I was hired at this site to write about politics from a left-wing perspective. I seldom embrace this mandate – I think pigeon-holing myself on the left means that I can’t acknowledge when conservatives make good points and have good ideas, which they often do. However, there are some days where I take great glee in my mandate and lean back into my leftism whole hog.
Today is one of those.
This is less an article and more a long-form gloat, a respectful I-told-you-so and, I hope, a point of departure which will demand accountability in the conservative media.
Let’s start with the far-right and work towards the center. By that, of course, I mean Alex Jones. News broke on April 17th that two families who lost children in the Sandy Hook massacre will be pressing charges against Jones for defamation. Both suits will seek a little over one million dollars in damages.
Neil Heslin, and Leonard Pozner and his ex-wife Veronica De La Rosa are claiming that Alex Jones’ repeated assertions that Sandy Hook was a false flag attack has lead to their continued harassment. On one occasion Pozner received threatening voicemails saying, “you gonna die, death is coming to you real soon” and “Look behind you it is death.”
To hear Jones and InfoWars tell it, Sandy Hook was an elaborate hoax perpetrated by the government to justify stricter gun laws. A claim for which there is no evidence and has gone from conspiracy posturing to having a real-world impact in the lives of the parents of the victims.
The Sandy Hook victims are not the only ones pressing charges against Jones. A witness to the white supremacist rallies in Charleston was singled out by Jones as a CIA-operative or functionary of the deep-state (that rhetorical wasteland and mainstay of crackpot nonsense-mongers everywhere). Brennan Gilmore was the person who captured the car attack that killed Heather Heyer at the rally.
He now fears for his safety, as conspiracists online have published his parents’ address and threatened him, with one in-person threat that his body would end up in a river. He told The Guardian, “I’m incredibly concerned about the capacity for this to happen to other people and the danger this poses to our country.”
Finally, there is the case of Marcel Fontaine, a young man who was identified by Jones as the perpetrator of the Parkland mass shooting. He showed his picture on InfoWars, an image where Fontaine was wearing “communist garb” with a clenched fist. Jones used the photo as proof that communists were infiltrating the United States and perpetrating terrorist acts.
Fontaine lives in Massachusetts, the shirt he was wearing depicts Karl Marx, Lenin, Stalin and other famous communists in party hats drinking from Dixie-cups, a pun on Communist party. He has never been to Florida and is also seeking a little more than one million dollars in damages.
Whether these plaintiffs are successful matters less than the precedent these suits will set. Yes, Jones and his ilk are protected by the first amendment, but that protection does not extend to the impact of their claims. They are meddling in the real lives of innocent people and galvanizing a cadre of conspiracists who are apparently willing to make violent threats and impose on the wellbeing of others.
This pushback is not only warranted but welcome.
Now to move ever so slightly towards the center, the professional implosion of Sean Hannity.
Ten years ago, I would never have lumped Hannity and Jones together. One was a journalist with an agenda, the other a blatant liar and performance artist. Lately, I find it more and more difficult to differentiate the two, as Hannity becomes a mouthpiece for the administration and has adopted their position regarding facts and honesty.
After Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen was forced to reveal that Hannity was also his client – something Hannity had failed to disclose in his coverage – The Atlantic reported that they share two other attorneys, Jay Sekulow and Victoria Toensing. While these revelations have certainly done some damage to Hannity’s reputation as a journalist, they have also made clear Hannity’s loyalty to and close affiliation with Donald Trump.
In a report released by the Washington Post, Hannity and Trump share frequent phone calls where they discuss what Hannity should program, the ongoing special counsel investigation and even what the President might consider tweeting. Hannity is known by some White House staffers as the “unofficial chief of staff.” Oh boy.
Although Fox News has given Hannity a pass on the Cohen scandal, I can’t help but chalk these new revelations up as a win for responsible journalism. In an administration where fake news is carted around as the panacea to any unfavorable story, it is satisfying to see that the fakest news is that which is closest to the president and his agenda.
This goes beyond disagreements about free speech or bias in journalism; this is about telling lies openly and passing them off as a difference of opinion. Life just got a little more difficult for two prominent liars, and it feels long overdue.