A protestor near the White House holds a sign claiming the September 11 attacks on the U.S. were an inside job.

A protestor near the White House holds a sign claiming the September 11 attacks on the U.S. were an inside job.

On Sunday night, NBC host Megyn Kelly promoted an upcoming interview with Alex Jones. It only took a few minutes for outrage to build.

Through his radio show, YouTube page, social media accounts and the website InfoWars, Jones has helped spread false or unproven theories. including: that a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor was part of an alleged global pedophilia ring that involves top U.S. politicians (claims he’s apologized for); the alleged nefarious dealings of a yogurt company that employs refugees (he also retracted these claims); and the theory that a number of terror attacks — from 9/11 onward — have been “false flags,” that is, staged, partially faked or allowed to happen to excuse some forthcoming overreach of governmental power.

The latter thread of theories drew the most angry reactions to Jones’ appearance on Kelly’s show. Jones has suggested that the Sandy Hook massacre — in which 26 people, most of them children, were killed — may have be partially staged or orchestrated. Parents and others are aghast that NBC would give air time to someone who deals in such unfounded, fringe claims. A major advertiser has pulled support in response. Jones also says his views have been misrepresented, and he has called for the interview to be pulled.

But how fringe is a host whose reputation the President of the United States has called “amazing”? And how should mainstream media react when theories that appear on Jones’ website inspire an armed gunman to walk into a family pizza parlor?

American politics have always slouched toward paranoia, wrote historian Richard Hofstadter. But when today’s lawmakers cite “stuff circulating on the internet”, have we slouched too far?

Guests

  • Joseph Uscinski Professor of political science, University of Miami; co-author of American Conspiracy Theories; @JoeUScinski
  • Anna Merlan Senior Reporter, the Gizmodo Special Projects Desk; @annamerlan
  • Margaret Sullivan Media columnist, The Washington Post; @Sulliview

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