A heartfelt apology can be a beautiful step toward healing.
Alex Jones’ “Pizzagate” apology doesn’t come close.
For one thing, the motivation seems to spring from his wallet, not the depths of his heart. Its timing strongly suggests that he wanted to minimize legal consequences for spreading, on his Infowars website, the bizarre and dangerous lie that a child-sex-trafficking ring was being run out of a Washington pizza parlor, Comet Ping Pong.
What’s more, his words — even if you believe them — don’t fix the damage.
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That damage lingers in the effects on James Alefantis’ restaurant business, not to mention his and his employees’ peace of mind, considering that they have received death threats.
It lingers in the fear that neighborhood residents continue to feel months after a gunman — who came from North Carolina to “self-investigate” the situation — opened fire there in December.
And it lingers in the continuing, if evidence-free, belief of gullible people about what was happening there: Not only that the restaurant was the site of sex trafficking but that Hillary Clinton and her presidential—campaign chairman, John Podesta, were deeply involved.
“I made comments about Mr. Alefantis that in hindsight I regret, and for which I apologize to him,” said Jones in a six-minute video released last week, titled “A Note to Our Listening, Viewing and Reading Audiences Concerning Pizzagate Coverage.”
“We relied on third—party accounts of alleged activities and conduct at the restaurant. We also relied on accounts of reporters who are no longer with us.”
This has about the same level of sincerity as the downcast “sorry” muttered by a 6-year-old after kicking his brother while Dad glowers over him with a yardstick in hand.
Jones is a great favorite of President Donald Trump, who was interviewed on his “Infowars” radio show last year. Trump has cited as fact some of Jones’ outlandish ideas — for example, that the news media has covered up terrorism by Islamic extremists — and has complimented his “amazing reputation.”
No surprise, then, that Jones, who at best can be called conspiracy theorist and at worst a cynical wacko, recently bragged about his ability to get White House press credentials, should he want them. Trump’s crony, the dirty trickster Roger Stone, said he thinks that’s a good idea.
If Jones were really interested in cleaning up the bilge he spreads, he wouldn’t be starting now.
He would have recanted the disgusting claim that schoolchildren were not gunned down in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, but that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was a government-run hoax to take away gun rights.
He would have taken back claims that fluoride in water causes homosexuality.
He would have done penance for spreading the lies that 9/11 was an inside job, and that President Barack Obama was not a U.S. citizen.
But none of those lies seems to have merited a second thought.
As my Washington Post colleague Paul Farhi reported over the weekend, the timing of Jones’ apology suggests he was concerned about a potential lawsuit, since his remorse came after he received a letter from Alefantis’ lawyer last month.
Farhi wrote: “Under Texas law, the Austin-based Jones had to retract or apologize for the stories by Friday — one full month after receiving Alefantis’ letter — to avoid exposing Infowars to punitive damages in a libel suit.” And Friday, indeed, was the very day that Jones’s apology video was aired.
Friday was also the day that the gunman, Edgar Welch, pleaded guilty to assault and weapons charges.
But some of the true believers haven’t changed their minds one whit. Apparently, they aren’t moved despite Jones’s admission of “an incorrect narrative.”
Last weekend, The Post reported, about 50 people demonstrated near the White House Saturday, demanding an investigation of the supposed sex—trafficking at Comet.
The article quoted one demonstrator, Kori Hayes, a corrections officer who drove with his wife and three kids from Middleburg, Florida.
“I don’t have any doubt that Pizzagate is real,” said Hayes, who called Infowars “the only place you can get the news nowadays where it’s not opinion.”
Like a hundred other conspiracy theories gone viral, this particular Pandora’s box of lies, once opened, can’t be neatly closed up again.
And no apology can change that.
Margaret Sullivan is The Washington Post’s media columnist. Previously, she was The New York Times public editor, and the chief editor of The Buffalo News, her hometown paper.