NBC’s Megyn Kelly says she’ll “shine a light” on conspiracy-monger Alex Jones. But he’s a weed, not a cockroach. (More)
“Shining a light works on cockroaches. It doesn’t work on Alex Jones”
One of the immediate critics is a mother whose daughter was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, a massacre that Jones has dismissed as a government hoax.
Nelba Márquez-Greene saw the interview, scheduled to air Sunday – Father’s Day – as an “egregious offense” to fathers whose children were murdered Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut.
“To give Alex Jones a platform on Father’s Day is especially cruel to me,” she told the Washington Post.
Jones’s interview reignites a debate over whether interviewing polarizing figures on national television gives them a platform or places their controversial views under scrutiny.
Kelly insists that the media must spotlight such nonsense to dispel it:
— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) June 12, 2017
But Márquez-Greene doesn’t buy that rationale:
“Shining a light works on cockroaches,” she said. “It doesn’t work on Alex Jones.”
She added: “It’s just a reminder that we really haven’t found a way as a nation to really honor the loss. We really want to honor the loss, but we really don’t know how to do that. Because this is not the way.”
“If they’re going to do the interview, fine,” she said. “But then give us equal airtime to express how dismaying this is.”
And there’s the rub. The Jones interview will boost Kelly’s ratings. An interview with Márquez-Greene and other Sandy Hook families would go unnoticed. Because the Sandy Hook Massacre proved that most Americans don’t give a flip flying frig about victims of gun violence. Since that horrific mass murder, only seven states tightened their gun laws, while 28 states have made it easier to buy and carry guns in more places. That surge was led by state-level Republican lawmakers, and voters consistently reelected them.
So yeah, Jones is ratings gold. Márquez-Greene is, sorry to say, not.
“The mainstream media shouldn’t try to shield its audience from him or pretend he doesn’t exist – it should interrogate him”
The argument behind the outrage suggests that featuring Jones on a primetime network television interview show is an irresponsible use of a powerful news platform. To sit Jones across from one of America’s most recognizable (and highest-paid) news personalities is to legitimize a man with fringe views that many find abhorrent. Furthermore, they note, such exposure could theoretically extend Jones’ reach; what if malleable minds see something they like in Jones’ interview and become fans or regular viewers?
It’s a valid argument, but one that misunderstands the media’s role in the Trump era – not to mention Jones’ role inside the pro-Trump media ecosystem. Like it or not, Alex Jones is an architect of our current political moment, and as such, the mainstream media shouldn’t try to shield its audience from him or pretend he doesn’t exist – it should interrogate him.
Jones is a far-fringe personality, and a wildly popular one. While his more outlandish views suggest a man embraced only by the tinfoil hat community – he’s alleged that 9/11 is likely an inside job and that bombs engineered by the government to control the population have turned our frogs gay – Jones’ influence is real and widely felt. If you attended any Trump rally in the lead-up to the 2016 election, you likely saw his ubiquitous navy “Hillary for Prison” T-shirts, which Jones hawked through his Infowars store (until they sold out, that is). At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last summer, Jones was greeted like royalty.
And that last paragraph pretty much shreds Warzel’s argument. Jones already has a huge spotlight, boosted by the God-King’s seal of approval and press credentials for Infowars ‘reporters’ at the White House. ‘Interrogating’ him won’t change any minds, as academic research by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler shows that trying to correct false claims merely reinforces them in the minds of believers. Jones is a weed, not a cockroach, and more light will only help him grow faster.
“Know your enemy and stop giving them ammunition”
Indeed just two months ago, Warzel explained why the ‘interrogation’ tactics he now proposes will backfire:
Scott Pelley wasn’t prepared for a troll.
On Sunday’s 60 Minutes segment on fake news, CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley brought Americans face to face with some of the men behind the online, pro-Trump media universe. There was a brief setup in which Pelley noted that “the nation was assaulted by imposters masquerading as reporters” who “poisoned the conversation with lies on the left and on the right.”
Then the segment turned its focus to Mike Cernovich, a pro-Trump blogger and Twitter personality who championed rumors of Hillary Clinton’s poor health during the final months of the election. Pelley introduced Cernovich as an online writer “who has become a magnet for readers with a taste for stories with no basis in fact.”
And just one minute into that segment, Cernovich flipped the script:
Cernovich: She had a seizure and froze up walking into her motorcade that day.
Pelley: Well, she had pneumonia. I mean—
Cernovich: How do you know? Who told you that?
Pelley: Well, the campaign told us that.
Cernovich: Why would you trust the campaign?
Pelley: The point is you didn’t talk to anybody who’d ever examined Hillary Clinton.
Cernovich: I don’t take anything Hillary Clinton is gonna say at all as true. I’m not gonna take her on her word. The media says we’re not gonna take Donald Trump on his word. And that’s why we are in these different universes.
Cernovich rejects the entire notion that he has a burden of proof. Anything he says is true unless someone can prove it false. Oh, and he claims the right to choose which evidence is reliable in his “different universe,” so it’s not even theoretically possible to disprove anything in his “universe.”
Warzel also mentions a dust-up between Cernovich and the New York Times’ Liz Spayd, where once again Cernovich came out on top by virtue of sheer bluster:
Instead, it was a warning to newsrooms and reporters who find themselves dipping their toes into the MAGA media fever swamp to take the other side seriously and to understand the legitimacy that personalities like Cernovich carry with their vocal followers. Put another way: Know your enemy and stop giving them ammunition.
That last sentence is good advice and – for conspiracy mongers like Jones and Cernovich – attention is ammunition.
There is no ‘safe’ or ‘smart’ way for the fact-based media to engage them, because the fact-based media must accept the limits of evidence. For Jones, Cernovich, and other conspiracy-mongers, an absence of evidence proves The Powers That Be Are Covering Up The Real Story.
It’s like playing basketball by the rules of that sport, against an opposing team who play Calvinball, where the only inviolable rule is that no rule can be invoked twice. The basketball team can’t win that contest, ever … unless there are referees.
And that is what the fact-based media must be. Referees. They can’t try to out-Calvinball the conspiracy-mongers. Instead, they must enforce the rules of fact-based dialogue: if you make a claim, you have to prove it with concrete evidence … not a lack of evidence presented as if it were evidence. And if you won’t play by those rules then you don’t get to play at all.
Of course Jones wouldn’t accept those rules. He never has. And for that reason, Kelly shouldn’t let him play. Period.
Photo Credit: Brent Humphreys (Esquire)
Good day and good nuts