Alex Jones is a crazy purveyor of reprehensible conspiracy theories who deserves disgust, not media limelight.
For that reason, the families of the 20 children and six staff members who died in the Newtown, Conn., elementary school massacre have every right to be outraged over NBC News anchor Megyn Kelly’s interview with this unhinged Sandy Hook denier. But some of the tangential uproar over this yet-to-be-broadcast show is all about Kelly. The right doesn’t like her because of her face-off with Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. The left distrusts her past Fox News affiliation and will never forgive her silly insistence that Santa Claus must be white. Others just don’t like her attitude or sexy clothes, or maybe even the role she played behind the scenes in bringing down the late Roger Ailes on sexual harassment charges.
Whatever the source of the outrage, NBC has to go forward with the Jones interview. That’s the price for a calculated decision to hire Kelly from Fox, give her a new show, and hope she can win the ratings war via sit-downs with subjects like Jones, ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia. To the delight of critics and competitors, Kelly’s new Sunday night show has lost out to reruns of “60 Minutes.” Yet the glee over Kelly’s failure to launch feels like something more than high-minded concern about journalistic standards.
Some of the reviews have a sexist edge. The buzz from Kelly’s encounter with Putin was all about a velvet dress with a thigh-high slit that she wore to a dinner party the night before the interview. True, she didn’t get much from Putin, and with that outfit, she wasn’t channeling Mike Wallace. Still, an ABC archive photo of Barbara Walters interviewing Putin in 2001 shows the legendary interview queen leaning in cozily toward the Russian leader, who appears to be autographing a book for her. Walters is wearing a jacket and skirt — not a cocktail dress — but her legs, too, are on display.
As for Jones, he’s not the first despicable person to be interviewed in the hunt for TV viewers, and not the only alt-right ideologue to attract mainstream media attention. Last March, Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes’’ interviewed Mike Cernovich, who’s also part of the Jones conspiracy network. Pelley’s interview generated some criticism, but not to the level surrounding Kelly’s interview with Jones. The Sandy Hook community is, of course, entitled to denounce NBC and to drop Kelly as host of the annual gala held by a gun violence prevention organization named after the victims. According to The Wall Street Journal, JP Morgan Chase also pulled television and digital ads from NBC News programming because of the Jones interview.
Interviewing Jones is hard to defend. Not only has he called the Sandy Hook shootings a hoax perpetrated by gun rights opponents, he called the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks an inside job. He also helped spread the fake news known as “Pizzagate,” which ludicrously linked Hillary Clinton and her campaign to a child-sex ring. But there is a credible news angle in the ability of his outrageous conspiracy theories to gain traction in America. And there’s also a Trump connection. As a presidential candidate, Trump went on Jones’s radio show, in 2015, and told his host: “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down. You will be very, very impressed, I hope. And I think we’ll be speaking a lot.”
If Kelly simply gives Jones a platform to spout his kooky and dangerous views, she deserves all the contempt she will get. But not watching would send the loudest message of all, because a continued ratings flop will tell NBC all it needs to know about Kelly’s new show.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.