Politics - News Analysis

The Alex Jones Verdict Could Spell Major Trouble for the ‘Conspiracy’ Hosts at Fox News

The Alex Jones verdict has been “mostly” satisfying. Some of us cannot believe that he wasn’t hit with $100 million in punitive damages, given his income and wealth. But $50 million isn’t “nothing,” even these days. In fact, a writer’s salary is very close to exactly $50 million less, so it’s up there. We shouldn’t complain.

But we know who might complain, or – at least will focus a bit upon the number, and that would be some of the other conspiracy creators on the airways, some at more “respectable” sites like Fox News (relative to InfoWars). When one “creates” a conspiracy theory, it typically revolves around a giant news story, which is almost always a tragedy, and thus almost always has people hurt and killed.

The loved ones of victims have it bad enough. They don’t need false claims to spread all over by people seeking ratings at their expense. Now, perhaps, victims of conspiracies have some precedent to which to point. Granted, few will have been hurt in the way Jones hurt the Sandyhook victims, but not every verdict has to be $50 million to make a statement and a dent in those who peddle conspiracy theories, or at least that’s how JoAnne Sweeney, professor of law at the University of Louisville sees it in her column in Think from NBC:

This is not only a large blow to Jones, who has already filed for bankruptcy but to other conspiracy-theory fomenters who fill their audiences’ heads with stories of the deep state, a stolen election and a child-sex ring in the basement of a pizza restaurant…

Alex Jones had a rough week, and he deserved every bit of it.

… Fox News is currently being sued for $1.6 billion by Dominion Voting Systems for Fox News’ claim that Dominion voting machines helped rig the 2020 presidential election. The verdict against Jones should serve as a warning to the network and all the other conspiracy-peddlers out there. Repeating nonsense theories from 4chan or Reddit may not be protected free speech even if you attempt to disguise it as “questioning known liars in the media.”

… Early on in his Texas case, Jones tried to invoke his freedom of speech in multiple ways. First, he argued that the case should be dismissed because he was speaking on a matter of public concern, and his speech should therefore be protected under the First Amendment. Second, he argued that his statements against the Sandy Hook families were mere opinions and therefore couldn’t be defamatory. He lost both of these arguments largely on procedural grounds because he refused to produce documents to the plaintiffs’ attorneys despite a very clear court order. 

It’s unfortunate that a jury never heard the merits of the case or Jones’ First Amendment defenses. The unusual path of this case allows for a considerable amount of uncertainty in whether conspiracy theories can be defended on free speech grounds in the future.  

Yes. There is some tension between legitimate free speech and intentional infliction of emotional distress, which is a large part of the verdict that the plaintiffs sought against Jones, along with defamation and undoubtedly other causes of action. None of which were litigated because, strangely, Jones defaulted in the case and had a judgment entered. Some of us have wondered, especially now that the texts are out and Stone is going crazy, whether Jones didn’t want any more evidence released… we can’t know.

What we can know is that Tucker Carlson is another conspiracy theorist. Recall, it was Tucker who said that the FBI was involved in the January 6th attack? Calling out the FBI isn’t the same as calling out individuals in a conspiracy, and a school shooting doesn’t render itself to a “free political speech” argument as might a rush on the Capitol in an attempted coup. But still, there are often private citizens that suffer from these conspiracy theories.

The evening lineup at Fox best take note. Some of us are still stunned that none were hammered with lawsuits coming out of COVID and what the now-dead viewer took to be “true” from Fox.

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[email protected], @JasonMiciak, with Nicole Hickman

meet the author

Jason Miciak is a political writer, features writer, author, and attorney. He is originally from Canada but grew up in the Pacific Northwest. He now enjoys life as a single dad raising a ridiculously-loved young girl on the beaches of the Gulf Coast. He is very much the dreamy mystic, a day without learning is a day not lived. He is passionate about his flower pots and studies philosophical science, religion, and non-mathematical principles of theoretical physics. Dogs, pizza, and love are proof that God exists. "Above all else, love one another."

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