There's a new player in the media conspiracy to suppress the truth and police our thought: YouTube.
Or so it seems to Alex Jones, the talk-show host whose program has garnered considerable local attention since the April 4 Stanton Heights shooting. And for the past few weeks, his fans have been bombarding the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with phone calls, accusing the paper of trying to censor Jones' online video commentaries ... a charge the paper denies.
"We're seeing a purge of user-created content on YouTube," says Jones, by phone from Austin, Texas. "They're moving across the board to regulate and restrict the dissemination of alternative ideas."
Jones broadcasts over the Internet -- he operates the Web sites prisonplanet.com and infowars.com -- and on 60 AM/FM and short-wave radio stations nationwide. But most Pittsburghers probably first heard his name after the P-G published April 5 and April 6 stories by reporter Dennis Roddy.
Roddy's articles reported that Richard Poplawski, the man accused of gunning down the three Pittsburgh police officers killed, "spent hours posting racist messages on an extremist right-wing Web site, decrying blacks and Latinos and warning of forthcoming economic collapse fueled by the 'Zionist occupation' of America."
Jones does take a highly critical, even conspiratorial, view of the government. Most recently, he released the film The Obama Deception which alleges that "The Obama phenomenon is a hoax carefully crafted by the captains of the New World Order. He is being pushed as savior in an attempt to con the American people into accepting global slavery."
But he says he rejects violent tactics, and resents being linked to the shootings. Poplawski, he notes, visited lots of Web sites, and had disagreed with Jones in online forums.
"[T]he Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has decided to attack me in association with the fatal shooting of three police officers," Jones said on his April 5 broadcast. "So there you go, it's my fault. No, it's Barack Obama's fault for introducing a bill to effectively ban all semi-automatic hand guns and rifles and to psychologically test all Americans who want to own guns. But look, this shooting isn't even Obama's fault, even though he's a tyrant and a gun-grabber ... it's [the shooter's] fault."
Live-streamed footage of Jones' monologue was uploaded onto the video-sharing site YouTube. But less than a month later it disappeared.
"It's creepy," Jones tells City Paper. "It's the new McCarthyism."
Jones' broadcasts have been on YouTube for years. Footage of his broadcast, which is streamed on the Internet, was uploaded onto the "Alex Jones Channel," an archive of material that Jones says is maintained by a fan in Oregon. Jones says his channel had 40,000 subscribers, and that his videos received a total of 2 million hits.
But shortly after footage of his April 5 broadcast went up, that video -- and the entire Alex Jones Channel -- were removed from the site. Jones says the channel owner, whom he would not identify, told him YouTube did so because of alleged copyright violations.
Jones says he was told that YouTube was responding to a complaint from the P-G: During the April 5 broadcast, Jones used Roddy's article itself as a visual aid. "It's just ridiculous," Jones says. "I can show any article I want on my show, especially when it's about me."
So Jones urged his fans to start bombarding the P-G with complaints. "I told my fans to call, but to be respectful," Jones says. Which they did -- to the paper's dismay.
"We've been inundated," says P-G executive editor David Shribman via e-mail.
Some of the calls were "abusive," says Roddy, "and some were just bizarre."
And naturally, some were documented on YouTube. One person, making calls for Jones' prisonplanet.com Web site, for example, audio-recorded his interaction with an employee in the P-G's copyright department. The conversation went on for six minutes, and while the employee said that the paper stood by Roddy's story, she added, "I don't know who complained to YouTube about the article ... But the copyright laws are if you want to [use] the articles anywhere, whether it's a Web site or a TV show or in another newspaper or newsletter ... everything in the newspaper is copyrighted and you have to have our permission ... I really don't know who sent [YouTube] the e-mail ... there's really nothing that I can do about it, that's for sure."
Which brings up the strangest part of the dispute: The P-G, despite getting the blame from YouTube, insists it had nothing to do with removing Jones' videos.
"Nobody at the P-G made that complaint, nobody at the P-G asked that [Jones'] channel be pulled from YouTube," Shribman writes.
"We've always said if you want to complain about a story, have at it," Roddy says.
Roddy says that once the calls from Jones' fans started flooding in, the paper tried to discover why YouTube pulled the content. But they were never told who made the original complaint.
Likewise, City Paper calls and e-mails to the company were not returned.
This is not the first time that there have been complaints about censorship by YouTube. In late 2006, New York Times writer Tom Zeller Jr. reported that YouTube was engaged in a "campaign to spit-shine its image and, perhaps, to look a little less ragtag to potential buyers." (Indeed, Google bought the company in November 2006.) As a result, Zeller wrote, YouTube had taken "a scrub bucket to some questionable political graffiti on its servers."
Among the early victims: right-wing columnist Michelle Malkin. And in the 2008 presidential election, Republican candidate John McCain complained that the company wrongfully took down campaign videos that included snippets of the CBS Evening News -- also because they supposedly violated a news organization's copyright.
YouTube is, of course, privately owned, and has the right to approve or remove any content it chooses. Jones could not forward YouTube's official notification about withdrawing the video to CP -- he says his fan in Oregon has not provided it to him. According to YouTube's copyright infringement policy:
"Anytime YouTube becomes aware that a video or any part of a video on our site infringes the copyrights of a third party, we will take it down from the site as required by law. If you believe that a video on the site infringes your copyright, please send us a copyright notice and we'll take it down. If you believe we've removed a video that you uploaded in error and that you are the copyright owner or have permission, you can file a counter notice and let us know. Accounts determined to be repeat infringers may be subject to termination."
Still, legal experts say it's hard to see how Jones violated anyone's copyright. The law does allow for "fair use" of copyrighted material, allowing someone to quote from a story in order to comment on it.
Wendy Seltzer, a fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, say Jones' use of the P-G story "would very likely be fair use if he's simply showing the article and discussing it.
"Clearly in this instance he was commenting on an article that had already commented about him," Seltzer adds. "He can't very well comment on the story ... without using the original article. So this really doesn't seem like any sort of copyright violation."
Jones says this is the third time the channel has been accused of copyright infringement in the past 18 to 24 months, though he says all three accusations are false.
"I am sick and tired of their censorship," he says. While YouTube is "a privately held company," he says, "they hold themselves up as some bastion of freedom. It's not just me they're targeting: It's liberals, libertarians, fringe conservatives, white supremacists, black separatists. If it's honest, they pull it; if it's different, they pull it. Anything that promotes alternative thought is pulled."
Indeed, while Roddy and Jones probably don't agree on much, both would like to see YouTube's action reversed.
"The default setting [at YouTube] seems to be if someone complains they take it down rather than looking at each individual case as it comes in," says Roddy. "The Internet is the new soapbox. And when you have that in the hands of a private entity that can become a problem.
"It's funny how our civil liberties will always fall before a buck."