October 1, 2020
A journalist is the sum of their courage, their integrity, and their impact on the public. These factors must coexist to produce a champion of ethics, a mouthpiece for the people, and a watchdog on the government. This might not always be the case, hence the concept of grey area journalism. Since the introduction of social media and smartphones, there has become a broader range of what is considered journalism and who constitutes a journalist.
Journalism is meant to be evolutionary, but the foundations remain the same, with loyalty to the truth, a strong personal code of ethics, and an unbiased means of communication. The methodology has simply changed — the way we gather news, the way we ingest it, and the way we regard it in society.
The concept of grey journalism is a new one, primarily because social media platforms contribute to the circulation of news like rapid fire. Everybody who has a phone has an opinion, consequently making it more challenging for the reader to be discerning in the news they choose to digest. An MIT study found that fake news stories are 70% more likely to be shared over true news stories. Furthermore, according to a study conducted by Pew Research, about 50 percent of adults get their news from Facebook. These statistics overlap for a reason; Facebook and other social media sites majorly contribute to the spread of fake news at the hands of these grey journalists.
Take Alex Jones, founder of InfoWars, for example. Is he a public figure? Yes. Does he talk about politics and inform the public on important newsworthy matters? Yes. Is he credible? No. Is he a journalist? Also, no.
Here’s why: Alex Jones exists in this grey area of journalism where he does report the news and he does speak on culturally relevant topics, but he does so in a way that is not credible or trustworthy. He is not ruled by facts or by science, but by outlandish and far-reaching conspiracies that fuel his ultra biased right-wing agenda. His most notable conspiracy theories include: Sandy Hook was a “hoax” and Pizzagate is a child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton in the basement of the Comet Ping Pong restaurant in Washington D.C. Jones later apologized for his role in spreading falsehoods after Edgar Maddison Welch brought an AR-15 rifle to the D.C. restaurant and opened fire in Dec. 2016. Even after that, he retains a loyal audience who has followed him through his social media bans and public humiliations. He has tapped into a specific niche group of rogue conservatives who hide behind the First Amendment, get their news from Facebook, and refer to Democrats as snowflakes.
In 2018, Jones was banned from many social media platforms including Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, and Spotify for circulating false information, inciting hate speech, and encouraging acts of violence. After the ban was implemented, he remarked on his live stream “The more I’m persecuted, the stronger I get.” Except the reported ratings say otherwise: his 1.4 million viewership pre-ban was decreased by half to 715,000 in the weeks following.
I tuned in to one of these nightly ‘news’ shows, where a ‘reporter’ was talking about the degradation of society in regards to music. She said, “back in the 1950’s we had The Supremes, and today we have WAP by Cardi B.” She added that this is the clearest cut example of the degradation of our society and how we have strained our relationships with God. You can see how this is not journalism, because it is neither rooted in fact nor is it objective.
What I find so interesting about Alex Jones is actually his followers and his ability to retain them. Conspiracy theorists are hard to ignore, and right-wing extremists, in particular, are eager to believe unsubstantiated and bizarre conspiracy theories, because they are frequently acclaimed by our current President. Jones’ followers don’t care that he is not necessarily qualified to speak on what he is speaking on and they continue to support him. He is more of a public figure or TV personality than a credible journalist; reminiscent of Trump’s campaign of being an outsider rather than a politician. Yet, Trump hasn’t ‘drained the swamp’ and Alex Jones continues to lose credibility with every conspiracy. Jones was sued for defamation in 2018 when he made baseless claims that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax, and in 2019 was ordered to pay $100,000 in legal fees.
InfoWars, like President Trump, gives white supremacists a platform to be hateful and feel comfortable airing their dangerously bigoted views. Just a few weeks ago Roger Stone, former Trump advisor who was sentenced to 40 months in prison for making false statements and witness tampering, was a guest on the InfoWars evening show. He called for President Trump to seize power by declaring martial law if he loses the November 3 election. This kind of authoritarian mindset is exactly what Trump sought to extinguish in his campaign for presidency, but now is what he hopes will win him a second term. And Jones is giving him a platform to push this narrative further contributing to a deeper political divide by intentionally spreading false information and conspiracy. Banning him from social platforms was one step in the right direction of squashing the fake news epidemic we are currently facing in this country.
Grey journalism will only continue to grow in its reach as our lives become more dominated by technology and as we become more politically polarized. Ultimately in this world of extreme fakery demanding to be seen, it is up to the individual to discern what mixture of black and white they choose to believe.