(NewsNation) — When we can all agree — all those without tinfoil hats — we should call it out as loudly as we do the conflicts. And we now have 965 million reasons to believe that some rules of decency still apply.
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones did the wrong thing to all the pained families of the Sandy Hook school shooting, and he is paying for it in record fashion. A jury decided Wednesday that Jones should pay $965 million in damages for promoting lies that the shooting was a hoax.
He knew he was doing the wrong thing. His words speak for themselves. The jury was right to blow him up, and Wednesday’s verdict means his bad joke of an outfit should go.
Infowars is aptly named because he waged a whacked-out war against real information, all for profit and perverse relevance to the fringy few. And you know who knows this? He does! His lawyer said in open court that it is all an act, and that makes it worse.
He played with the pain of 20 dead kids and six dead teachers and staff members. There were dozens of broken families and broken hearts. It is proof that the right to speech is not all that matters, that having the right does not mean what you say is right.
And when it is wrong, intentionally wrong in an attempt to deceive and divide, there should be a price. The jury levied that price on Jones. Nearly a billion dollars and perhaps an even more valuable instruction.
Will this have a chilling effect? Will the media, the news, be chilled? We have moved to protect speech at almost every turn. The bar is very high — pretty much the highest you can find for proving media defamed you.
Reckless disregard of truth. Actual malice. That they knew it was wrong and said it anyway to hurt you. And by the way, Jones is no journalist. Infowars is no news outlet.
Wouldn’t it be great if this case opened a discussion about standards? So many believe the media gets so much wrong and on purpose. Is there a better way to protect you from bad false information? Dare we say the word regulation?
The media is certainly not the biggest offender. Politicians have made a mockery of any distinction between fact and fake, culminating in the last White House administration that was a tour de force of fakery.
There’s also social media, which caters to confirmation bias and people finding what they want to be true. It’s littered with links that look like legitimate outlets but are often little more than agitprop or trolls.
These are the obvious problems. More subtle is what we are seeing right now with the John Fetterman situation. An NBC News reporter said the Democrat running for Senate in Pennsylvania had trouble understanding her during small talk before an interview. It was an obvious suggestion that his cogency may have been affected by his recent stroke. But then they edited the interview so that you couldn’t tell.
Criticizing NBC News, another journalist, Kara Swisher, said she recently interviewed Fetterman and he sounded fine. Swisher said she did less editing to remove filler words than she does in other interviews. She is also someone who has gone through a stroke.
Who do you believe? How do we decide? Crowd-sourced opinion?
In a two-party system that is almost always zero-sum, it’s all about advantage. But should this Jones case be a chance to do better? Should we look at what our basis is for what is true, what should be considered knowledge?
This is not a new concern. Not with the media, not in America, and not in general. There is an entire field of philosophy called pistology that just deals with the understanding of a basis for what becomes knowledge. This has been a dialogue through the ages. We really haven’t discussed it here recently at all; we just weaponized the gray space between real and fake.
It’s another casualty of the convenience of our toxic binary politics: If you’re with me, everything they say is a lie. We know the problem. The question is, what is the solution? And is this decision today against tiny with the tinfoil hat a step towars a bigger change?
The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not of NewsNation.