Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones will appear Sunday night on Megyn Kelly’s primetime television program on NBC. And while the program is reportedly being hastily re-edited after a preview of it backfired, it’s very, very likely that at least some of it will involve Jones spewing bullshit.
Name a prominent conspiracy theory in the last five years, and you’ll find Jones stoking its flames on the radio and on his Infowars YouTube programs. He’s given much airtime to the cruel, baseless speculation that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax. He’s said that 9/11 was an inside job. He was one of the prominent voices of “Pizzagate,” a bogus story that led to a gunman barging into a Washington, DC-area pizza shop. As Vox’s Julia Belluz has detailed, he’s peddled the junk science of climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers.
Kelly has said the interview is about “shining a light” on one of President Donald Trump’s favorite media figures. But regardless of how she handles him, it’s Jones’s long track record of deceiving his massive audience — as it grows ever larger — that has critics fuming and calling for an NBC boycott. (At least one NBC affiliate is refusing to broadcast the interview.)
And turns out their concerns about the additional damage Jones could do in this interview with his mistruths are backed up by psychological science.
When a lie gets repeated, it’s slightly more likely to be misremembered as truth. And that’s a problem considering how outrageous and dangerous Jones’s lies tend to be. It’s even more problematic considering the platform: A primetime news special broadcast that will be watched by millions of people.
Psychologists call this the “illusory truth effect.” It’s a psychological tendency the whole news media — as well as consumers of news — should be wary of. And it’s a reason not to…