No matter how “tough” the questions in her second NBC interview, she’s lending legitimacy to a hateful conspiracy monger
Talk radio host and noted amateur hieroglyph artist Alex Jones is a fringe conspiracy theorist who has, among other things, repeatedly called the murder of 26 people at Sandy Hook a hoax perpetrated by the federal government for the purpose of taking away your guns. It takes an unfathomable level of cruelty to fabricate a lie about the deaths of elementary school children in order to further one’s political ends, and in any rational world, Alex Jones would be treated as the falsehood-trafficking pile of sentient garbage that he is and ostracized from polite society. But this is Donald Trump’s America, and Donald Trump just loves Alex Jones, which means that, courtesy of NBC News’ Megyn Kelly, Jones will be featured on national television next Sunday night.
This is… grim. Promos for Kelly’s primetime interview with Jones show the ex-Fox News host asking a series of clipped questions in her best skeptical-sounding voice (“They call you the most paranoid man in America. That true?”) and then sitting back while Jones growls some incoherent jumble of words in response. “We talked controversies… and conspiracies,” Kelly solemnly intones, right before she allows Jones to matter-of-factly assert that 9/11 was an “inside job” and to nonchalantly explain away his Sandy Hook skepticism by making a non sequitur reference to the Iraq War. The gall it takes to run this on Father’s Day is unbelievable, and the rightfully furious reactions from parents and relatives of victims are legitimately heartbreaking.
Kelly has offered a tepid defense of the interview on social media, calling their exchanges “riveting” and opining that the President’s embrace of Jones obligates the press to “shine a light” on his activities. But this “Let’s hear him out” argument rings insultingly hollow. Kelly’s language implies that her erudite journalistic motive is to expose him as a fraud and let him hang himself, but she’s ignoring the simple, obvious alternative method that has long been employed to marginalize people like this: Deny them the attention they crave, and allow them to quietly disappear. Her move from Fox News to broadcast television was billed as her coming-out party as a serious journalist, but using her two first two primetime slots to deliver fawning, soft-lit, uncritical interviews of Jones and Vladimir Putin has made for a decidedly inauspicious start to this new phase of her career.
As bad of a look as this is for Megyn Kelly, it’s even worse for NBC. By choosing to put Jones on the air, the network is gambling that it can pull in two ends of ideological spectrum: People who loathe Jones and people who love him. As the former hate-watch in morbid fascination, the latter, feeling vindicated, will celebrate ecstatically as they buy up more snake-oil nutritional supplements in bulk, and NBC will cash in on both audiences. But this calculus cravenly ignores the influence the segment could have on the millions of casual viewers who don’t already know about Jones’ shtick, and who might reasonably interpret his presence in their living rooms as a tacit recognition of his legitimacy. The network’s willingness to provide Jones with free publicity is equal parts cynical, pandering, and dangerous. Sadly, as Jones and his ilk creep further into the mainstream, we’re going to see more of this drek before we see less.
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