On Monday nights edition of CNN’s highly rated chat show Piers Morgan Tonight, Morgan interviewed Alex Jones, a conservative (in the American sense of the word) pro-gun, wide-reaching daily radio show host who started a petition to deport the Englishman from America due to his recent anti-gun stance. The footage of the resulting interview has been one of the most shared and discussed items on the internet over the past week, with most commentary acutely deriding Jones’s over-the-top performance. The interview itself is hard to watch, as we see two men, sitting across from each other, where one of them tries to ask the other a question, after which the respondent goes into an inane rant of irrelevant statistics and inappropriate analogies. Americans need semi-automatic weapons to protect themselves from the government, sharks are more dangerous than guns and so on. As the interview goes on, as Morgan tries again and again to get Jones to answer a question rather than getting worked up into a lengthy off-topic monologue, it becomes apparent that Alex Jones does not know what an interview, or a debate, is. I have never heard his radio show, and probably never will, but from my experience of similar American media personalities, I would imagine that his show is reminiscent of his performance in the Piers Morgan interview. I would be willing to bet that Alex Jones is a Ranter, and that he is well-versed in talking to himself for several hours every day.
My first encounter with the modern American news show came in 2002, when lying jetlagged on a bed in a New York hotel room I switched on the television and there was Bill O’ Reilly, ranting about why an American should get special treatment if arrested abroad. The whole experience was very surreal, as I could not tell if the show was a joke or not. This was a man shouting at the viewer, in their own home, through their own television set, about what horrible things were going on in the country, and what horrible things were happening to the silly Americans who ever left American Soil. He had interviews on the show but anyone that didn’t agree with him, he either bullied into submission, or he ended the interview in anger. It stopped being surreal in the following days, and became scary as all through New York City I saw advertisements for his show The O’ Reilly Factor which informed me that it was one of the most watched news shows in the entire country. Ever since then I generally am not surprised with whatever garbabge American news shows throw at us. Glenn Beck was a natural progression from O’ Reilly. Beck came from radio and simply transplanted his one-way-street argument style straight into his television show. What was original about Glenn Beck’s show on Fox News that it was just one man, moving through an entire television studio, all alone, free to write nonsense on blackboards and rant and “reason” until his heart was content. Beck also punctuated his rants with supposed interviews, which would be cut prematurely if they did not go the way he wanted them to. Beck and O’ Reilly share this uniquely American current affairs TV show format: the uninterrupted solo editorial rant.
In 2005-6, YouTube suddenly opened up the worlds media as it had never been before. College kids all around the world were suddenly watching crazy news footage from New Zealand, Russia, Venezuela and South Africa. The different journalistic tendencies of different territories was exposed as never before, and what is not surprising is that the American news shows came in for the most criticism and lampooning. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart become very popular in Europe at around this time due to its daily summary of the insane methods that partisan news networks use to spin whatever story they are reporting on. From The Daily Show came The Colbert Report, a spinoff about a rightwing newsman ranting to the camera, about whatever fulfilled his agenda. This spinoff was ridiculously popular in the United States, as it struck a chord with critics of the Man Ranting format of current affairs shows. Outside the USA, college kids tried hard to like The Colbert Report, but really, the comedy just was not there. We get the joke, but mostly due to seeing clips of US cable news shows on YouTube. The potency of the humour is not so important as it is to Americans.
I can only speak for Ireland and the UK, but any show like O’ Reillys or Becks would be laughed off as a sideshow in Ireland or the United Kingdom. In these countries, the Panel Show is sacrosanct, where a multitude of relevant, informed guests are invited to appear on primetime TV and debate the relevant issues, moderated by a respected journalist, on a regular basis. In Ireland and the UK, we berate Jeremy Paxman and Pat Kenny, but they are journalists, and not Ranters. An editorial rant such as what occurs on American cable news simply does not happen in most democratic countries. The closest thing I can compare Glenn Beck to outside America is the daily TV show Hugo Chavez presented in his healthier days as president in Venezuela.
What annoys me about the Alex Jones interview on Piers Morgan Tonight is that the topic was an important issue in America (gun control post-Sandy Hook), and that Alex Jones is inexplicably a person of influence in America. In the interview with Morgan, Jones mentions that he is syndicated throughout the country, with a significant number of dedicated followers, who listen to his every word about how they all need semi-automatic weapons. A quick Google search of Alex Jones also reveals that he is an avid fan of conspiracy theories. Piers Morgan (cheaply) tries to bait him with this in the aforementioned interview, asking him if the American Government planned 9/11. Jones believes this, and also is a firm proponent in the David Ickes story of international reptilian overlords controlling our every move. This is irrelevant to the debate however, as it is cheap conspiratory ideology that captures the imagination. Most of the people who have shared the Morgan-Jones interview have mentioned that Jones is crazy, often followed by a LOL. Anyone sane person that watches the Piers Morgan interview will attest that Jones is probably insane, or drugged at least. I don’t think Alex Jones is crazy, I think he is insane. That is not an insult, it is perfectly understandable. Anyone who talks to themselves for three hours every day, as he does in his radio show, is more often than not, eventually going to go insane.