER WROTE A LETTER ASKING JONES TO APOLOGIZE. FACING THE POSSIBILITY OF A LAWSUIT, HE DID. ANOTHER APOLOGY CAME JUST THIS SPRING. CHOBANI YOGURT SUED JONES AFTER INFOWARS FANNED THE LIE THAT CHOBANI EMPLOYEES COMMITTED A SEXUAL ASSAULT IN IDAHO.
ALES JONES (May 17, 2017): On behalf of Infowars, I regret that we mischaracterized Chobani.
MEGYN KELLY: You misstated facts about Chobani and its owner, which you could’ve found out, if you just had a reporter do a little shoe-leather reporting, pick up the phone, call, check out the facts. You never would’ve had to retract that or apologize.
ALEX JONES: This is my statement on that. We know that that was, basically, a PR event. And what happens is you’ve got a year of reporting on the reported sexual assault.
MEGYN KELLY: All of which has nothing to do with Chobani.
ALEX JONES: Yeah. I know you’re not going to let me get it out, are you?
MEGYN KELLY: I’m going to let you get it out. I just want to make sure the record’s straight. ‘Cause I don’t want to smear the man. You are the one who said that you were wrong about Chobani. You said that.
ALEX JONES: Well, that’s because they chose to go after me. And so I simply pointed out that we were reporting on other people’s reports that were not entirely accurate. And for that, we were sorry. ‘Cause it was true.
MEGYN KELLY: You don’t sound very sorry.
ALEX JONES: I’m – well, the media said stuff about the settlement that wasn’t true.
MEGYN KELLY: But you said things about Chobani and its owner that were not true. Are you sorry?
ALEX JONES: I’m going to tell you again. There – the media really was upset that they said that it was a hoax …
MEGYN KELLY: It’s not the media …
ALEX JONES: And so what they did …
MEGYN KELLY: You …
ALEX JONES: And so what they did …
MEGYN KELLY: Are you sorry …
ALEX JONES: And so what they did – so what the media did, and we know it was the media, and we have the PIs and the law firms. And we’re working on it right now. Let’s just say Chobani was real happy to get out of that lawsuit.
MEGYN KELLY: BUT THE LAWSUIT MAKES CLEAR INFOWARS WAS THE ONLY MEDIA OUTLET TO REPORT THE LIE THAT FORCED JONES TO APOLOGIZE. AND WITH THAT APOLOGY CHOBANI CONSIDERS THE MATTER CLOSED.
But don’t let any of this confuse you.
Alex Jones is ever and always the victim.