Free Speech and Mr Jones: The Old Media Resorts to Censorship

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If you have not heard of Alex Jones by now, you certainly will before too long.

Articles about Jones have appeared seemingly everywhere over the last few days.

His name has appeared in every media outlet from the Daily Telegraph to Breitbart; from the Washington Post to the Weekly Standard. Even international outlets like the Jerusalem Post and Al Jazeera have referenced Jones.

He has been at the centre of countless opinion pieces published over the past few days. In the process, he has become a symbol of the precarious future of free speech. The Empire of the Old Media is striking back. They want to dictate your content choices.

But let’s start at the beginning: who is Alex Jones and why is he suddenly noteworthy?

Well, frankly, Alex Jones is a bit of a nutter. He is a conspiracy theorist who rides a white horse at the head of the pack of the international conspiracy sub-culture – now involving millions of people – that reject established historical and scientific facts.

Sociologically, he is grit in the machine for he reveals one of the great paradoxes of an unrighteous age: that just as mankind gets a super-abundance of easily accessible information, we also get bizarre conspiracy theories by the truckload. Our culture now pumps out spittle-flecked nuttiness faster than a bicycle factory in China. And within this irrational world, Mr Jones is a star in the firmament. An information-age Stakhanovite.

Alex Jones promotes so much paranoia he practically sweats.

He says that 9/11 was an inside job by the U.S. government. He maintains that a shadowy “new world order” is taking over the planet. He argues the moon landings were falsified. He criticises vaccinations. He has claimed that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) operates secret concentration camps. After the Sandy Hook massacre, he said the shooting was a false flag operation by supporters of gun control. The survivors of school shootings, he declared, were “crisis actors”.

Selecting a broadcast at random, and clicking to a random time index, immediately yielded the following quotation:

Do you understand the grave danger of the Jacobins? We are in grave danger of total Illuminati revolution. And what does the Illuminati call for in their own writings? That are in the Encyclopedia Britannica? Murder; death; mayhem; a boot stomping on the human face; human sacrifice; fires; burning cities; slaughter; death! Because that’s what they like. The journey is the destination for these people.

It seems there is scarcely a single anti-government, anti-authority, anti-science narrative in existence that Jones does not uncritically embrace. It is no wonder that Rolling Stone magazine titled him “the most paranoid man in America”.

One feels a bit sorry for the Mr Jones. It must be exhausting to live in a world so full of malevolent schemes. It must be terrifying to see the long hand of sinister people at work in every joint and fold of the social structure.

It’s tragic that any man’s life could end up in low orbit around such ideas. But this is where Jones has ended up. One wonders what life experiences led him to such a mental void, because Alex Jones gives himself mind and soul to this stuff. He lives and breathes conspiracy. Conspiracy is his life mission. Conspiracy is his consuming passion. He is inextricably deep in the sub-culture, like a miner buried under a hundred feet of rock. You get the impression that Alex Jones will not return to the land of the clear-headed any time soon. For Jones and his legion of disciples, conspiracies serve as substitute religions.

For those who tune into his radio show, he is regarded as a latter-day prophet from whom comes a steady trickle of truth. He commands a following in the hundreds of thousands. But despite his big fan club, Alex Jones has been booted off Facebook, Spotify and Youtube. He still has his website, radio show, and other means of communication so it is not quite the same thing as the smashing of Protestant printing presses by the counter-Reformation. Yet, there is a deeply unsettling dimension to this.

The silencing of Alex Jones on these platforms was greeted with thinly-disguised triumph by a range of commentators who work in Old Media outlets like the Guardian and CNN.  In fact, it has been quite remarkable to witness the degree of collusion among the Old Media against the operators of the New Media.

This is because the New Media is a threat to the Old. Its power is growing.

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Part of the attraction of the New Media is that anyone can be a journalist. If you have worthwhile and interesting things to say, you can get a loyal following that would be the envy of many newspapers. But even more disconcerting (from the viewpoint of the Old Media) is that the content produced by “amateur” journalists is mostly free. It is also mostly uncontrolled. People can say anything, and they do. There are no corporate bean counters; no bottom line; no CEO; no bosses; and no “party line” that needs to be followed. The New Media has remarkable independence.

As a result, the New Media reflects a true diversity of opinion – far more so than any of the Old Media organisations. In other words, thanks to tools like Facebook, Youtube and delivery systems like Spotify, what has emerged is an exercise in true democracy. It is the creation of an open marketplace of ideas where the best ideas gain traction, and the worst ideas are pilloried and ridiculed. It is wild and untamed land, but reflects the rational democratic ideal far better than any Old Media news organisation can possibly do with their rigid, simplistic, stuffy command-style approach.

The attacks on the stars of the New Media follow the failures of the Old Media to really tap into the online world and get a loyal following. Mind you, they tried once. A lot of news organisations built online websites, created new content streams, published apps, and tried to “buzzify” their news stories so they sounded hip, edgy, and too-cool-for-school. But this was always doomed to fail. The social environment has changed. At the rate things are going, Old Media influence will wane within a generation.

But worse than all of this – again, from the view of the Old Media – is the disintegration of their social power. These vast media empires once could break politicians. Like Pope Gregory VII who left the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV kneeling in the snow for three days in penance, the Old Media establishment could leave leaders sweating and grovelling too. They could ruin the lives of celebrities and commoners alike. They could break men like twigs. They could call the shots of social policy.

But those days are passing and the empires are collapsing. Increasingly, the Old Media is being heavily scrutinised, criticised, and at other times completely by-passed. The most powerful man in the world – Donald Trump – has identified the Old Media establishment as the “opposition party” and he goes for the jugular. Other Republican politicians have adopted the same tactics. Internationally, other politicians are using the same approach. A minister in the Hungarian government recently openly rebuked the BBC for their ideological interview methods.

Brilliant new thinkers appear on Old Media talk shows and make the journalists look wooden-headed and deeply unintelligent – one only needs to consider the fate of Cathy Newman and Patrick Gower whose names are forever linked to disastrous, self-righteous interviews that went very sour. Other media organisations are embattled from their own readership. The frequent rift between the readers and the opinion pieces in “quality newspapers” like the Guardian is striking.

As our Lord once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). And a left-wing news organisation that cannot even count on the affirmation of its own left-wing readers cannot surely endure for long.

Throughout the world, media organisations continue to hemorrhage millions of dollars of advertising, and thousands of readers, fans, and consumers. Time and again, cash strapped news organisations announce rounds of job cuts, layoffs, hiring freezes, and efficiency shuffles. Each time they streamline they promise this will make their organisation “leaner” and better able to “meet needs going forward”. And yet, no organisational change seems to prevent the decline of circulation – the New York Times, for example, has seen a 50% decline in print circulation in the last 12 years. Readers may click onto the websites and even pay subscription for iconic boutique news, but digital subscribers are nowhere near as profitable as print news consumers. Furthermore, like other Old Media companies, the New York Times share price in 2018 is about half of what it was in 2002 which means the market does not consider the company to be anywhere near as worthwhile as it was at the turn of the millennium.

As for the Guardian, in April of this year it published a financial update in which it reported that its losses were less than expected. They only made a 19,000,000 pound loss in the year to the end of March. This is distinct from the 38,000,000 pound loss they made in the previous financial year.

At present, the Guardian is in the midst of a three year plan to reach their grand objective of “breaking even”. That is to say, to make a profit of exactly nothing, while at the same time adding nothing to their debt. “Breaking even” is usually only ever a goal for a business that is so derelict that the investors one forlorn hope is to be able to walk away without a loss. If “breaking even” is the operating goal of a media organisation, it suggests severe stagnation.

The Guardian is now principally supported by donations from its readership as if it were a charity. It trumpets that reader contributions now earn it more money than advertising, as if this is a good thing. What it really means is that advertisers know which way their bread is buttered. With additional costs, the Guardian will make a total loss of around 24,000,000 for the year. Another rousing success story for the Old Media.

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The Old Media – and the left-wing professional class that is allied to them – have responded to the ground-level revolution of the New Media by making the case for censorship. It is truly staggering to read articles in the Guardian and other liberal media outlets that use sophistry and pretended-rationality to argue, at basic, for a person to be unable to use social media platforms – although they try to re-badge this as “corporate responsibility”. In their view, social media corporations that host so much of the New Media have the responsibility to monitor and regulate the opinions that circulate so that nothing they find objectionable will ever be encountered in that social space.

They argue – usually without a shred of evidence – that people like Alex Jones produce “hate speech” and therefore ought to be de-platformed. This is a chilling precedent indeed, and can be understood as a protective measure by the Old Media in response to the fundamental shift that is occurring in regard to their social status.

It was heartening to read on the Guardian website this morning the sheer number of readers who were able to express disdain for Alex Jones and yet vehemently support his right to express his opinion untrammeled by politically-correct tyranny. Many recognise, (despite the fog of progressivism), that free speech should be a value enshrined in any democratic practice; and to the greatest extent possible in the arts, pursuits, and behaviours of a democratic people. It should be expanded and guarded. And the inverse – censorship – should not be celebrated and promoted.

But the Old Media is not a consistent beast. It will howl against the alleged censorship of bakers refusing to make cakes for same-sex couples, yet demand its use against people they dislike. And we may be certain it has not finished its assault yet. Some predators are most dangerous when they are wounded, and we can predict with some confidence that the Old Media establishment will champion censorship and the control of information more aggressively and zealously before their sun finally sinks below the horizon.

If Alex Jones has performed a service to the age, it is the demonstration of how fragile free speech is becoming. If a relatively harmless nutter cannot be allowed to broadcast his preposterous beliefs in peace; if a conspiracy theorist is referenced by a CNN journalist at a Facebook press conference as if this was a pressing concern, it will surely not be long before any one else with views that do not fit the cultural orthodoxy (like Christians!) will find themselves fighting for a voice too.

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