There's a cost-benefit conundrum when it comes to showcasing right-wing yayhoos and fakers in the broader news media: do we help to debunk their extremist views and therefore undermine their popularity, or do we give them more attention and therefore fuel and augment their popularity?
Usually, I err on the side of exposing them, but yesterday I posted the video of Piers Morgan interviewing conspiracy theorist and paleoconservative weeble Alex Jones, and I criticized Morgan for elevating Jones' apoplectic Cuckoo's Nest pro-gun kneejerkery to a worldwide audience. My thought at the time was that out of the entire menu of conservative entertainment talkers, Jones is the one who's probably the biggest performance artist of them all, and, as such, he's not a serious participant in the discourse. He's a side-show freak and contributes nothing of substance, I thought, and therefore should've been ignored.
In hindsight, I was wrong.
Sure, Jones is a faker insofar as he amplifies his views and showman personality for a greater impact in an overcrowded online and terrestrial radio universe. He's clearly mentally ill, too, but mentally ill like a fox. The sad thing is that every fringe, screechy, alpha-dog talking point he shouted on CNN the other night is actually boilerplate gun fetishist orthodoxy. As such, and in retrospect, Morgan did a fantastic job exposing this nonsense to the world as a means of proving just how unhinged and radical the core pro-gun movement really is.
Alex Jones is the Proto-Glenn-Beck. In fact, Beck horked much of his conspiracy theory act from Jones. But they're both really good at acting like googly-eyed freaks, shouting and spitting venom -- picking fights and mercilessly hammering their enemies for ratings and financial gain via the right-wing market segment. Borrowing from the time-tested playbook of Bible Belt televangelists and early Meltdown Artists like Morton Downey Jr., Jones knows exactly what he has to do in order to grab the attention of fans and enemies alike: play to their fear and paranoia, while wrapping himself in the Constitution. Ironic, isn't it, that Jones' latest campaign is aimed at convincing the U.S. government to silence Morgan and his anti-gun position via deportation. Hardly a position worthy of at least two clauses of the First Amendment.
There aren't many other radio cranks who are more effective at playing the role of the psychotic prophet. On CNN, Jones knew precisely what would give his tinfoil-swaddled disciples their first real boners while watching from within their creepy Buffalo Bill dungeons.
His agenda wasn't to discuss the finer points of gun control. His agenda was to promote Alex Jones and to emasculate Piers Morgan. And so he went all roid-rage on Morgan, frantically waving around printouts from his Infowars website and rarely withdrawing his pudgy pointed finger from Morgan's personal space. But nothing he said was particularly new. It didn't have to be. With Morgan's go-ahead, Jones knew he could go all R.P. MacMurphy on the air -- ejaculating from his polyp-infested larynx the same xenophobic, backwoods, militia, rebellion, Godwin's Law simpleton horsecrap that could be easily dredged up in a million other places online and elsewhere. Guns don't kill people! Nazis! 1776! The Second Amendment is about revolution! Foreigners! Real Americans!
That's why it was so important for Morgan to showcase Jones on television.
And Jones didn't disappoint. You don't need to be plugged into the political discourse or schooled in gun control policy to notice that when he started shouting about Morgan being "a hatchet man for the New World Order," or about 1776 and "lemmings," he was almost cartoonishly funny and self-satirical. Unlike Beck or even Limbaugh, Jones lacks authenticity and seems more like an Andy-Kaufman-esque prankster. Frankly, if I was an opponent of gun control, I would've been embarrassed by Jones, just as I'm embarrassed when I see a nutbag hurl a shoe at George W. Bush or when Code Pink assaults a Republican with blood-red paint at a congressional hearing. Here's to hoping Jones had the same effect on gun control opponents and responsible gun owners alike. I wouldn't doubt it. Hell, Glenn Beck was embarrassed by Jones and spent the first 15 minutes of his show yesterday explaining why.
Mainstream America needs to see the poison that's roiling and festering in the deep, dark places of the world. Alex Jones is deeply nested in those dark places, and Morgan exposed him to the light of day for once. He's the King of Underground Paranoiacs. With his show appearing on 70 stations nationwide, he influences a lot of people; people with guns and plans and who don't think Jones is cartoonish at all. None of this is to say he should be shut down or censored. Just the opposite. It never hurts to know who's calling the shots for the fringe, just as long as Jones and others aren't given unchallenged latitude in the process, and from what I could tell Morgan came to the debate well-informed, but also willing to let Jones hang himself as an extremist and a liar who, like so many others in the conservative entertainment complex, is willing to exploit the naivete, fear and paranoia of his audience.