Kelly: Did she promote or expose Jones?
“Where’s the line between covering a scoundrel as a news figure and giving him a promotional platform?” said Jim Rutenberg in The New York Times. That’s the question hanging over new NBC host Megyn Kelly this week, after she interviewed deranged conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on her newsmagazine Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly. “Aside from what seemed like a blatant grab for attention and ratings,” said Don Kaplan in the New York Daily News, “there was no good reason to hand over NBC’s prime-time audience to Jones”—a “frightening, sweaty, tinfoilhat- wearing nutjob” who through his website, Infowars.com, has made a small fortune peddling crackpot claims. Among them: Hillary Clinton ran a child sex-trafficking ring in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria, and the massacre of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax. Worse, Kelly put a spotlight on Jones’ ugly lies on Father’s Day, “even as still-grieving parents in Newtown, Conn., pleaded with her not to go with the story. What an insult.”
Jones may be a reprehensible character, said Charlie Warzel in BuzzFeed.com, but he is “wildly popular.” Infowars.com pulled in 476 million views during 2016. Jones’ followers were early supporters of Donald Trump’s unlikely candidacy, and Trump himself appeared on Infowars in December 2015, telling Jones, “Your reputation is amazing.” Ignoring Jones would be journalistically irresponsible, said Jack Shafer in Politico.com, and Kelly took the con man apart. She forced him to admit that the Newtown conspiracy theory and others he’s promoted were wrong, called him on his dodges, and left him red-faced, stammering, and sweating. “Short of waterboarding him, I don’t know what more Kelly could have done to expose Jones’ dark methods.”
Kelly may have exposed Jones, said Amy Davidson in The New Yorker, but she missed the larger story: His crackpot beliefs have an increasingly wide currency—reaching right into the Oval Office. Jones and Trump bonded over the Obama “birther” fraud, and when Infowars went off on paranoid rants about yogurt company Chobani bringing criminals and sex offenders to work at its Idaho plants, Jones was echoing “the president’s intimations about Mexican rapists.” The Clinton pedophile ring was just an extreme version of the anti-Hillary conspiracy theories Trump embraced and promoted. Infowars’ paranoid conspiracy theories are no longer on the fringe; they are “what the president, and, increasingly, some elements of his party, are all about.” ■