Golden Girl Megyn Kelly vs. The Most Hated Man in American Media
This was not how it was supposed to be. The most hated man in American media has dealt a serious and potentially knockout blow to the career of the woman who thought she was all set to take him on and proceed unimpeded on the fast track to maybe becoming the next Oprah.
The battle pitting the two well-known personalities commenced two weeks ago when Megyn Kelly, the golden girl of 21st century TV infotainment, started pursuing controversial talk show host and Infowars founder Alex Jones as the next big interview “get” for her new prime time NBC television network news magazine show, Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly.
Over the past two decades, Jones, 43, starting out as the host of an obscure program on a public access TV channel in Austin, Texas, rose to prominence as an anti-globalist libertarian commentator and activist with a daily nationally-syndicated terrestrial radio show, currently carried by around 90 AM and FM stations, a simulcasted Internet program, a variety of documentary films, and two popular Web sites devoted to politically incorrect reporting. In many ways, with his expanding audience, Jones became a magnet for a constituency of angry, disenfranchised Americans, much like the Donald Trump Presidential campaign.
Along the way, however, Jones made himself a red hot target for the mainstream media by embracing unpopular third-rail issues like 9/11 Trutherism and questioning the validity of some of the mainstream reporting on the December 14, 2012 massacre of students and teachers at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Twenty-eight people – children and adults – were killed that day. Jones subsequently moderated his original positions on both of these issues while he grew his media operation, drastically scaled up the technical sophistication of his presentations, and greatly expanded his audience.
For her part, Megyn Kelly, 46, had a successful five-day-a-week prime time program on the Fox News Channel from 2013 until January 2017 when she left for a high profile position at NBC News. Her deal with NBC guaranteed her a co-anchoring role during the network’s coverage of major events and breaking news, solo hosting duties on the third hour of the Today Show, and a weekly prime time Sunday news magazine intended to challenge CBS’s 60 Minutes
Kelly burned her bridges with the Fox News Channel and much of its conservative audience when she appeared to transition from a smart, no-nonsense reporter-host with “girl next door” appeal to a self-serving, glamour-chasing narcissist with her eyes set on rising to the top of the mainstream media landscape. The erosion of her popularity began when she threw down a gauntlet with a series of hostile personal questions to Donald Trump in the first Republican candidates’s debate on August 6, 2015. She made news that for a time made her an enemy of Trump’s and of many of his supporters. Later on she revealed, at the time of the publication of her first book Settle for More in late 2016, that she had shared damaging information that contributed to the demise of Fox News founder Roger Ailes’s career at FNC when he was being subjected to an internal company investigation following allegations of sexual harassment that had been levied against him.
In the initial outing of Kelly’s new hour long NBC show on June 4, 2017, her much-hyped first interview was with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the view of many critics and viewers, the ten-minute long segment featuring Putin was unmemorable, unrevealing, and much ado about nothing. The second airing of the show lost one half of the total number of viewers who had tuned in for the premiere one week earlier. Right after the Putin interview aired, NBC announced, and Alex Jones confirmed, that the Infowars host would be featured on Kelly’s June 18 program.
It seemed like a bold move guaranteed to grab a large audience. Jones, well-known for being outwardly skeptical and suspicious of the mainstream media, but a commanding presence with a certain degree of charisma, agreed to the Kelly interview, no doubt because of the extremely high profile it would represent. Kelly and her crew traveled to Austin and on June 6 spent hours conducting one-on-one interviews with Jones and recording him in action as he hosted his daily program. When a promo for the upcoming show including brief interview clips started to air on NBC a week later, Jones started to smell a rat, he said in effect, and began plotting a strategy of his own.
Before Jones could take any actions, a number of parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook shooting began to protest NBC giving air time to Jones, whom they detested, and talked about sponsor boycotts and filing lawsuits against the network. The mainstream media reported these efforts widely.
Another slap at Kelly was reported on June 13 when she was uninvited from hosting the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation annual gala on June 15 in Washington, D.C. because of opposition to her having Alex Jones on her show.
“Sandy Hook Promise cannot support the decision by Megyn or NBC to give any form of voice or platform to Alex Jones and have asked Megyn Kelly to step down as our Promise Champion Gala host,” said Nicole Hockley, co-Founder and Managing Director. “It is our hope that Megyn and NBC reconsider and not broadcast this interview.”
Meanwhile, prior to the show with Jones, at least one advertiser, JPMorgan Chase & Co., “is asking NBC to remove local TV ads and digital spots from Megyn Kelly’s NBC newsmagazine until after her interview with Infowars founder Alex Jones airs.”
On Thursday, June 15, three days ahead of the scheduled broadcast, Jones dropped an unexpected bombshell: He announced that he had secretly recorded Kelly’s initial sweet-talking phone calls to him seeking his participation in the broadcast and he had also surreptitiously recorded all of Kelly’s on-camera interviews with him. (These types of recordings are legal under Texas law, which requires the knowledge of only one party of a conversation, in this case Jones himself.) In order to expose what Jones described as Kelly’s nefarious purpose, Jones promised to release all of these recordings before June 18. Initially, on June 15, he released audio selections from Kelly’s phone calls as YouTube videos and posted them here and here.
“I’ve never done this in 22 years, I’ve never recorded another journalist,” Jones explained in a Twitter video on Thursday, June 15. “I’ve never done this, but I knew that it was a fraud, that it was a lie.”
On top of the controversy already created by the mounting opposition to the June 18 NBC show because of the lingering memory of Sandy Hook and the objections of some of the parents, the Jones secret tapes story quickly exploded in the mainstream media. When the content of some of the recordings became public, much of the ire of the media refocused from Jones to Kelly.
In an article in Fortune titled “Alex Jones Has Badly Damaged NBC’s Plans For Megyn Kelly,” Mark Joyella, typical of most other reporters and commentators assessing the developments, wrote:
Most journalists would agree that if you’re going to give an overflowing dumpster of rotting food like Alex Jones a platform on the NBC Television Network, it better be for a good reason. Examples would be exposing him for the vermin he is, and demanding that he justify his outrageous lies – first and foremost that the mass shooting of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook was “a hoax.”
That’s what a journalist [emphasis original] would do. We learned last night Megyn Kelly is no journalist.
Joyella and other members of the commentariat were responding to revelations like this one from Jones’s recording in which Kelly obsequiously promised Jones a fair and balanced interview: “It’s not going to be a contentious, sort of gotcha exchange. I just want to talk about you.”
“You'll be fine with it,” Kelly assured Jones, according to the recordings. “I’m not looking to portray you as a bogeyman...the craziest thing of all would be if some of the people who have this insane version of you in their head walk away saying, ‘You know, I see the dad in him. I see the guy who loves those kids and is more complex than I’ve been led to believe.’”
“I saw a different side of you,” Kelly told Jones. “You became really fascinating to me…You’re just like anybody. You’re a dad.”
Like other members of the journalistic elite, Joyella was troubled by Kelly’s hypocrisy:
Kelly went so far as to dismiss criticism of Jones as “this insane version of you in [people’s] heads.” That's puzzling, since earlier this week Kelly said in a statement, “I find Alex Jones’s suggestion that Sandy Hook was ‘a hoax’ as personally revolting as every other rational person does.”
Opponents and critics of Alex Jones among reporters and commentators in the media vastly outnumber any supporters by a factor of at least 100 to one. And yet, Jones’s reach -- via his daily program on terrestrial radio, which is also available courtesy of free live audio and video streams on the Internet, and via audio and video podcasts on various platforms -- continues to grow. As of April 2017, Jones’s daily show is listed as the eighth most popular talk program streaming on the Internet. On June 17, 2017, Alexa.com ranked Jones’s Infowars.com as the 836th most popular U.S. Web site. Views of his videos on the Alex Jones YouTube channel are reported to be in excess of 1.3 billion, with over 32 million views in the last 30 days. Guests on Jones’s program in the past year have included more mainstream individuals than in previous times including Tucker Carlson, Dinesh D’Souza, Jerome Corsi, Michael Savage, Ron Paul, Rand Paul, and Donald Trump. In a December 2015 live interview on Jones’s program, then-candidate Donald Trump said to his host “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”
Alex Jones and Megyn Kelly, Austin Texas June 6, 2017
People following this story – fans of Alex Jones and Infowars, media critics, journalists, network executives, and followers of Megyn Kelly (her Twitter account has 2.34 million followers) – are eagerly awaiting the broadcast of Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly at 7 PM/6 PM CDT on the evening of June 18. As the New York Post and other media reported on June 15, Kelly “has completely overhauled her Sunday night show featuring Alex Jones, inviting Sandy Hook families on the program and editing her interview with Jones to be tougher on him, following all the backlash this week.”
The New York Post article continued:
A source told us, “NBC was scrambling to find a way out of this mess without having to back down and cancel Sunday’s episode of Megyn’s show. Megyn and her producers made numerous calls to the Sandy Hook families this week to ask them to appear on the show. Some refused because they didn’t think appearing on her show would do enough to counter Alex Jones’ venom.”
Ratings for the program will be available on Monday afternoon, as will critics’s reviews and untold numbers of responses pro and con expected to be posted online by the viewing public immediately after the broadcast.
It promises to be interesting Stay tuned for further developments.
Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran journalist who writes about national politics, media, popular culture, and health care. His bio with links to many of his writings can be accessed here.