There’s been a big brouhaha about Megyn Kelly’s upcoming interview with conspiracy nutter Alex Jones. The toughest criticism has been from the Sandy Hook families who rightly take extreme offense at Jones’s claim that it was all a hoax or a false-flag operation or some sort of hallucination caused by the Trilateral Commission’s siphoning off of our precious bodily fluids (I haven’t followed the details of his claims closely so I’m open to correction on that). A broader indictment is that she’s mainstreaming or normalizing Jones. It seems to me Kelly is right when she notes that Donald Trump did more to normalize Jones than she ever could.
Kelly’s response to critics is defensible in its own right. “What we do as journalists is we shine a light on those with power, those with influence, those who have become culturally relevant,” Kelly told Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times. “Of course, it’s upsetting to know that doing that causes any upset to the Newtown families, many of whom I know well. But I have to do my job. As journalists, we don’t get to interview only the good guys — that’s not journalism. It’s going to be very difficult for us to keep an eye on the more controversial figures of our time if we never talk to them.”
That’s all fine and I’m an admirer of Kelly’s but I have a couple problems with how she’s rolled this out. First, she initially said that Jones is a conservative.
— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) June 11, 2017
She later corrected that by noting that Jones describes himself as a “libertarian.” I don’t think that’s particularly fair to libertarians. People get to choose their own labels, of course. But that doesn’t necessarily settle the matter. Jones may indeed have libertarian sympathies, but people don’t listen to his dreck for the libertarianism.
My bigger problem is the underlying assumption about the whole thing. The unstated idea behind Kelly’s debut at NBC was that she would be doing the kind of stuff you wouldn’t expect from a decidedly liberal-leaning news organization. She was going to shake things up, get interviews others couldn’t get, and cover stories you wouldn’t expect from the folks behind NBC and MSNBC. But that’s not this. Alex Jones isn’t a hard get. I am sure he’d go on any mainstream outlet he could. He’d leap at the chance to be on Meet the Press, even if he had to do it shirtless (maybe even especially). I am sure Kelly will be tough with Jones. Does Jones care? Of course not. He’s already posting videos about how he outsmarted her.
This is a huge gift to Jones. Even if Kelly does everything possible to avoid the appearance of “normalizing Jones,” he comes out of this a winner because his fans will love it and be re-affirmed in their belief that he’s important. And at least some people who haven’t heard of him will think this joker is more significant than he is.
Meanwhile, the subtext is that when you hire a conservative, this is the kind of stuff you can expect. Kelly insists that this a journalistically important interview. I’ll hold my judgment on that. But I find it hard to believe we’ll learn a lot we didn’t already know. And it’s already clear that it’s partly the ratings version of clickbait.