The Austin Chronicle

http://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2000-07-14/page-two/

Page Two

By Louis Black, July 14, 2000, Columns

The time has come to talk of Alex Jones. When the Chronicle editorial staff first considered how to cover the ongoing controversy at Austin Community Access Center (ACAC) regarding Jones, there was almost a consensus not to do it. The feeling was that regardless of what we said about Jones it would empower him, helping to further define him as a spokesperson in our community. There was also the tar baby concern -- once you got into it with Jones, you could never get out. The feeling was that despite his beliefs, his overriding goal was self-promotion. It was solely to his advantage to extend any interaction. The staff did not want to participate in any support, promotion, or ongoing dialogue with Jones, but the ACAC story is important to our community.

Jones is an articulate, sometimes hypnotic, often just annoying conspiracy theorist -- black helicopters over our cities, Clinton's storm troopers rampaging through our streets, the Y2K computer crash used as an excuse for martial law (oh wait, that didn't happen, but the rest will). Through his ACAC show Info Wars, his canceled KJFK radio show, and such stunts as building a chapel at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Jones has gained notoriety. Unlike a journalist or historian, a conspiracy theorist starts out with an assumption, garners all information that supports their theory, and ignores or discredits information that disagrees with it. Jones seems driven more by getting media attention than any ideology. There are conspiracies everywhere and the forces of evil are sweeping our country: Smart Growth, free trade, light rail, Social Security, world government. Nefarious, usually unnamed, international conspiracies are busy controlling our lives. Jones does not offer specific political solutions (Jones' only solution actually is to encourage an ever-increasing paranoia about everything).

I used to listen to Jones on the radio but eventually stopped because any participation -- even just listening -- supported the show. Jones loves to rant. Jones is the hero of most of his rants. There has never been anything he supported except freedom and the Constitution. I can imagine him roaring, "That is exactly the point!" -- except Jones uses them as straw men, props against which to place all the conspiracies invading our daily life. Still, I was sorry when KJFK took him off the air. I really think the society is richer for having many different voices. I thought it was a cowardly decision.

Unfortunately, a number of ACAC producers think that Jones' respect and support for freedom of speech ends with those voices with which he personally agrees. The most recent controversy concerns Charlie Sotelo's The Show With No Name, which has been suspended by ACAC. At least partially at issue is Jones' role in The Show being taken off the air. Jones denies he had anything to do with it, and ACAC Board President John Villareal backs him up. There is also the concern, however, about how active Jones has been in monitoring other shows, especially those he doesn't like. Read Lee Nichols' piece on Jones and ACAC ("Mad TV," p. 34) and Marc Savlov's piece on Charlie Sotelo ("Access Denied," p. 36) and decide for yourself. On behalf of the staff, I ask that this not become a catalyst for becoming part of Jones' audience.

Charlie Sotelo works for us at SXSW (us being managing director Roland Swenson, Nick Barbaro, and myself). Specifically Sotelo works on the film conference and festival. On Austin cable access, he has hosted The Show With No Name. Currently he is facing a 90-day suspension for showing a Nike commercial directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, The Game). Complaints were filed against Sotelo because access shows can't show commercials. Even though this Nike commercial was old and for a product no longer manufactured and clearly shown as an early work of an interesting director, it was decided that The Show violated this rule and should be suspended.

Sotelo hosted this show long before he came to SXSW. In fact, one of the reasons he came to our attention is because he hosts the show. I've never seen it. At home we don't have cable. This is from no high moral anti-TV stance but because I'm a hopeless addict. Give me a remote control, and I'll go all night, never watching more than a minute of anything. So I haven't seen the show. Most everyone I know raves about it.

Obscure beginning works by now-established talents are treasures to the film enthusiast. Sotelo has given me many tapes, and I get a special thrill from bits like Andy Kaufman's appearance as a contestant on The Dating Game for reasons that have nothing to do with The Dating Game.

One can respect the ACAC board on this. It seems absurd to acknowledge this as a commercial rather than a rare work in a director's filmography, but if they make an exception this time, what happens when some group shoots some "arty commercial" for a local event and wants to run it on access because of their enthusiasm for it? The Sotelo exception could wreak havoc. Still, the shoes are not even on the market any more, and shouldn't ACAC be a place to showcase obscure but interesting works?

The board is trying to reach some compromise with Sotelo on The Show and establish greater clarity regarding their policies. We'll see what happens. But what is shocking is that Alex Jones, the anti-authoritarian guerrilla freedom fighter, a champion of liberty, isn't leading the charge to reinstate Sotelo. What is more shocking is the notion that he freely admits to filing complaints against other broadcasters over the years. Vigilance and freedom, he reminds us on his shows, are the main defenses of liberty, but he doesn't seem to respect his own opinion, or anyone else's. end story

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