Decades ago, when he set up a radio network in suburban Minneapolis, precious metals seller Ted Anderson hoped to get some business for his bullion dealer. Soon after, he signed a brash young radio host named Alex Jones.
Together, they ultimately shaped today’s misinformation economy.
The duo built a lucrative business from an intricate system of niche advertisers, fundraisers and media subscription promotions, dietary supplements and survivalist merchandise. Mr Jones became a heavyweight in conspiracy theories, while Mr Anderson’s company, Genesis Communications Network, flourished. Their blueprint for making money was copied by many other misinformation hawkers.
Mr. Jones finally weaned himself off Genesis, and his business was not limited to broadcasting, but also attracted a large following online. However, they are again closely linked in a lawsuit accusing them of fueling a false narrative about the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
In these cases, Mr Jones was tacitly held liable. Last month, attorneys for the plaintiffs dropped Genesis as a defendant. One of the lawyers, Christopher Mattei, said in a statement that bringing Genesis into the trial would distract from the main target: Mr. Jones and his media organization.
The move allows Genesis to say on its website that it has “established itself as the largest independently owned and operated talk radio network in the country”, freeing itself from the severe penalties Mr Jones is likely to face. But those cases were quickly brought before juries to determine damages, continuing to reveal the economics that help drive misleading and false claims in the media world.
The proliferation of lies and misleading content, especially ahead of this fall’s midterm elections, is often blamed on gullible audiences and widening partisan divides. Misinformation can also be hugely profitable, not only for bold names like Mr. Jones, but also for companies that host websites in the background, serve ads, or syndicate content.
“Misinformation exists for ideological reasons, but is always associated with very commercial interests – they always find each other,” said Drexel University media professor Hilde van den who has studied Mr Jones. Burke said. “It’s a small world full of networks of people who find ways to help each other.”
Mr Jones and Mr Anderson did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
Genesis, he said, originated in the late 1990s as a marketing strategy, operating “hand in hand” with Mr Anderson’s bullion business, Midas Resources.he told the media watchdog Fair 2011: “Midas Resources needs clients, Genesis Communications Network needs sponsors.”
Alex Jones and his pessimistic worldview fit perfectly into the equation.
Genesis began to syndicate Mr. Jones when he was fired from Austin TV in 1999, the host said this year on Infowars, a website he runs. It’s a complementary and sometimes discordant partnership — “a bit of a marriage from hell,” Ms Van den Bulke said.
The archived footage shows Mr Jones being combative and prone to boasting, preaching dire claims about the inevitable demise of the dollar before introducing the bespectacled and generally dovish Mr Anderson. extended pitch For safe-haven metals such as gold.At times, Mr Jones would interrupt the pitch with rants, such as time In 2013, he interrupted Mr Anderson more than 20 times within 30 seconds, shouting “racist”.
Genesis’ roster also includes a gay comedian. Former ACLU attorney; Hollywood actor Stephen Baldwin; longtime psychologist Dr. Joey Brown; home improvement specialist known as “Cajun Contractor”; and a group of self-described “normal people with normal views” People talk about sports.
But in the end, the network gained fame for a certain type of programming that boosted its “conspiracy” content on its website and tell Ming Pao In 2011, its advertisers were “focused on being prepared and surviving.”
Several shows are hosted by gun enthusiasts. There’s a Christian rocker who opposes gay rights and a politician who embraces baseless theories about crisis actors and President Obama’s citizenship. One project promoted lessons on how to “store food, understand the importance of precious metals, and even survive a shootout.” Minnesota Republican politician Jason Lewis, who faced backlash over the resurfacing of misogynistic radio rhetoric during the 2018 election, struck a joint deal with Genesis and Genesis’ campaign office.
Relations between Mr. Jones and Genesis began to loosen about a decade ago, when Mr. Jones struck a deal that would have Genesis handle only about one-third of his joint deals. According to comments from Dan Friesen, one of the hosts of the podcast Knowledge Fight, about 30 stations now have a schedule that includes Mr. Jones, which he and friends created to analyze and document Mr. Jones’ career . Of those, more than a third relegated him to late night and early morning. Several stations replaced Mr Jones with conservative hosts such as Sean Hannity or Dan Bungino.
Mr. Jones’s relationship with Mr. Anderson continued to dim after 2015, when the Minnesota Department of Commerce closed Midas. The agency described Mr Midas and Mr Anderson as “incompetent” and ordered the company to pay compensation to customers after “regular misappropriation of funds”.
The Midas website now redirects to a multi-level marketing company that sells the same supplements as the Genesis online store. The founder of the supplement company has a show co-hosted by Genesis and has also appeared on Mr. Jones’s show.
But Mr Jones has his own business, peddling Infowars-branded supplements, as well as products such as Infowars masks and bumper stickers declaring Covid-19 a hoax. One of his lawyers estimated the conspiracy theorist made $56 million last year.
“The inability to create this symbiotic link between the gold sales of the radio affiliates really hurts their connection,” Mr Friesen said of Mr Jones and his former benefactor. “At that time, Alex needed to diversify his funding more, and Ted was on the back burner.”
But in 2018, the families of several Sandy Hook victims sued Mr. Jones and named Genesis as a defendant. Lawyers for the families cited Mr Anderson’s frequent appearances on Mr Jones’ shows and said Genesis’ distribution to Mr Jones helped his lies reach “hundreds of thousands, if not millions”.
The lawyers wrote that Mr Jones, Genesis and the other defendants “concocted a false conspiracy theory that was crafted with paranoid overtones because it diverted the product and they made money”.
Following the filing, both Genesis and Jones were denied liability claims by West Bend Mutual Insurance, which began working with Genesis in 2012, court documents show. After being revoked as a defendant, Genesis continued to solicit donations and said online that its “freedom of speech is in balance.”
The lawsuit demonstrates the growing prominence of litigation as a stick against those accused of spreading false and misleading information. In 2020, Fox News reached a multi-million dollar settlement with the parents of murdered Democratic aide Seth Rich, whose death the network falsely linked to leaked emails ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
Smartmatic and Dominion sued Fox News and other conservative media and data last year after the election technology company was hit with unfounded allegations of vote fraud and are seeking billions of dollars in damages.While Smartmatic and Dominion are still threatening legal action, several outlets Broadcast clips attempting to clarify or debunk conspiracy theories about voting systems companies.
“This seems to be the first time in a long time that people are actually holding people accountable for the harm they do and the way they profit from it,” said Rachel E. Moran, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for the Informed Public at the University of Washington .
Genesis told the court in a filing last year that it was only accused of being “a distributor of a radio show — the newsboy equivalent of a radio station — not an author, not a publisher, and not a broadcaster.” The document argued , the company “has no brain; it has no memory; it cannot form intent.”
Lawyers for the families responded that the network should be “treated in the same way as a newspaper or book publisher” and had a high level of knowledge of “the hoaxes that Genesis has repeatedly broadcast to broad audiences over the years.”