My career has mostly followed two parallel paths: political writing and broadcasting. In fact, regarding the latter and badly dating myself, 2017 marks my 25th year in broadcasting — now in the form of podcasting. So I know that radio is a suicidal format, slowly killing itself in the face of internet technology and radio executives who aren’t smart enough to know how best to compete against digital formats. But here’s the worst-kept secret in broadcasting: Many of the most popular conservative talkers aren’t nearly as militant about their conservatism as they sound.
Local disc jockeys (or deejays) on FM music stations are often voice-tracked and canned elsewhere, while local talk shows have long since been replaced by syndicated programming, chiefly because there’s a huge market for right-wing talk radio. At least one of the FM morning-show hosts I’ve worked with — a guy whose personal views ran the gamut from apolitical to mildly libertarian, by the way — made the move to conservative talk purely as a career move. Another source who worked for years in FM syndicated radio confirmed to me that a surprising number of the household names in conservative talk are mostly fakers. The fakers in question might have some conservative-leaning views, but again their radicalism is an act. (I’m not suggesting Glenn Beck is necessarily a faker, but here’s a look at the talker when he was just another “morning zoo” deejay.)
Local, live radio began to die sometime around the mid-1990s, and seeing the writing on the wall, the best option for many radio guys was to morph into conservative talkers.
So while Jones has more or less always been a talker specializing in conspiracy theories, unlike his nemesis, Beck — who used to be more of a standard record-spinning deejay — we learned on Monday that Jones’ shtick might be an act. If it's true, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.
Jones is currently wrapped up in an ugly child custody trial brought by his ex-wife, Kelly Jones, whose lawyers contend that Jones’s on-air and internet behavior is too disturbing and not “stable” enough for the couple’s 14-year-old son and 9- and 12-year-old daughters.
“He’s not a stable person,” Jones' wife said of the man with whom her three children have lived since the couple's 2015 divorce. “He says he wants to break Alec Baldwin’s neck. He wants J-Lo to get raped," Kelly Jones said in court filings.
“I’m concerned that he is engaged in felonious behavior, threatening a member of Congress,” she said, referring to his recent comments about Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “He broadcasts from home. The children are there, watching him broadcast.” During a pretrial hearing, the following video was presented to the court, showing Jones lapsing into an obscenity-filled rant in which he tells Schiff that he had better “fill [his] hand,” meaning that the congressman should be ready with a firearm when Jones comes for him.
Later Jones himself chipped away at his own authenticity by claiming the rant was merely “performance art,” telling the court it was “clearly tongue-in-cheek and basically art performance, as I do in my rants, which I admit I do, as a form of art.”
Alex Jones’ attorney, Randall Wilhite, told the court, “He’s playing a character. He is a performance artist.” It’s unclear whether Wilhite was referencing the Schiff clip or Jones’ act in general, but it appears to be a broader confirmation of what Jones does for a living. Specifically, it appears as if both Jones and his lawyer have stated under penalty of perjury that the persona we hear on the radio and in countless online videos is, in fact, only an act.
Let’s assume Jones’ on-air persona is an Andy Kaufman-esque character he’s playing for notoriety and money. The impact of such a revelation makes what Jones does even worse — not better or less dangerous. If he’s making it all up for ratings, he’s effectively using the publicly owned airwaves to commit fraud against his loyal listeners as well as his advertisers. Worse, he’s infecting the discourse with fakery and nonsense, polluting the truth and skewing the public conversation further and further away from reality.
Jones’s audience is estimated to be around 2 million listeners on the radio alone, spread out on a whopping 60 stations nationwide, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Jones' fanboys will probably tell you his audience is significantly larger if we include YouTube and internet traffic.
Those numbers are insignificant when compared with the potential impact of one particular listener of Jones’ show, however: President Donald Trump, who has appeared on Jones’s radio program numerous times. In December 2015 Trump told Jones, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”
Yes, Jones is amazing — and quite likely a fake. Nevertheless, more than a few of Trump’s talking points were inspired by Jones, including the occasion when Trump attacked his rival Hillary Clinton for her alleged health problems. Trump also seems to have borrowed Jones’ made-up theory that 3 million undocumented immigrants illegally voted for Clinton in California. The initial reporting about the theory came from Infowars editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson, who happens to have published his share of fake news stories.
But Trump is not the only Alex Jones disciple. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott deployed the Texas State Guard to monitor the now-infamous Jade Helm military exercise, after Jones spread the fiction that it was the precursor to martial law.
And guess what? It’s probably all bullshit. Or to be more precise, bullshit Alex Jones doesn't even believe, bullshit piled on top of bullshit. Yet a governor and a president were unable to see through the facade, nor are millions of Jones' listeners. We’re talking about the media equivalent of professional wrestling. And adult humans who ought to know better are taking it seriously — not least of which is the supposed master salesman in the White House, who has apparently been duped by a professional flimflam artist.