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Reality TV Journalism: Alex Jones Shoots Off His Mouth on Piers Morgan

This was Reality TV news: the kind that, in the name of "getting people to pay attention," turns over an argument to people glad to inhabit their most outlandish caricatures.

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His eye-popping CNN interview with radio host Alex Jones Monday night combined two of Piers Morgan‘s great passions: gun-control policy and things that bring notoriety to Piers Morgan.

I have no doubt that Morgan’s interest in gun control is deep and genuine: he was ardently on the case after the Aurora shooting last summer, and has been again since the Sandy Hook massacre. But as Morgan’s introduction itself spelled out, the impetus for bringing on Alex Jones–popular right-wing radio host, 9/11 truther and general conspiracist–is that Jones was behind a petition to deport Morgan back to Britain for advocating gun restrictions.

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Morgan, who jousts with relish on air and on Twitter, is not one to pass up a good feud. In summer 2011, when former senate candidate Christine O’Donnell walked off his set, he did a follow-up show about the walk-off incident, CNN re-ran the segment in prime time and, after I wrote that Morgan and the network were milking the controversy, Morgan had me on a panel to talk about whether he was milking the controversy.

Well, OK: whatever the reasons for booking Jones, it’s possible that a controversy can both raise your profile and raise an important debate. All that this interview raised, though, were questions about how many screws Jones has loose. Part 1 of the “interview”–or harangue with attempts at questions–is at the top of this post; here’s part 2:

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Absolutely, it was compelling TV.  Watching a blowhard without filters go X-Files all over a national news show usually is. And hoo boy, did Jones oblige! He shouted over Morgan beginning to end. He challenged Morgan to a boxing match. (“I’ll wear red, white and blue and you can wear your Jolly Roger,” because evidently Morgan is not only British but a pirate.) When Morgan managed to work in a question like, “How many gun murders were there in Britain?” Jones answered, “How many great white sharks kill people and yet they’re afraid to swim?” Check and mate!

Jones blamed mass murders on “suicide mass-murder pills”–psychiatric drugs whose effects the pharma companies Don’t Want You to Know About. He alluded to the 9/11 inside-job conspiracy that the CIA Doesn’t Want You To Know About. He argued that Americans need semi-automatic weapons to defend themselves against the government or it would go all Mao and Stalin on us. For his grand finale, he compared 9/11 to the Reichstag Fire in a mocking British accent, concluding, “Go back to where they took the guns if you don’t like it! The communists–” before CNN went to commercial and, I can only assume, he bounced off to the horizon, Daffy-Duck-style.

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So who outside the room benefited from this? Morgan got a buzzed-about interview and, as he’s said himself, an opponent who made the anti-gun-control side sound totally unhinged. Jones got to bring his rants to a cable-news audience and, I’ll bet, came off to his fans as a truth-telling hero striking from within the heart of the Borg. (I should note here that TIME and CNN are both sister companies in Time Warner, all of us wholly owned subsidiaries of the Borg.)

And CNN watchers got…? Well, Jones does have a big following, and now they know what he’s telling his listeners, so I guess there was some informational value there.

Still, I doubt it’s news to CNN viewers that there is a brisk tinfoil business in America. This was Reality TV news: the kind of journalism that, in the name of “getting people to pay attention,” turns over an argument to people glad to embody their most outlandish caricatures and affirm their opponents’ biggest stereotypes. (Morgan, to his credit, kept his tone civil and even subdued, maybe realizing his subject was already gladly, er, shooting himself in the foot.)

Yes, there are some real extremists out there defending unrestricted gun ownership. If you already support tighter gun regulations–as I do, living in a city with strict gun laws and a record-low murder rate–congratulations: you and I may now feel 75% more superior after watching Alex Jones.

But there’s an actual, complicated debate to be had here–one that even managed occasionally to escape between the flecks of froth in Jones’ argument. “America was born on guns and whiskey,” he said. “It’s true we are a violent society.” Right there is something to talk about: are there factors beyond access to guns, beyond even modern-day technology and media, things in the national character, that will make Americans more violent than other countries? This isn’t just a gun-nut argument; it was a central question of Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine.

That argument wasn’t going to get made by Jones, though. He was glad to throw up rhetorical dust and appeal to anyone who thinks that yelling the most over your adversary equals winning. But does this get anyone closer to an answer, here in the rest of the world–where there are people who oppose further gun restrictions yet who do not believe the “banks” want to take our guns to impose The New World Order on us?

In the sense of the old “Hey, at least it gets people talking” argument, maybe. But I doubt it got anyone thinking–thinking, that is, anything they didn’t already firmly believe.

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