Megyn Kelly is in trouble. The former Fox News superstar is now on NBC, and it’s been pretty bumpy so far. Her interview with Vladimir Putin was a dud, and now her upcoming chat with noted conspiracy theorist, serial liar, and psychopath Alex Jones has people up in arms.
Kelly has been dropped from a benefit for the families of Sandy Hook victims, who are not at all pleased that she’s handing a big chunk of mainstream airtime to a man who thinks their children’s deaths were a hoax.
Getting into a public fight with the victims of a horrendous massacre is surely not the sort of attention Kelly wanted. It’s also surely not how NBC News intended her splashy new tenure to go. But the network is getting exactly what was coming to it by going all-in on Kelly.
Kelly put out the kind of statement you’d expect in a firestorm like this, saying that Jones is an important modern figure and that, repellent though his views might be, she wanted to “shine a light” on what he’s saying. Her executive producer, Liz Cole, hit the same notes in an interview with CNN, saying, “He’s a controversial figure for sure, but as journalists it’s our job to interview newsmakers and people of influence no matter how abhorrent their views may be.”
The “shine a light” argument is more often than not cynical idiocy, and so it proves here. Alex Jones is not off limits as an interview subject—or, as the Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan smartly suggested, the subject of an in-depth, multi-reporter investigation by NBC News rather than a sub-Barbara Walters sit-down. And the full Kelly piece could, in theory, prove to be a devastating indictment that finishes him off for good.
But let’s be real. Any sensible person watching Kelly interview Jones already knows that he’s nuts, so the whole thing is worthless from a journalistic standpoint. The only beneficiaries are Jones, who gets to go on NBC News and share his insanity with the world and maybe convert a few people, and Kelly, who gets buzz and attention. A particular low point of the preview clip NBC sent out shows Kelly just throwing out the phrase “9/11" and letting Jones rip. That’s journalism, kids.
NBC must be tearing its hair out right now. The network has very ambitious plans for Kelly. Not only is she going up against 60 Minutes on Sundays, but she’s also going to host a 9 AM, light-and-fluffy morning hour, too. So far, the most noteworthy thing she’s done in her new home has been angering Sandy Hook families. It’s a fabulous start.
But hey NBC, that’s what you get. The network made a deeply cynical bet on Kelly, assuming that the woman who, aside from brief moments of apostasy, happily swam in the putrid waters of Fox News for years was somehow different than what she’d shown us to be all along. NBC News chairman Andrew Lack has been busily purging his empire of diverse and left-leaning voices while boosting Kelly and other right-wing hacks, despite any evidence that people want to watch them. He’s handed over a huge chunk of his budget and his airwaves to a person who won’t even countenance the idea of a black Santa, for god’s sake. You reap what you sow. When this tawdry partnership inevitably fizzles out, nobody can say NBC wasn’t warned.