Right-wing broadcaster Alex Jones announced Saturday evening that YouTube had frozen his video channel and would delete it on Sunday, after CNN pursued the social media giant and its advertisers.
The announcement came just hours after CNN published a story, “Advertisers flee InfoWars founder Alex Jones’ YouTube channel,” in which journalists Paul P. Murphy and Gianluca Mezzofiore approached companies to explain why their ads were showing up on Alex Jones’s channel.
Murphy and Mezzofiore also asked YouTube why it had not filtered out certain advertisers from showing up on the channel due to its “offensive content.”
The CNN article reads less like coverage of news and more like a chronicle of an activist campaign to damage Jones’s channel. “Many of the brands — including Nike, Moen, Expedia, Acer, ClassPass, Honey, Alibaba and OneFamily — have suspended ads on InfoWars’ channels after being contacted by CNN for comment,” the authors noted.
On Saturday evening, Jones tweeted: “The Alex Jones channel with billions of views is frozen. We have been told it will be deleted tomorrow and all 33 thousands videos will be erased.”
(UPDATE: Per CNN’s Oliver Darcy, YouTube has denied telling Jones his channel will be deleted.)
Jones referred to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a left-wing group whose overly-broad lists of “hate” groups have provoked criticism by conservatives, and have led to innocent people being targeted — literally. (The domestic terrorist who tried to carry out a mass shooting at the offices of the Family Research Council in 2012 told interrogators that he had targeted the organization after he read that it was “anti-gay” at the SPLC website.)
The SPLC mentioned Jones in a Feb. 23 article attacking some right-wing outlets for spreading a conspiracy theory that some of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who had appeared in numerous television interviews since the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, were actors coached to deliver anti-gun messages. The SPLC also describes Jones as “almost certainly the most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America.”
CNN reported on Feb. 24 that YouTube had punished the Alex Jones Channel for a video titled, “David Hogg Can’t Remember His Lines In TV Interview.” Hogg, a student at the high school, has been among the most strident gun control activists in the days since the shooting, vowing not to return to school until new gun control laws were passed, and accusing National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch — a mother of two — of not caring about children.
In response, InfoWars published an article accusing CNN of conducting a “campaign to ban conservative media.” The author, Paul Joseph Watson, defended the Alex Jones Channel’s video: “The videos in question did not claim the school shooting didn’t happen or that the victims were ‘actors,’ as CNN has falsely misrepresented. The videos questioned if some of the prominent students who are now publicly leading a nationwide campaign for gun control were being coached on what to say.”
Watson continued: “The ability to question the statements of public figures on television is part of basic free expression under the First Amendment, and does not constitute ‘bullying’ or ‘harassment,’ as YouTube claims.”
CNN once seemed to agree. Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s media analysis show, Reliable Sources, wrote an op-ed in November, “Whose freedom is it?“, arguing that the First Amendment did not just protect citizens against government censorship, but was also relevant to users of social media networks.
Press freedom is YOUR freedom. That’s the way I recommend thinking about “freedom of the press.”
Press freedom means you have the information you need to make up your own mind. And you have the ability to speak out. Nowadays, if you share links on Facebook or tweet on Twitter or chat on Snapchat, you’re a part of the media and you benefit from the constitutional protection of the free press.
Now, those social media sites and apps are owned by private companies, with their own rules that sometimes restrict free expression. This is an issue that we’re going to be grappling with for years to come.
But those sites enable hundreds of millions of people to participate in the news process — providing eyewitness information and new perspectives. The web has enabled countless people, myself included, to become bloggers and reporters and commentators.
The remedy for “hoaxes and other forms of misinformation” was for members of the public be more careful consumers of media, and to resist “government attempts to devalue and delegitimize journalism,” Stelter argued.
But now, rather than standing up for InfoWars’ right to free speech, Stelter appears to have backed his channel’s efforts to boycott and ban the Alex Jones Channel.
On Saturday, he retweeted news about 20th Century Fox withdrawing its ads from the channel:
The Alex Jones Channel on YouTube has existed for over ten years and has over 1.5 billion views.
This article has been updated to include YouTube’s denial, via CNN.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.