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CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker said Megyn Kelly has a right to interview alt-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, whose millions of fans conspicuously include President Trump. But he takes issue with the way NBC News has thus far promoted the interview, which is scheduled to air June 18 on Kelly’s recently premiered newsmagazine Sunday Night.
“It’s not about giving him a platform,” said Zucker during a question-and-answer session with reporters June 15. “I think it’s about explaining who this guy is that the president of the United States listens to, talks to, retweets.”
Jones, who runs the website InfoWars, has posited that the horrific massacre in 2012 at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 6- and 7-year-olds dead was a “false flag” attack perpetrated by the government, that “no one died” and that the victims were “child actors.”
In a promo released by NBC News on June 8, Kelly is seen questioning Jones. The backlash has been fast and furious. She was uninvited from hosting duties at a Washington, D.C. fundraiser for Sandy Hook victims this week. JP Morgan Chase requested that their advertising not run during the June 18 installment of her show. But a picture of Kelly and Jones in a car wearing sunglasses and another of Kelly standing next to Jones smiling has intensified the criticism.
“I think the issue here is the way that they have thus far presented it has not led to the belief that he’s held to account as much as somebody who spews such hatred and nonsense needs to be,” continued Zucker. “If you’re going to do this story, the tease needs to be you holding up a picture of the dead kids at Sandy Hook and saying, ‘How dare you?’ And I think their marketing of this has thus far been unfortunate.”
But Zucker was quick to add that Kelly, who left Fox News Channel last January for a rich multishow deal at NBC News, “is a very good journalist. And I expect — especially in light of everything that’s been said this week — that he’ll be held to account. Lets’ not prejudge what the story is until we see it. But they’ve done themselves no favors in the way they’ve marketed this.”
Kelly released a detailed statement defending her interview: “I find Alex Jones’ suggestion that Sandy Hook was ‘a hoax’ as personally revolting as every other rational person does. President Trump, by praising and citing him, appearing on his show, and giving him White House press credentials, has helped elevate Jones, to the alarm of many. Our goal in sitting down with him was to shine a light — as journalists are supposed to do — on this influential figure, and yes, to discuss the considerable falsehoods he has promoted with near impunity.”
Zucker’s comments occurred at a press breakfast to mark the four-year anniversary of the network’s morning show New Day, co-hosted by Alisyn Camerota and Chris Cuomo. Camerota and Cuomo agreed that Kelly has the right to interview Jones, given his stature with the current occupant of the White House. Camerota stressed that the onus is on Kelly to be extremely tough on Jones.
“The complete responsibility is on the interviewer to be prosecutorial and to really hold his feet to the fire,” she said. “So if [Kellly] can do that with someone who is that slippery, then I think it does have some news value.”
Coumo, who anchored the ABC News interview program 20/20 before jumping to CNN, added that Kelly’s producers at NBC News are likely working around the clock to prep the piece: “I do not envy those producers. They must be recutting their asses off.”
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