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Alex Jones is one step closer to paying the families who sued him for defamation.


Jones is a talk show host who built his career on spreading conspiracy theories, and he spread one about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut in 2012 that killed more than two dozen people, mostly children. He claimed the shooting was fake, and he incited people to harass the families of the victims. A court ordered him to pay $1.5 billion in damages, but he first sought bankruptcy protection and now is moving to resolve the case through Chapter 7 liquidation.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tovia Smith has been following the story. Tovia, good morning.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What does Chapter 7 liquidation mean?

SMITH: Well, it would basically mean that there'd be a fire sale. A controlled but a swift sale of everything from Jones' ownership in his company, called Free Speech Systems, to his personal gun collection. And it means the ball could get rolling pretty quickly on at least some payment for those Sandy Hook families who won that defamation suit. But the payment wouldn't be anywhere close to what these families are owed.

Jones' assets are estimated now at about $10,000,000, which might mean just around a couple hundred thousand dollars for each of the plaintiffs, at least initially. And I say initially because a Chapter 7 trustee would have authority to hunt down any assets that Jones may have hidden. And this hunting license, as some call it, would be a forever thing because Jones' case, unlike most bankruptcy cases, where debts are washed away and you could get a fresh start, the judge ruled in Jones' case that can't happen because his wrongdoing was intentional and malicious. So bottom line, the families will have a claim on Jones' future earnings for the rest of his life.

INSKEEP: Wow, so he gives up $10,000,000, a tiny fraction of what he owes, and then this would pursue him forever. Why would Jones view that as a good option?

SMITH: Well, his attorneys say in court papers that there's no hope of settlement or reorganization, and Chapter 7 liquidation would be simpler and cheaper and in everyone's interest. It is curious, though, given that Jones has been pretty obstructive and intransigent since these defamation lawsuits were filed. And I'll say he was especially erratic on his Infowars show just last weekend, alternating between really angry defiance, screaming, swearing and vowing to fight. And on the other hand, total despair, literally sobbing about losing his show and his company, which he called his baby.

INSKEEP: You know, you note that he's still on the air. He's still doing his show. Would this actually shut down his media empire if they go through with the Chapter 7?

SMITH: Well, yes, but with a caveat. And this is important, as a lot of the families who sued made it very clear that stopping Jones' conspiracy-mongering is more important than any financial windfall. So, yes, liquidation would spell the end of his control of his company, but it would not stop him from reincarnating into a new company that does the same kind of thing. And ironically, I'll add, that would mean that the more Jones spews his bogus conspiracy theories and the more money he makes, the more money the families could get paid. So something of an odd situation.

INSKEEP: Oh, OK. Although, I suppose he continues to have freedom of speech and freedom to defame people, defame people and then freedom to be responsible for the defamation.

SMITH: To get sued again (laughter).

INSKEEP: Yeah, exactly. So when is the judge expected to rule on this request?

SMITH: The bankruptcy judge will decide next Friday whether Chapter 7 is the way to go here. And meantime Jones is appealing the defamation cases and the ruling that families can keep chasing him for the rest of his life.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tovia Smith, thanks so much.

SMITH: Thank you.


INSKEEP: OK. The Washington Post has one of the more famous mottos in all of journalism - democracy dies in darkness.

MARTIN: Yes, but long before the paper adopted that slogan, it had become one of the nation's great newspapers, famous for its Watergate investigation and others, which is why many people in the media and, frankly, outside the media are following this news. The paper's new CEO tried to tamp down coverage of an unflattering story involving him.

INSKEEP: One of his efforts came in a conversation with NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, who broke this story, and he's on the line. David, good morning.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, the CEO is Will Lewis. He's trying to restructure The Washington Post at a difficult time. For many media, circulation is down. He's a deeply experienced guy who worked for years in British newspapers. So what was the story that he didn't want covered about himself?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, he faces accusations back in a London courtroom from suits filed by, among others, Prince Harry stemming from a scandal more than a decade ago that Lewis was involved in a cover-up. A cover-up of an illegal hacking scandal into emails and voicemails of people by Rupert Murdoch's tabloids in their headlong rush to find stories and scoops.

INSKEEP: OK, so an old story but then revived by these lawsuits. What happened when The Washington Post staff decided they should report on this, report on their own CEO?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, Lewis has previously, when the Post tried to report on this at that time, as well earlier this year in March and again in May, denied wrongdoing. He's not a defendant in the case. He's not been prosecuted for that matter by prosecutors there. He said, look, this simply isn't newsworthy. And he said this twice to Sally Buzbee, then the executive editor of the Post. He said, you shouldn't be reporting on this at all, she said my team looks like they're going to press ahead, he called it a lapse of judgment.

And I should point out, the second time, they reported a very thorough story in May. And within 3 1/2 weeks Buzbee was forced out. I will say, my reporting and the reporting of others suggests that was because of a significant restructuring that he was doing that would have essentially greatly diminished her authority over the newsroom rather than the question of this coverage. But folks at The Washington Post, I can tell you, for good reason are concerned there might have been some contributing effort by Lewis to get her out because of the reporting.

INSKEEP: So when you heard that Lewis tried to kill this news story, what did you recall from your own past reporting on the very same topic?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I back in December was really the first to go in depth and report on these new allegations in great detail about the new evidence that had come forward in those civil suits against Murdoch's newspaper arm in Britain related to Lewis. And we spoke, as he acknowledged yesterday, off the record about the question of his involvement in the covering up tabloid scandal, those allegations. I am honoring that off the record. What wasn't off the record was his effort to try to get me to drop the story by offering me an unrelated exclusive to sit down with him about the future of the paper. And so yesterday, I thought it was relevant, given what we've learned about his efforts to pressure Buzbee.

INSKEEP: So I just want to be clear on this. He said to you, drop your story and I'll give you a different story, a positive story about me, exclusive access to me. That was the deal he put on the table for you?

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. As you'd say in "Godfather," an offer I could refuse.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) OK, and you did. You published your story back then. Now you've published this additional story about Lewis' other efforts to kill this news about himself. And he has now offered some on-the-record comments. What's he saying?

FOLKENFLIK: He called me an activist, not a journalist. And he said that I basically took a story, the conversation we had six months ago, dusted it down and made some excuse to make a story of a non-story.

INSKEEP: I notice he's not denying any of the facts of your story, though.

FOLKENFLIK: Nope. The leadership's changed. We reported on that. The question of the values at the Post. Sally Buzbee was shaken. Her staff was shaken, as well. And he's basically done the key thing of violating the concept of a firewall insulating the newsroom from pressure of their reporting without fear or favor there and here.

INSKEEP: David, thanks so much.


INSKEEP: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.


INSKEEP: Millions of Americans are trapped for now in a heat dome.


UNIDENTIFIED METEOROLOGIST: And that has prompted excessive heat warnings and heat advisories that extend from California and Arizona, into Nevada and then eastward into Texas.

MARTIN: That's a meteorologist with CBS in the Bay area. The heat dome is a big pocket of high pressure that locks in heat. It has pushed temperatures in the southwest 20 to 30 degrees higher than normal for this time of year, and now we have news on a cause of that heat. New data shows that the planet-warming pollution that drives extreme weather has hit a new record.

INSKEEP: Rebecca Hersher from NPR's climate desk is covering this. Rebecca, good morning.


INSKEEP: OK, what is the connection between climate change generally and this specific heat event?

HERSHER: They're intimately connected, Steve. You know, humans burn oil and gas and coal, it releases carbon dioxide and other planet-warming gases. Those gases, they accumulate in the atmosphere over the course of decades. And all that excess gas traps heat, and that directly leads to higher temperatures worldwide. It helps drive these extreme heat events where the temperature gets really high and stays really high, like what we're seeing. And in fact, scientists can say that the most intense heat waves that are happening right now would be literally impossible without human-caused climate change. So it's a really close connection.

INSKEEP: OK, but our news here is that carbon dioxide levels are hitting a record. Many people who follow this are aware that the United States has been cutting its greenhouse gas emissions.

HERSHER: Yeah, yeah, that did happen, you know, but the decrease was quite small. This was last year. And two years before that, the U.S. emissions actually increased each year. So the bigger picture here is that, you know, one, the U.S. decrease in emissions is not that big. And two, a lot of other countries are not cutting their emissions. So altogether, it's definitely not enough on its own to reverse this trend of CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere.

INSKEEP: Yeah, there is the question of the rest of the world, which is the majority of the world's people and the majority of the economic activity.

HERSHER: Exactly.

INSKEEP: So how is the carbon dioxide level measured?

HERSHER: Well, scientists continuously measure CO2 in the atmosphere. And every single year, the peak CO2 amount sets a new record because humans keep adding more CO2 faster than it can break down. This has been happening since scientists started measurements in 1958. And because scientists are able to use other methods as well to estimate how much CO2 was in the atmosphere going back millennia, we can actually say with confidence that there's more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than there has been in millions of years.

INSKEEP: In millions of years. OK, so how high is this number?

HERSHER: Well, the exact number is 426.9 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. That may not sound like a lot, parts per million, but the Earth is really, really sensitive to changes in the atmosphere. A bit of extra CO2 traps a lot of heat. What really sticks out is that this number is significantly higher than last year. It was a really, really big jump. So the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is actually accelerating.

INSKEEP: Rebecca, thanks for the update, really appreciate it.

HERSHER: Thanks so much.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Rebecca Hersher.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINITUS TEMPO'S "LIGHT DAYS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.