Did Media Criticism Force Megyn Kelly to Go Harder on Alex Jones?

Credit: NBC

A lot of people were very upset about Megyn Kelly’s much-teased interview of conspiracy theorist and bad father Alex Jones, the man behind the website InfoWars, which I accidentally looked at once and refuse to do again, sorry. (My coverage of a multicultural rally inspired people to tweet at me about a “shootout” between ISIS and drug cartels at the Mexican border, and my reporter’s curiosity got the better of my reporter’s skepticism, prompting me to Google an event that only happened on this weird fringe website.)

Some people were upset because Jones said the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting that resulted in the deaths of 20 small children and six teachers was a “hoax.” By allowing Kelly to interview Jones, they argued, NBC was giving him a platform to promote his conspiracy theories. As the Washington Post‘s Margaret Sullivan noted before the interview aired, the fact that it was “scheduled to air on Father’s Day gives it an extra element of tone-deafness.”

Others were upset because they are tired of hearing from people like Jones who clearly, as Jezebel’s Anna Merlan eloquently noted on Twitter, desperately require attention, but have literally never contributed an interesting piece of information or thought to the public discourse in the entirety of their lives.

Merlan was tweeting during the broadcast of Kelly’s Jones interview Sunday night which, the Page Six story she tweeted revealed, was “completely overhauled” after all the backlash Kelly received:

NBC News execs were scrambling following the furor over Kelly’s decision to give a platform to the controversial Infowars host, who claimed the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax.

A contrite Kelly personally called the Sandy Hook families, we’re told, to invite them on the show to counter Jones’ rhetoric.

A source told us, “NBC was scrambling to find a way out of this mess without having to back down and cancel Sunday’s episode of Megyn’s show. Megyn and her producers made numerous calls to the Sandy Hook families this week to ask them to appear on the show. Some refused because they didn’t think appearing on her show would do enough to counter Alex Jones’ venom.”

Nelba L. Márquez-Greene, whose daughter Ana Grace was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, wrote in the Washington Post:

And deniers of tragedy are a danger to all Americans. Victims of tragedy require and deserve our support. Deniers create a distraction that shifts focus from compassion to craziness, that throws sand in the wheels of the action we should be taking to create a safer society. In a country experiencing almost weekly tragedies, we should not normalize this reaction.

Sullivan was one of the critics who argued that there is value in covering Jones, given his popularity and influence on the president, but that all of the signs before the segment aired indicated Kelly’s interview was going to just be “another way for Jones to promote what he does on Infowars radio and online, another way for him to legitimize his destructive and obscene lies.” Sullivan wrote:

Rather than abandoning this important — indeed crucial — subject, the network should use Kelly’s interview as a start, not an ending.

A serious investigation of Jones by America’s top news network would do the real work of journalism: spreading the truth and holding an influential figure accountable for his dangerous lies.

But many critics felt Kelly was not the right person to do that. This is a person who once devoted time to arguing that Santa Claus and Jesus Christ were (are?) both white. Veteran media critic Jack Shafer catalogued that and other missteps by in a piece for Politico:

When University of California-Davis cops pepper-sprayed protesters, she underplayed the episode, saying, “It’s a food product, essentially.” She exaggerated the dangers posed by the New Black Panther Party. She made ridiculous claims about the ease of voter fraud in Colorado. And so on.

But in the piece, published after the segment aired and titled “Megyn Kelly pantses Alex Jones,” Shafer argues that “short of waterboarding him, I don’t know what more Kelly could have done to expose Jones’ dark methods.” Like Sullivan, he sees value in engaging with Jones:

She was needlessly defensive in her presentation, acknowledging that some people thought the segment shouldn’t have been broadcast because it would increase Jones’ profile. But as she pointed out, Jones isn’t going away, and his audience is growing. What’s more, Jones “has the ear of our president,” and spurious things Infowars says have a way of getting repeated by his phone-pal President Donald Trump, who has saluted the Infowars host in the past. She didn’t take Jones down, but really, who could have in a newsmagazine segment? But she did do a credible job of exposing his lies. Give her a B+.

Poynter‘s chief media critic, James Warren, deemed the segment “a bit of an InfoSnooze, if damning and ultimately worthwhile.” Alex Griswold at the Free Beacon noted a lot of the praise was back-handed, assuming the piece was as weak as Kelly’s interview with Vladimir Putin before the outrage compelled her producers and editors to make it tougher. Forbes noted the editing “was clearly very heavy, as Jones only spoke in frustratingly brief soundbites.” Jones’ fans, however, are calling Kelly “a snake,” apparently angry she went back on her promise to let Jones watch the segment before it aired. John Koblin, TV reporter for the New York Times, tweeted that the show had fewer viewers than “60 Minutes.”

And according to CNN Money, a rerun of America’s Funniest Home Videos beat both Kelly and 60 Minutes. Meanwhile, Jones is threatening to air an unedited version of the interview. InfoSnooze, indeed.