How fake is Alex Jones?

Alex Jones and a cake shaped like a gun

The shocking fact you need to know about Alex Jones is that he’s 43 years old. What happened? Maybe yelling stretches your face out. Perhaps knowledge of vast conspiracies has overtaxed his system. Or maybe he looks like a 43 year-old who got mutated in a tanning booth explosion 53 years ago because only his character is forty-three. The guy who plays him is older. Did you not realize, as I had not, that Alex Jones of Infowars and The Alex Jones Show is a character played by the performance artist Alex Jones? That’s what custody claimant Alex Jones’s lawyer recently argued in Travis County District Court, in the matter of Jones v. Jones. I quote the Austin American-Statesman:

At a recent pretrial hearing, attorney Randall Wilhite told state District Judge Orlinda Naranjo that using his client Alex Jones’ on-air Infowars persona to evaluate Alex Jones as a father would be like judging Jack Nicholson in a custody dispute based on his performance as the Joker in “Batman.”

“He’s playing a character,” Wilhite said of Jones. “He is a performance artist.”

Hold the phone—is Alex Jones breaking kayfabe? Never break kayfabe. The only time it’s okay is when your kids are on the line, as in the 1980s WWF storyline where Macho Man Randy Savage pretended to break kayfabe by wearing a suit and appearing  in family court as Randall Saváge, but then his essentially macho nature broke through and he hit his kids with a chair. Anyway, if you ever wanted to pin down Alex Jones and ask him whether he believes all the conspiracies his show presents as news, now is the time in Travis County.

Continue reading

Poll finds The Onion only slightly less credible than Breitbart

“Each” is singular, you guys. The question in the poll whose results are pictured above should be “How credible is each of the following?” Informal polling finds me unpopular, still. But this formal poll from the Morning Consult brand-tracking company finds that, despite widespread abuse of the phrase “fake news,” most people still think mainstream news outlets are believable. Sixty-three percent of those polled, for example, rated The New York Times as “credible” or “very credible.” It’s kind of terrifying that a third of respondents don’t trust the longest-established journalistic institution in the United States, and the write-up suggests that this portion is larger than it has been historically. But the overall lesson to be taken from these admittedly months-old numbers is that President Trump’s gaslighting re: news has not succeeded in turning Americans against the media.

You may have noticed a more interesting nugget at the bottom of the chart, though. A combined 19 percent of poll respondents said Breitbart was a credible source for news. That’s only one point higher than the percentage of respondents who said the same thing about The Onion, an explicitly satirical venture trafficking in obviously made-up stories. The Onion beats InfoWars, which I thought was implicitly satirical until about 18 months ago. But Breitbart is a horse of a different color. It puts “news” right in its name, and its former executive chair is now the White House chief strategist. That this nominal news organization would enjoy the same credibility as The Onion is astounding, given its influence.

But here we encounter the misleading elements of polls, which are—dare I say it?—kind of fake news. You will notice that the “credible” and “not credible” numbers for these outlets don’t add up to 100 percent. The missing portion comprises people who have never heard of the outlet in question.

For instance, 42% of respondents said they had never heard of Breitbart, which is heartening. According to the crosstabs, 32% have never heard of The Onion, and another 15% said they had heard of it but had no opinion of its credibility. One presumes that a significant number of these respondents knew it it was satirical and therefore found the question of its credibility irrelevant. While we’re presuming stuff, the spike in The Onion’s credibility among 30- to 44-year-olds might be attributable to smartassery.

Anyway, The Onion and Breitbart may not be comparably trusted so much as comparably unknown. That, too, is terrifying, given the enormous popularity of one and the enormous shittiness of the other. But the larger epistemological point—that we should not take this poll to mean that people trust Breitbart about as much as they trust The Onion—holds up. Polls mislead. Also, 17% of the country has never heard of the Wall Street Journal. What a time to be alive.

Kellyanne Conway sits weird: racist?

Kellyanne Conway sits on an Oval Office sofa in this photo by Brendan Smialowski.

As of this writing, the internet is aflame over the above photograph of Kellyanne Conway during a meeting between President Trump and the leaders of historically black colleges and universities. You should know that this photo was taken shortly after Conway took a picture with her phone, so she’s seeing how that picture came out rather than just ignoring black education to check Twitter. Still, her posture is weird. Are we to believe that she is shoeless? Or has she crammed her shoes between the cushion and the back of this Oval Office couch? There is something adolescent about her pose, or maybe…coquettish? It’s peculiar, is what it is, and this photo has become a lightning rod for interpretation.

Continue reading

Or how about a fucking scientist?

Robert F Kennedy, Jr. was recently tapped to lead a commission on vaccine safety.

Good news, everybody: President-elect Donald Trump has reportedly asked Robert F. Kennedy, Jr to chair a federal commission on “vaccine safety and scientific integrity.” In addition to being one of the original Robert F. Kennedy’s 11 children, RFK Jr. is an activist who believes vaccines cause autism—an idea that has been roundly rejected by scientists and doctors, found to have no merit in dozens of experimental trials, and traced to one article published in Lancet 20 years ago and subsequently retracted. But what do scientists know? How many of them are Kennedys? Fucking none, that’s how many—not one Kennedy has become a scientist, because science sucks. It’s not because they couldn’t do it. Why, RFK Jr. himself went to Harvard, even after he flunked out of Milbrook. He’s just naturally right about things, the same way he is naturally rich: by being a Kennedy. I quote the Washington Post:

“President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies, and he has questions about it,” Kennedy said. “His opinion doesn’t matter, but the science does matter, and we ought to be reading the science, and we ought to be debating the science.”

Yeah, when are people going to start reading and debating science? We’ve left the science behind vaccines to doctors and scientists for too long. It’s time to get some famous rich people in there to straighten this out and decide whether polio should come back.

Continue reading

Anti-Defamation League declares Pepe the Frog a hate symbol

Various iterations of internet meme Pepe the Frog

Various iterations of internet meme Pepe the Frog

A couple weeks ago in Friday links, we embarrassed ourselves by announcing that Pepe the Frog—an internet meme originating in an image by cartoonist Matt Furie and subsequently popularized on 4chan—had been co-opted by white supremacists. It turned out the Daily Beast article on which that claim was based was poorly sourced. Yet today brings sweet albeit deeply complicated vindication: Pepe the Frog has been declared a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League. Speaking as a person whose mentions have recently been overrun, I can confirm that Pepe seems extremely popular among Twitter Nazis.

Continue reading