Sometimes there are conundrums within the increasingly complex world of the news media which have no easy answers. The current controversy over Megyn Kelly’s still-scheduled (as of early Tuesday) interview with pro-Trump conspiracy nut/actor Alex Jones clearly fits into that category.
On the one hand, I agree with Mediaite founder Dan Abrams when he says that Kelly interviewing Jones is no worse than when the same big-media treatment is given to murderers, and that since President Trump has praised Jones, he is inherently news-worthy. I disagree with Dan, however, when he says this isn’t even a close call.
There are a couple of special circumstances here which, to me, make airing this interview questionable. One is that Jones isn’t just “controversial,” he says things which are completely insane and extremely harmful. Specifically, his bat-crap crazy theory that the Sandy Hook mass murder of innocent children was all a “hoax” has now caused Kelly to be removed as host of an event honoring the victims. To me, that is crossing a line that could logically disqualify Jones from ever being given credibility from the mainstream media.
Kelly and others have rightly argued that there is value in exposing Jones as a dangerous lunatic and that we should wait until you see the interview before we judge it. However, there is also good reason to suspect that what airs will not do any damage to Jones and his corrosive impact within the underbelly of the modern media’s worst elements.
After all, his following is not suddenly going to see him as the fraud that he is simply because he gets some pushback from Kelly for a relatively brief portion of the interview. They will only see that as part of the ongoing media conspiracy to discredit the one guy in the media willing to tell it like it REALLY is (this is a big part of why Jones and Donald “Fake News!” Trump are kindred spirits).
Ironically, Jones himself is calling for his own interview to be pulled, I believe because he understands that he now gains no matter what ends up happening with it.
If it runs, he gets huge exposure and has inoculated his fan base against them thinking less of him for how he is portrayed. If it gets yanked, or severely altered, then he wins because he can claim that the massive media conspiracy against him is continuing because he is just too damn dangerous to the establishment. Since the pre-airing controversy has already given Jones about as much credibility as he could ever rationally hope for, he literally cannot lose now.
There is another element of who Alex Jones is which also gives legitimacy to the notion that Kelly and NBC should not give him such a platform. This is that Jones has recently been forced, as part of his divorce proceeding, to admit that he is just an actor playing a role. Generally, even remotely legitimate sports news organizations ignore pro wrestling because, no matter how popular it may be, it is clearly fake (fake as in totally fabricated, unlike “fake news” which simply makes Trump upset).
Now maybe what will air (assuming it does at all) on NBC will completely expose this and other outrageous aspects of the Jones/Trump con, but there are sound reasons to not have much trust in Kelly to make sure this is indeed what happens.
First, Kelly’s interview in her premiere episode of her Sunday night program with Vladimir Putin was rather soft and left a lot to be desired. Secondly, there were two photos of Kelly and Jones which were released this week which indicated that their relationship was hardly adversarial and looked, frankly, inappropriately friendly. Heck, this one of them in a car together is so cozy that it looks like it could have been taken on a third date!
To me, this photo was the critical error which Kelly made in the lead up to the airing of the Jones interview. Without it, I think trusting her to destroy him would be reasonable, but now she has squandered her “presumption of innocence” in this situation, and once this airs there is obviously no going back.
Let me share an example (one which greatly pains me because it will inherently compare me to Jones, whom I deeply loathe because he is the very antithesis of everything for which my life stands) which I think illustrates the absurdity of Kelly taking those photos with Jones.
In my rather eventful career, I have done numerous high-profile interviews on both ends of the microphone. When I interviewed Sarah Palin immediately after the 2008 election, we took some friendly photos together because the documentary film I was working on was openly defending her against what were mostly unfair media attacks during the campaign. This was perfectly appropriate under those circumstances, but it was also proof that I was not going to be super hard on her (though, in my defense, I did ask her some rather difficult questions).
I have also been interviewed by Matt Lauer three times for exclusive interviews on NBC’s Today Show. Because I am non-celebrity who is a “conservative” and “controversial” (as Lauer himself introduced me on the show as being), it never occurred to me to take a “friendly photo” with Lauer promoting the interviews. I am quite sure that, even though we had a good personal rapport, he would have, smartly, declined to take part because of the signal they would have sent.
While this issue may seem relatively insignificant, it is not. In this era where celebrity is everything and interviewers must suck up to well-known interviewees because their leverage in this highly fragmented media environment has almost completely evaporated, I automatically presume that any such interview will be far too soft until proven otherwise. That Kelly/Jones photo convinces me that, at least until this controversy exploded, Kelly was not prepared to give Jones the full evisceration which he so richly deserves.
Unless I am wrong about that, or there is a way to still create the same result in post-production, then NBC pulling the Jones interview would be the least awful option in a situation which seems to have no real good potential outcome.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at email@example.com
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.