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Sean P. Means: Is the end near for the Right's 'performance artists'?

Published April 21, 2017 12:09 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players," Shakespeare wrote in "As You Like It." "And one man in his time plays many parts."

What can you say about a man who chooses to play a role that willfully hurts other people and spreads lies to the unsuspecting, all to bring himself wealth and fame?

That's the question raised after news came from a particular court case in Texas this week.

The case, as reported in the Austin American-Statesman, is a custody battle between Alex Jones, the 43-year-old radio host behind the misinformation-spewing InfoWars.com, and his ex-wife, Kelly Jones.

Mrs. Jones alleges Mr. Jones is unstable, and a bad influence on their three children, because he blasts his venom from his home recording studio — including, she said, threats against celebrities such as Alex Baldwin and Jennifer Lopez, and against Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Mr. Jones' lawyer, Randall Wilhite, countered that the stuff his client spews on the airwaves — that 9/11 was an inside job, or the Sandy Hook massacre didn't happen, or that Hillary Clinton and her aides were tied to a child sex-trafficking ring out of a D.C. pizza parlor — shouldn't be taken seriously.

"He's playing a character," Wilhite said. "He is a performance artist." Wilhite compared it to judging Jack Nicholson's parenting abilities on his utterances as The Joker in "Batman."

Jones has made quite a racket out of his "performance art," in which he blusters about conspiracy theories and other right-wing talking points. He even has one very important admirer: In 2015, he snagged an interview with then-candidate Donald Trump, who told him, "Your reputation is amazing."

After the news about the Joneses' custody hearing went nationwide, some defended Alex Jones by saying what he does on the airwaves is just like what liberal satirists — like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert — got praise and awards for doing.

The difference is so obvious that it feels odd to have to say it out loud: Though Stewart (who was pretty much himself on air) or Colbert (who deliberately and quite obviously created a character also called "Stephen Colbert") often delivered true, verifiable news, nobody believed them when they exaggerated the truth. And Stewart and Colbert picked targets — high government officials or major media outlets — who could take the heat.

We have seen too much evidence of people who believed Jones' bullcrap. Take, as just one example, the guy who decided to investigate that D.C. pizza place himself, taking his AR-15 assault rifle with him. (The man pleaded guilty to gun charges in federal court last month.)

Or read the story of Leonard Pozner, whose 6-year-old son, Noah, was one of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Pozner has received threats and harassment from conspiracy theorists who think Noah never existed — because Jones and people like him told them a cruel lie.

The most intriguing thing about Alex Jones' admission, his confession via his lawyer that he's built a media empire on spewing garbage, is that it seems to fit so many of his right-wing friends.

There's Bill O'Reilly, who — before his ouster from Fox News this week — played the part of a moralizing scold, when in reality he allegedly harassed Fox's female employees without remorse.

There's Rush Limbaugh, who in his public persona advocated for harsh sentences for drug crimes — but in private was prosecuted for "doctor shopping" to load up on prescription medications.

And then there's Trump, who for years on TV played a competent business leader who gets things done — qualities not in evidence in the floundering first months of his administration.

The real question now isn't whether these "performance artists" can keep the show going. The question is how much longer the rubes in the audience will take them seriously.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket. Email him at spmeans@sltrib.com.






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