Op-Ed: The Observer, Alex Jones and the danger of conspiracy

Alex Jones is a despicable human being. In 2014, he infamously accused the government of staging the shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut as a way to advance gun control policy. For years, he has touted that the government has poisoned the water we drink and the food we eat. He uses this fear to sell products and make millions of dollars, all the while making it seem like he is on brink of bankruptcy. He is a fraud, a hoax, a measly charlatan. In layperson’s terms, he is a doofus.

But the thing is, most people know he is a doofus. For example, John Oliver has done multiple segments on Jones and addressed his lies and scheming tactics. Barstool Sports, hardly a hub of leftist thought, has mocked him numerous times. Conspiracy theories and conjecture with no evidence have no place in reputable publications; even Barstool knows this.

We should take this mentality to arguments from both sides of the political spectrum; nonsense is nonsense, whether it is from the left or right. In a recent article on the nuclear missile false alert in Hawaii, Carissa Fleury — the editor-in-chief of the Tufts Observer — is guilty of this type of conspiratorial journalism. 

The article itself features a fascinating look at a forgotten history in America’s past: that of native Hawaiians. Fleury seeks to connect the recent false alert with settler colonialism. This is the critical analysis that is quintessential Observer, and I found myself truly engaged in the piece.

Fleury then conjectures, “We have to consider … could this alarm have been purposeful, a way of reminding residents that they are in fact, not in control of their own lives, but instead live under the rule of the military?” The only defense given of this outlandish accusation is that there are checks in place to prevent an operator from unilaterally triggering the alert. This reliance on conspiratorial conjecture is a trademark of Alex Jones.

I ask Fleury to think about this accusation. Do we really have to consider this? Do you really believe a cabal of enterprising government officials decided — out of the blue — to reassert dominance over Hawaii? Do you really think this cabal just wanted to show Hawaiians who really is in charge? I am very well aware that our government and especially our president have flaws. But do you really disbelieve so much in our government to think that it would risk the health and wellbeing of its citizens like this just to flex its muscles?

An iota of extra background research could have also gone a long way. I appreciate the author contacting Hawaiian professors for insight, but Google would have answered the question in about five seconds. Just weeks after the event, news sources reported the employee sending the alert had a history of conflating drills and realities and a “troubled work history.” Even if this information is not the full answer, completely omitting it is disingenuous journalism.

Fleury’s conjecture is no better than what Alex Jones does every day. Jones preys off of the far right’s core beliefs, e.g. that people are ‘coming for their guns.’ This article similarly preys off of the far left’s core beliefs, e.g. that the American government is a genocidal machine. Within these two frameworks, stories that fit the narrative are believable to the audience. For an Alex Jones listener convinced the government is coming for everyone’s guns, it is not inconceivable to consider that the government is hatching plots to end the second amendment. For an Observer reader, it is not inconceivable to consider that a cabal is seeking to re-entrench native Hawaiians as second-class citizens. Both claims are nothing short of drivel. As a neutral observer, this is terrifying. We call out Jones for this type of behavior all the time. It is only consistent to do the same with The Observer.

I do not agree with everything the Observer writes. Nevertheless, I think it is an important and powerful voice on our campus. It provides viewpoints and arguments that are missing in classrooms across Tufts and in the the Daily, and is a key avenue in advocating for social justice. This is not an excuse, however, for the Observer staff to ignore basic journalistic integrity.