Columbia Journalism Review via cchisholm.carto.com




Losing a child in a horrific event like the December 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting causes unimaginable grief and suffering. Add to that pain the incessant rantings of conspiracy theorists, who claim the entire scenario was staged to promote a gun-control agenda, and the incident becomes farcical, surreal, unbearable.

Three Sandy Hook parents — Neil Hesslin, Leonard Pozner, and Veronique De La Rosa — said enough is enough and sued talk-show host Alex Jones last week for defamation, alleging he called them “crisis actors” and incited “death threats” against them.

Hesslin filed one lawsuit, while Pozner and De La Rosa filed another. The suits, each seeking $1 million, were filed in Texas because Infowars, Jones’ infamous media company, is located there.

In July, Alex Jones appeared with Megan Kelly on national TV in an NBC interview defending the variety of conspiracy theories he espouses, including Sandy Hook. Local NBC affiliate WVIT decided not to air the interview “because the wounds caused by the Sandy Hook tragedy are ‘understandably still so raw’.”

Pozner, in a Hartford Courant op-ed days before the interview, condemned NBC for the publicity it afforded Jones: “The narrative alleges that the 26 victims and their parents, the police and first responders, and the majority of the town were actually crisis actors on the government’s payroll. This, despite the widespread availability of legitimate information to the contrary. Jones and his fellow ‘hoaxers’ have up until now spread this thoroughly debunked theory in the darkest corners of the media, shamelessly exploiting a tragedy to make a quick buck. Now, to the dismay of rational society, Jones landed the mainstream media interview of a lifetime.”

And hence, the lawsuit nine months later. As Ponzer noted, “tens of thousands are flocking to charismatic con men like Jones, with cultish reverence and conviction. With the aid of media platforms such as alternative talk radio, YouTube, Google, Facebook, and Twitter, scores more are being reached and indoctrinated into the cult of delusional lunacy every day.”

Indeed, it’s a self-perpetuating system.

University of North Carolina professor Zeynep Tujekci explained that “algorithms push YouTube viewers toward ever-more-intense content. If you keep clicking on videos about running, you’ll eventually get ultramarathons. Similarly, if you like Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton videos, algorithms will push you toward more extreme content on the right and left.”

This environment has enabled extremists like Alex Jones to flourish. At that same time, it’s an environment that finds the traditional news media floundering.

According to a Monmouth University poll released earlier this month, “Large majorities of the American public believe that traditional media outlets engage in reporting fake news and that outside sources are actively trying to plant fake stories in the mainstream media.”

Specifically, “More than three in four Americans believe that traditional major TV and newspaper media outlets report ‘fake news’.” For 65% of Americans, “fake news” is not limited to “false or counterfeit” material “reported in a newspaper or news periodical or on a newscast” — the standard dictionary definition. For them, “fake news” also means “how news outlets make editorial decisions about what they choose to report.”

Said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University poll: “These findings are troubling, no matter how you define ‘fake news.’ Confidence in an independent fourth estate is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy. Ours appears to be headed for the intensive care unit.”

The situation is of particular concern with national news. Fortunately, Connecticut is still served capably by “legacy media” outlets at the state and local level, most notably daily newspapers. The state has 10 daily newspapers with circulations of at least 15,000 within a total of 15 dailies overall. Not bad for a state of 3.5 million people.

In addition, Connecticut boasts at least seven news websites registered with LION (Local Independent Online News Publishers) — including CT News Junkie — that provide original reporting. Other regions of the country should be so lucky. The midsection of the country has been hit particularly hard by dying newspapers, resulting in “news deserts,” as a quick look at this map reveals.

So while news events in Connecticut are covered thoroughly by Connecticut news outlets, when those events become national news — like Sandy Hook — the coverage outside of the state is uneven, opening the door for media hucksters like Alex Jones.

The lawsuits filed by Hesslin, Pozner, and De La Rosa against Infowars, therefore, is long overdue. Here’s hoping the Sandy Hook parents win, putting a major dent in the bogus and reckless efforts of charlatans like Alex Jones.

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and 15th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition.