When it was announced that NBC News’s Megyn Kelly would be interviewing conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, for her Sunday night show, the reaction was swift and surprisingly fierce.
Denouncement seemed to come from every direction. Notable voices from across the ideological spectrum joined Sandy Hook families in censuring Kelly (and calling for the interview not to be aired) for lending a mainstream platform to a man whose untrue and disgusting allegations about the Newtown massacre have worsened the nightmare for those who lost loved ones that day.
The controversy led to JP Morgan Chase pulling its advertising from the show, the NBC affiliate in Hartford refusing to air it, and Kelly being disinvited from hosting an anti-gun violence event put on by an organization founded by Sandy Hook parents. All of this came several days before the television segment had even been completed, let alone aired. Even released portions of the interview, showing Kelly challenging Jones on his reckless claims, didn’t tamp down the notion that NBC was lending Jones legitimacy by giving him airtime.
It didn’t help that a photograph appeared on Jones’s InfoWars website, showing Jones and Kelly sitting in a car in a pose that some interpreted as comfy. Additionally, many on the Right took exception to NBC News, in their marketing of the interview, referring to Jones as a “conservative radio host” — the suggestion being that he was emblematic of a typical conservative.
Five days prior to the segment being aired, Kelly released a public statement qualifying the interview, and making the case that Jones is already part of America’s mainstream culture. It included the following:
“President Trump, by praising and citing [Jones], appearing on his show, and giving him White House press credentials, has helped elevate Jones, to the alarm of many. Our goal in sitting down with him was to shine a light — as journalists are supposed to do — on this influential figure, and yes — to discuss the considerable falsehoods he has promoted with near impunity.”
Despite the public relations turmoil, the interview segment aired as scheduled on NBC last night, and it’s hard to fathom that anyone who watched it came away believing that Jones and his brand were elevated or in any way aided by the exposure.
Kelly thoroughly dismantled Jones, exposing his dishonesty, sleaziness, and his utter disregard for human decency. She and her team had done their homework, supporting Jones’s pattern of making “reckless accusations followed by equivocations and excuses” with unequivocal facts that left Jones stumped and stuttering. Kelly took him apart not only on his Sandy Hook claims, but on other conspiracy theories (including Pizzagate) for which Jones was legally compelled to recant and apologize for spreading falsities.
The Politico’s Jack Shafer summed up the segment pretty well, writing “Short of waterboarding him, I don’t know what more Kelly could have done to expose Jones’ dark methods.”
Of course, a lot of hay is now being made by Jones about the interview being edited (which of course nearly all pre-recorded news interviews are). Jones is claiming to have recorded the entire exchange himself, and is threatening to release it if NBC News doesn’t. Up-and-coming conspiracy theorist, Sean Hannity, concurred on Twitter last night, demanding in all caps that the news organization “release the tapes.”
Personally, I think NBC News should go ahead and post the full interview on their website, not for the sake of Jones and his ilk, but for the public at large. It’s a pretty common practice, after all, for news organizations to do so, in the case of interviews that are edited for television. There are most likely portions of the uncut exchange that don’t portray Jones as negatively, and even if they were removed because of the controversy, there’s not a great excuse to permanently withhold them.
What I believe requires more serious examination, however, is why the mere notion of this interview became so toxic in the first place. Sure, NBC News made mistakes in how they promoted it, but exposing creeps and evil-doers is nothing new in journalism. Even literal murderers are regularly interviewed by news figures, whether they be the run-of-the-mill Dateline types or foreign dictators, and rarely does giving such people a journalistic “platform” receive this level of push-back.
I think the answer has at least as much to do with with Megyn Kelly as it does Alex Jones. In fact, I believe that if Lester Holt had conducted the interview, there wouldn’t have been such an uproar.
In February, I wrote a piece for National Review describing Megyn Kelly Derangement Syndrome, and how the former Fox News host can’t seem to shake it. Many partisans on the Right came to loathe Kelly for regularly challenging Donald Trump’s candidacy throughout the election (including some of her colleagues at FNC who openly smeared her). When she eventually left Fox (in the wake of the Roger Ailes firing) to work for the left-leaning NBC News, a lot of conservatives viewed her as a sell-out and even — yes — a traitor.
Ridiculous, unfair charges? Of course. But political tribalism makes people see things in a strange light.
Case in point, working as a prominent figure on the right-leaning Fox News Channel for all of those years didn’t earn Kelly goodwill from the Left either. She was very effective on her prime-time FNC show at tearing down liberal narratives and dismantling the arguments of social-justice warriors. And for those perceived sins, she has not been forgiven by progressives.
In other words, despite doing her job in a fair and professional manner, she’s an easy target — a magnet for controversy that wouldn’t otherwise exist or be nearly as dramatic. And that’s a shame for those of us who are interested in bold, honest journalism.