After Much Controversy, NBC Airs Megyn Kelly's Interview With Alex Jones

Jun 19, 2017
Originally published on June 19, 2017 5:01 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Last night marked a fraught moment for the newest star at NBC News, Megyn Kelly. Her new news magazine carried this lengthy interview with the right-wing internet sensation Alex Jones, a figure who routinely circulates hateful conspiracy theories. Critics attacked NBC and Kelly for giving Jones airtime. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reports on the network's decision.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The backlash built up before the show even aired. It included some parents of children slain at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Jones had argued the killings were faked. Kelly's critics condemned her for giving Jones a major national platform.

In recent days, Kelly sought to ease those concerns and fold them into her broadcast. One surviving Sandy Hook father participated. A mother refused. She tweeted she needed three showers and a glass of wine after talking to Kelly. Yet Kelly didn't hold back last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUNDAY NIGHT WITH MEGYN KELLY")

MEGYN KELLY: That pattern - reckless accusation followed by equivocations and excuses is classic Alex Jones.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE ALEX JONES SHOW")

ALEX JONES: They can just carte blanche, go anywhere they want.

KELLY: He has spent nearly two decades on the fringe, shouting his conspiracy theories into any microphone he could get in front of.

FOLKENFLIK: In the TV news business, often the get is the point of the operation. Did you get a big-name guest who can make waves and draw viewers? And what should be a starting point often becomes the end in itself. Kelly and NBC clearly thought they landed a big get in Alex Jones. Yet she did seek to shed light, as she had promised. And Kelly made the case last night for interviewing him.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUNDAY NIGHT WITH MEGYN KELLY")

KELLY: Some thought we shouldn't broadcast this interview because his baseless allegations aren't just offensive. They're dangerous. But here's the thing. Alex Jones isn't going away. Over the years, his YouTube channel has racked up 1.3 billion views. He has millions of listeners and the ear of our current president

FOLKENFLIK: Kelly's team neatly demonstrated some of the consequences, tracking how groundless claims migrated from Jones' rants to Trump's speeches.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUNDAY NIGHT WITH MEGYN KELLY")

KELLY: This was Infowars previewing the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton...

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE ALEX JONES SHOW")

JONES: I think she's going to show up and - on drugs, though.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Laughter).

JONES: She's going to be whacked out.

KELLY: ...And Mr. Trump's take not long after.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We should take a drug test prior because I don't know what's going on with her.

FOLKENFLIK: Jones loves to bash the mainstream media. He posted audio tapes of a pre-interview telephone conversation to undercut Kelly, as she promised, to illuminate his human side.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KELLY: This is your chance to tell people who you are and...

FOLKENFLIK: This is Kelly's voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KELLY: In the same way, like, you're talking about re-inventing yourself - me, too, in a way, you know? I...

FOLKENFLIK: Kelly had moved to NBC from Fox News, a network that also at times traffics in conspiracy theories that have little basis in fact. For NBC, Kelly, not Jones, was the big get. NBC hopes to capture her star power and heat and cache with many conservative viewers. Sunday's interview gave wider play to a right-wing conspiracist just as some Sandy Hook parents feared. Yet undoubtedly spurred in part by the backlash, Kelly and NBC did not let Jones reinvent himself. They defined him fairly damningly. David Folkenflik, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PUFF DRAGON SONG, "CHINESE RADIO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.