Critic's Notebook: Megyn Kelly Works Hard Not to Sully Herself With Alex Jones Interview

Megyn Kelly - H Publicity 2017
Screengrab/Courtesy of NBC News

The host of NBC's 'Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly' desperately tried to thread the needle while interviewing her toxic guest.

You probably heard that this week’s Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly featured an interview with Alex Jones. The announcement provoked immediate controversy. Some argued that NBC shouldn’t be giving the rabid alt-right conspiracy theorist a forum. Others countered that the influence of the Infowars founder is only growing, especially since President Donald Trump is an avowed fan, and that a critical spotlight needs to be shone on his insane rantings and ravings. The tumult only escalated when Jones released tapes of his private meetings with Kelly, in which the new NBC News star seemed to be assuring her guest that the show wouldn’t be a hatchet job.

So you can imagine that there must have been some frenzied rejiggering of the segment in the days leading up to the broadcast. The end result displayed Kelly working very hard to thread the needle. She managed to make Jones look like the lunatic he is (admittedly not a difficult task); strongly confronted him on numerous points; and included critical comments about Jones by conservative commentator Charlie Sykes and the father of one of the Sandy Hook massacre victims. Kelly no doubt also scored big ratings in the process. But she must have taken one hell of a long hot shower afterwards.

For those MSM consumers unfamiliar with Jones, he’s like the demonic love child of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck … on steroids. He’s a truly hateful figure, responsible for promoting such dangerous ideas as 9/11 being an inside job and the Sandy Hook school shooting a fake. He also claimed that a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant was the front for a child sex ring run by Democrats, and that the Chobani yogurt company was involved in a child sexual-assault case. This is a man clearly obsessed with sex crimes against children.

He’s also a total wuss. Threatened with lawsuits over the last two incidents, he backed down and meekly delivered on-air apologies. And he’s more than willing to admit he’s a fraud when it suits him. In a court battle with his ex-wife over the custody of their children, Jones' lawyer declared that Jones was “playing a character” and that he’s a “performance artist.” Which leads to the inevitable question: Why is Alex Jones still a thing?

As with so many problems plaguing the country, Trump is partially to blame. He sucked up to Jones during the campaign by appearing on his show and lavishing praise on him. Last month, Infowars was granted White House press credentials. One of the strongest elements of Kelly’s interview was its spotlighting of incidents in which the president has parroted Infowars stories shortly after their broadcast. (Can someone please, please start reading Trump bedtime stories to distract him? Melania, I’m talking to you.)

Kelly addressed the controversy over the segment at the beginning, calling her guest “incendiary.” “Some thought we shouldn’t broadcast this interview,” she said in a slightly defensive tone. “But here’s the thing … Alex Jones isn’t going away.” She provided a brief history of his checkered career dating back more than 20 years, including several clips demonstrating that he’s not exactly aging well. But that stands to reason, considering that venom isn’t a health drink.

It’s impossible to know how the interview was cut down to just a few minutes. Jones will certainly make a case that his responses were edited to make him look bad. But it really doesn’t take heavy lifting to vilify someone who recently said that the Manchester bombing victims, many of whom were children, were “a bunch of liberal trendies.” When Kelly asked him about those remarks, Jones claimed that the media had misrepresented what he said. When she brought up his Sandy Hook claims, Jones backed away from them, coyly saying that he had been merely playing “devil’s advocate.” (Cut to Kelly dramatically hitting her head with her hands like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone.)  

“The media never covers all the evil wars it supported,” asserted Jones, trying to change the subject. He said that his insane conspiracy theories were merely pointing to “evidence on the other side.” When Kelly pointedly asked, “Do you think of yourself as a journalist?” Jones replied, “Ninety-five percent of what we cover is looking at an article and discussing it.”

“So, garbage in, garbage out,” Kelly clarified.

She asked the same question of an Infowars employee wearing a “Hillary for Prison!” t-shirt. “I’m just a human looking for truth,” the young man told her, apparently convinced that the only place it can be found is under rocks.

The piece concluded with a shot of a White House press release, boasting about President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, that included a link to an Infowars story. Or, as Kellyanne Conway would describe it, “alternative facts.”

Ultimately, the segment covered all the right bases, albeit frustratingly briefly. But it needed to be far more hard-hitting. This wasn’t exactly reminiscent of Edward R. Murrow taking down Joseph McCarthy. But then again, McCarthy was a truly fearsome figure. Jones is just an evil rodeo clown whose fifteen minutes will soon be up.