Maybe the reason fake news publishers favor the Internet is because they look so bad on TV.
That’s judging by two recent forays by fake news hacks who briefly exchanged the online cesspool for the bright lights of TV news studios. The change in environment did nothing to improve their credibility – but it would be foolish to think it will make much difference to their followers.
Over the weekend, Alex Marlow, editor-in-chief of Breitbart News – known for its hard-right opinion and reporting, leavened with the occasional piece of fake news – appeared on HBO’s “Real Time” along with Malcolm Nance, a longtime cryptologist for the U.S. Navy and now an intelligence analyst for MSNBC, who had been targeted by Breitbart with damaging falsehoods.
Back in April, Nance tweeted a picture of the Trump Tower in Istanbul, Turkey, with the text: “This is my nominee for first ISIS suicide bombing of a Trump property,” apparently intended as a warning because ISIS is known to be operating in Turkey and has shown a predilection for high-value, symbolic targets.
When other Twitter users pointed out that the tweet might be interpreted as Nance advocating (rather than warning about) such an attack, he immediately deleted the tweet – but that didn’t stop Breitbart from running an entire news story which stated that Nance “called on the Islamic State to bomb a building owned by Donald Trump…”
When host Bill Maher brought up the issue of fake news, Nance broke in to voice a personal grievance against Breitbart over the aspersions in the article, explaining: “I sort of have a bone to pick with you. You’re at Breitbart, right? And you don’t do fake news, right? That’s what you’re asserting here?
"Yeah, you know there was this article about a 35-year counterterrorism expert who claimed that they wanted Trump Tower attacked that was written in Breitbart? I got 31 death threats from that – and that came from your Web site. Are you going to apologize to me? I’m sorry to say, I spent decades hunting terrorists. So that’s fake as hell.”
Marlow tried to smooth the matter over with some patriotic pablum, reassuring Nance: “You don’t have to share your bona fides with me. I respect you. I respect your service.” However, Nance was not to be put off, and continued: “But your followers threatened my family, my children, my wife.”
At this point, Marlow retreated to the vague, essentially meaningless defense of equivalence, pointing out: “Are you really suggesting that Breitbart doesn’t get death threats? That our lives aren’t put in danger?” Of course, this argument overlooks the fact that Nance isn’t personally responsible for any death threats to Breitbart, while Breitbart is responsible for the death threats to Nance (or so he asserts).
Already painfully awkward, the exchange ended on an even more awkward note as Nance once again demanded an apology from Marlow for publishing falsehoods about him, to which Marlow responded: “Show me the story, and if the story is as you describe it, I’ll be happy to offer an apology.” Nance’s parting shot: “I will come to your office to see that retraction.”
Marlow’s appearance came just days after an even more cringe-worthy interview of Infowars founder Alex Jones by NBC’s Megyn Kelly, who asked Jones about his repeated statements that the shooting at Sandy Hook were the result of a liberal conspiracy to justify gun control.
Even before the interview aired, Jones was furiously spinning the interview, claiming that Kelly had deceived him and persuaded him to agree to the interview under false pretenses.
In support of this, Jones posted what appears to be his own recording of their pre-interview meeting, in which Kelly assured him the interview wasn’t going to be a “hit job.” For better or for worse, this is actually a fairly standard ruse among news media pros when approaching well-known but skittish subjects, as Jones – supposedly a journalist himself – should have known.
The interview was about what you would expect when a high-powered broadcast journalist confronts a sweaty, rumpled conspiracy theorist: like shooting fish in a barrel. It kicked off with Kelly noting Jones’ role in popularizing fake news, including the insane “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which held that senior Democrats hosted a child sex slave ring in a Washington, D.C. pizzeria, leading one credulous follower to show up with a gun.
Jones did his best to wriggle off the hooks set for him by Kelly, giving viewers a glimpse of the strange world he inhabits, or at least imagines himself in. It's a universe where accepted facts are false or open to argument and lurid conspiracy theories are true simply because they might be.
Of course, not every plot turns out to be based in fact, but there are so many possible conspiracies out there that one of them must eventually be true. As for all the conspiracy theories that have been debunked, this is just collateral damage in Jones' commitment to finding the real truth underneath it all.
This also shows why it doesn’t matter that Kelly revealed Jones to be the irresponsible charlatan he is: His followers, like Jones himself, are living on a different planet.