ALICIA MENENDEZ (HOST): The lawyer representing the parents of a Sandy Hook victim asking a jury in Texas to punish conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. And they did Friday, ordering Jones to pay more than $45 million in punitive damages. In all the price tag for Jones, claiming the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax stands at nearly $50 million. But will it stop the far-right shock jock and those like him from peddling lies in the future? I want to bring in Angelo Carusone, he is the president of Media Matters, and Andy Kroll, a reporter at ProPublica and author of the book A Death on W Street: The Murder of Seth Rich and the Age of Conspiracy. Andy, $50 million. It's a lot of money. What have we learned about Alex Jones' finances during this trial?
ANDY KROLL (PROPUBLICA): We've learned that Infowars, Alex Jones's conspiracy-theory-peddling empire is enormously lucrative, more lucrative than I think any of us realized until he was forced to talk about it under oath. Jones himself told lawyers and told the judge in this trial down in Texas, involving the parents of a Sandy Hook victim, that the revenues at Infowars and his related companies in the last fiscal year were $70 million dollars, which can only leave us with the impression that the work that he does, if you can call it that, the products that he peddles is an enormously profitable business model.
MENENDEZ: Yeah, I mean, it strikes me, Angelo, we are always asking this question. Why do people believe disinformation? Why do people fall for disinformation? Why do they engage with conspiracy theories? I don't think we've sufficiently asked the other part of this question, which is who is benefiting, right. Who is making money off of selling people these lies?
ANGELO CARUSONE (MEDIA MATTERS PRESIDENT): Yeah. I mean, it's really profitable. Misinformation is not only harmful and dangerous, it can also make a lot of money peddling it, especially if you can push outrageous stuff. I mean, let's not forget Rush Limbaugh had a $400 million deal and that didn't include any of his sponsorships on top of it. And he was a, you know, a notorious liar who would go out there and attack people in similar ways. Right. And peddle conspiracy theories. So this is part of the right-wing echo chamber now. And I think that's partly why you're seeing your drift – there is – everything is kind of turning into Infowars now, in part because it keeps audiences engaged and it's highly profitable.
MENENDEZ: Angelo, do you think this stops him?
CARUSONE: Look – I think it's a real maybe; Texas has a cap of $750,000 per defendant in punitive damages. This is going to have to go to the Texas Supreme Court. Let's not and let's also keep in mind, though, that there's two other cases out there that are also waiting for this bankruptcy thing to play out. So I think it's going to uncover and expose a lot about his finances. I think it's kind of put some sand in the gears, but it's going to take more than just one decision to dismantle the disinformation economy. But this is definitely a big a big disruption for it,.
MENENDEZ: Andy, this is this is bigger than just Alex Jones. As Angelo said, this is an entire economy. Your sense of how others are watching this and interpreting what's happening, how it changes their own behavior and actions.
KROLL: It's hard to not see this – there's these rulings in Texas and those price tags attached to them. It's having some deterrent factor for the other conspiracy theorists, disinformation merchants out there. And, you know, Lord knows that that economy seems to be growing in the age of QAnon, Stop the Steal, COVID denialism, rhe list goes on and on.
This ruling, these two jury rulings, really. I mean, they send a message to all of these people elsewhere that, you know, there is a firewall for truth still in this country. Now, it may take years of battling in court to get to a trial like what happened with Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of Jesse Lewis who was killed in Sandy Hook. But there came a point when the judge said in this case, Mr. Jones, this is not your show. You cannot keep lying because you believe something does not make it true. You have to tell the truth. He was forced to tell the truth or something as close to it as possible. And I think that that is a positive outcome and something that can point forward toward how to hold these people accountable in the future.
MENENDEZ: Angelo, I only have about 30 seconds left. We also know the 1/6 committee wants these texts. I wonder if that's going to help for people tied together, sort of the Alex Jones conspiracy piece of this and what we have seen from members of the GOP.
CARUSONE: Without a doubt, that's going to be – I think that's going to have a big deterrent effect, too, because there's going to be a lot of people – I mean, there's been you know, there's a straight line between Alex Jones's program and Tucker Carlson's program these days. There's a lot of cross-pollination there. There is going to be a lot of people that have their interactions with him exposed because this is what the GOP is doing, They are organizing power on what used to be considered the fringes and that's sort of Alex Jones' realm.