Angelo Carusone: “Right-wing media has basically fully embraced a lot of what Alex Jones has been saying”

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Citation From the August 7, 2022, edition of MSNBC's The Mehdi Hasan Show

MEHDI HASAN (HOST): Joining me now, Angelo Carusone, the president of media watchdog Media Matters, and Nicole Hemmer, director of the Rogers Center at Vanderbilt University and author of the forthcoming book Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s. Thank you both for joining me.

Angelo, let me start with you. Just how hard have folks like Donald Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene worked to normalize Alex Jones. I mean, he got a press pass to the White House when Trump was in government. How firm is the embrace between GOP leaders and the mad, dishonest Alex Jones?

ANGELO CARUSONE (PRESIDENT, MEDIA MATTERS): It's not even just the GOP leaders now. It's the full GOP. And I think the connective tissue, the thing holding them together is that the right-wing media has basically fully embraced a lot of what Alex Jones has been saying now. So, you know, back in 2006, Alex Jones would have attacked Republicans, attacked the Bush administration. You know, Trump was the catalyst for that. But I think if you just think about the concept of the deep state, that's been an Alex Jones conspiracy for 20 years. And that is a standard, not even controversial Republican talking point all the way from Kevin McCarthy on down. It's not even considered outrageous to say that tens of thousands of people have somehow secretly infiltrated the American government and are coordinating a conspiracy to take it down because they're, you know, in cahoots with the media. I mean, that's just like a normal thing now. So but the bond is the right-wing media. I mean, that is the thing that really holds it together.

HASAN: So Nicole, picking up on what Angelo was saying then, where does, in your view, Alex Jones and Infowars fit into the modern conservative media ecosystem? What is Infowars' relationship or Jones's relationship with, say, a Fox or even OAN?

NICOLE HEMMER (GUEST): So in many ways, the conspiracy theories that we hear on OAN or on Fox have their origins on Infowars. He's not often cited necessarily on those shows. But if you think about the groomer slur that has really picked up in the mainstream GOP in recent weeks and months. I mean, that's something that again comes out of Pizzagate, comes out of Alex Jones. And so many of those ideas or those conspiracy theories get cleaned up by something like Fox News. You see this especially around Tucker Carlson and his ideas around January 6th. The idea that it was a false flag operation and that the people who conducted it are actually political prisoners. Those are ideas that begin on a show like Infowars and make their way into the mainstream and now make their way into the mainstream pretty quickly and relatively unchanged.

HASAN: Yeah. And Angelo, over the course of the trial, we learned quite a bit about Alex Jones and Infowars' financials at one point in 2018, I believe they were making 800K a day. I mean, we can dismiss him as a crazy fringe person, but he's not in a basement, is he? He's running a multimillion dollar infotainment online empire.

CARUSONE: That's exactly right. And we've seen this before. Right. So Glenn Beck or some of the right wing media is a similar example. Right. They say everything is about the tank. You have to buy gold in order and survival seeds. But it was only a small portion of it, what Jones says, you know, in that frog example you played, you know, he says all this poison, all these liberals, all these people are putting chemicals in the water, all these other things. And I have a magic product that is going to prevent you from becoming weak or during COVID, he sold a magic toothpaste that prevented you from getting COVID. He got in trouble for that by several attorney generals, but that's an example – is that his entire product now is actually more of an infomercial than anything else, and that is a problem. What's really scary about it, though, is that because the Republican Party is now essentially the organizing power on what used to be considered the fringes. This is what is sort of – the where all the ideas as Nicole pointed out, of what become Republican orthodoxy are germinating.

HASAN: Nicole, one last question to you. There's a asymmetry here in our coverage, and you and I have talked about this before of Republicans and Democrats. You know, if somebody in the squad says something about defunding the police, that becomes Democrats are extreme left, they're fringe. They've gone too far to the far left. On the right, you have people like Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene. even now, at least Gates, in agreeing to Pete on the show just a few weeks ago, appearing on this crazy man's crazy far right show without any consequence, any penalty, any kind of pressure on Kevin McCarthy or Mitch McConnell to even disown him.

HEMMER: That's exactly right. And there won't be right because people go on his show in order to show that they can't be held back, that they can't be contained, that they are the ones who are the most open to different ideas and they're the ones who can't be silenced. And that framework of free speech and standing up to the establishment – that's so powerful within the GOP right now and appearing on Alex Jones's show functions to give somebody like Greene that kind of credibility.

HASAN: Yeah, we're just playing some pictures there of the recent golf tournament. Trump, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Tucker Carlson. I can't think of three more, quote-unquote, mainstream right-wing figures who have helped Alex Jones more in recent years. We'll have to leave it there.