Glenn Greenwald's bromance with Alex Jones: New low for a onetime Pulitzer winner

Once an independent muckraker, Greenwald has moved sharply rightward — but even so, this was embarrassing

Published October 7, 2022 6:00AM (EDT)

Glenn Greenwald and Alex Jones (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Glenn Greenwald and Alex Jones (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Reporting for this article was funded by a grant from the ExposeFacts program of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Conspiratorial radio host Alex Jones faces potentially significant financial damages for his defamation of Sandy Hook parents, creating a rare moment of mostly bipartisan comity as commentators on the right and the left have joined together in celebrating the verdict. 

Jones spent nearly a decade attacking some parents of the 20 children, aged of six and seven, who were murdered in the massacre on Dec. 14, 2012, calling them "crisis actors" and alleging that the shooting was staged. He only recanted after the parents brought lawsuits, a sequence of events similar to his eventual apology to Chobani after the yogurt manufacturer filed suit over wild conspiracy theories he spread about it. Dealing with a huge toll of psychological abuse, the Sandy Hook parents took Jones to court to stop him from defaming them and their children and in hopes of levying a financial burden on him so great that he would stop such behavior altogether. 

It seemed everyone had a comment to make on the $45.2 million in damages Jones was ordered to pay in August. "Alex Jones is fucked," tweeted liberal commentator Jon Cooper. Media mogul Joshua Tolopsky said it was "small consolation to already devastated parents who've been tortured by this maniac and his stupid followers for years but a good start. Alex Jones is the textbook definition of a cancer on society." The result was "cathartic," declared conservative writer Charlie Sykes. And Salon's Amanda Marcotte reminded people that "Alex Jones is in trouble because he defamed the parents of murdered children. People whose only ''crime' was enduring a horror that most of us cannot even begin to imagine." 

One voice, notably, was absent — that of the usually talkative right-wing commentator Glenn Greenwald (a former Salon columnist), who in earlier days had been highly critical of Jones and his Infowars network. But times have changed. 

*  *  *

The verdict put Greenwald in a difficult position. Only a few weeks earlier, he had conducted a softball interview with Jones on stage at the Austin, Texas, world premiere of a new documentary about the provocative conspiracy theorist, "Alex's War." 

Greenwald described Alex Jones as "disturbingly handsome in a very mainstream, normal way," suggesting he could have been an "Anderson Cooper type" but chose "the path of misfits and outcasts." 

Greenwald opened the event by asking Jones about his decision to take the path of conspiracy theory rather than traditional media, in almost effusive terms. Greenwald asking Jones how, as someone who was "disturbingly handsome in a very mainstream, normal way" with "natural charisma," he chose the noble path of independence from mainstream media narratives. 

"I think you clearly, had you been someone who was willing to affirm rather than question establishment pieties, could have ended up as like a meteorologist on 'Good Morning America,' or some Anderson Cooper type," Greenwald gushed. "I'm wondering if you were aware of that potential, and purposefully chose to reject it for a different path — the path of misfits and outcasts that we're surrounded by, delightfully — or whether it was so natural to your personality that you never even considered trying to pursue that kind of mainstream acceptability."

Later, Greenwald asked about Jones' treatment of the Sandy Hook parents. As a parent himself — something he brings up regularly during political arguments — Greenwald might have been expected to take a hard line against Jones's years-long harassment campaign aimed at grieving parents. But Greenwald rejected this approach, declaring, "I'm not going to jump through hoops in order to appease people angry that I'm here." Rather, Greenwald wanted to know how Jones came to the realization he was wrong about the massacre. 

"We watched you in the film come very clean about the fact that you made statements that turned out to be untrue," Greenwald said. "You've obviously spent a lot of reflective time. It's like the soulful Alex Jones we got to see in the last part of the film. What is it that you think caused you to do that?"

Given the lawsuits and potential for financial catastrophe, Jones' motivations for apologizing were not likely "reflective" or evidence of a more "soulful" side of his personality, but based in pure self-interest. Greenwald's doe-eyed stance of gullibility strains credulity. And in his current incarnation, it's highly unlikely that Greenwald would display the same overly charitable reaction to someone on the left making such a calculated move.  

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The disconnect between Greenwald's prior comments and positions and what he asserts today is at its most evident with respect to Jones and Infowars. On numerous occasions in the past, Greenwald has used the conspiracy theorist and his website as examples of taking anti-establishment thinking too far. Infowars was, for a long time, a catchall in Greenwald's lexicon for preposterous conspiracy theories. 

In 2018, Greenwald agreed with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that Jones was "crazy" in a tweet, while suggesting, not without merit, that Rubio was as well. Greenwald in 2019 noted: "The idea that Putin controls Trump and the U.S. Government through hidden blackmail power is as deranged, mindless, stupid, and unhinged as anything Alex Jones has ever advocated." On multiple occasions, Greenwald suggested that Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, who reacted to Trump by occasionally diving into liberal conspiracy theories, should get a job with Infowars, meaning that evidence of how far Tribe had gone down the rabbit hole. Susan Rice's claim that Russia was behind the Black Lives Matter movement was "fucking lunacy — conspiratorial madness of the worst kind," Greenwald tweeted in 2020, adding that it was "Infowars-level junk."

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Greenwald also used Infowars as a counter to claims that his decision to appear on Fox News was a major mistake, telling journalist Sam Sacks in 2019 that "I don't see Alex Jones and Fox as being the same, nor, more importantly, do I see the Alex Jones audience as the same as the Fox audience in terms of receptiveness to ideas."

But in 2021, after social media companies united to ban Jones from their platforms, Greenwald began hailing the conspiracist as something of a hero who had been unfairly smeared. He claimed that Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos, a notorious troll and bigot, had been "de-personed" by their bans, implying that some great anti-free-speech crime had been committed against them. 

*  *  *

Toadying to the far right is no longer new for Greenwald. He's been genuflecting at the altar of Fox News for nearly two years, hyping up the conservative channel and its ratings leader Tucker Carlson, on whom Greenwald relies to get on prime-time TV. Greenwald's comments about Fox have changed over time, becoming more positive in direct correlation to his appearances on the network. At this point, Greenwald regularly acts as a cheerleader for the network, boasting about its ratings and often galloping in to defend Carlson from critics on the left. 

This year, Greenwald has leaned even further to the right. In July, at starboard libertarian conference FreedomFest, Greenwald appeared on a panel alongside social conservative Erick Erickson, a virulent anti-LGBT bigot who was not criticized by Greenwald, who is gay. Nor did Greenwald bring up Erickson's long history of racist remarks; if he had, he might have quoted what a Salon columnist named Glenn Greenwald wrote in 2010, noting that Erickson had "sent around the most rancid and arguably racist tweets, only to thereafter be hired as a CNN contributor." All seemed forgiven once they were onstage together. 

For a while, it appeared that Greenwald would continue to provoke liberals while slowly pushing his own Overton window slowly to the right, one Fox News appearance at a time. But lately, the momentum has been accelerating. Increasingly, Greenwald appears to be  living mostly in a bubble where his main interaction with critics comes on Twitter. It's little wonder that this eventually landed him next to Alex Jones, giving the notorious conspiracy theorist an obsequious softball interview. It's the newest low in a career increasingly defined by new lows. 

By Eoin Higgins

Eoin Higgins is a journalist in New England. He writes the Flashpoint newsletter.

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Alex Jones Analysis Conspiracy Theory Fox News Glenn Greenwald Infowars Media Sandy Hook