Megyn Kelly and NBC News do hit job on Alex Jones and Trump
After two weeks of hype and controversy that preceded it, the episode of Megyn Kelly's prime-time NBC program, Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, featuring Kelly's profile of and interview with Alex Jones, finally aired on the network Sunday night at 7 P.M. E.T. The network's executives, NBC's competitors, television critics, journalists, and many interested viewers who have been following the story are now awaiting the overnight ratings – the ultimate bottom line – that will be available on Monday afternoon.
Kelly and her producers at NBC News obviously presumed that their decision to focus on Alex Jones, the much maligned talk show host whose high-traffic Infowars website is usually described by the mainstream media (MSM) as ground zero for bogus and dangerous conspiracy theories, would generate impressive ratings for her new show. Kelly is in the initial stages of needing to prove her audience-pulling power on broadcast TV after abandoning her successful prime-time spot at the Fox News cable channel early last January. At that time, she jumped to NBC News, where she is reportedly being paid at least $15 million annually to become a marquee presence at the network – and to make Comcast, which owns NBC, big profits (the name of the game in television news these days).
There were two elements to the pre-Megyn Kelly/Alex Jones show controversies. First, the selection of Alex Jones as a subject for a profile that would be watched by millions did not go over well with Jones's numerous critics, especially a number of relatives of deceased victims of the shooting rampage in 2012 at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Conn. that left 20 elementary school children and six adults dead. Like his initial questioning of the "truth" behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Jones's comments and allegations in the months after the Sandy Hook massacre, perceived by many as inconsistent and erratic, struck a deep nerve that continues to throb almost five years later.
Second was Jones's bombshell announcement on June 14 that he had secretly (and apparently legally, according to Texas law) recorded Megyn Kelly's phone calls to him during which she obsequiously promoted the idea of his appearing on her show. Jones also claimed that he had made his own recordings – again legally – of the four hours of interviews Kelly did with him (as a hedge against what he expected would be her selective editing of his comments to make him look bad). Jones posted audio of two of his and Kelly's conversations and promised to make audio of the complete unedited interview available later. All of this quickly resulted in a firestorm of criticism – not so much of Jones, but of Kelly!
Even before the June 18 broadcast, a variety of mainstream journalists and analysts were weighing in with stinging critiques of Kelly and her show, an apparent case of MSM elitists eating one of their own. Or maybe the cadre of left-leaning self-appointed opinion-makers never forgave Kelly for having worked for almost a decade at the conservative cable television channel they all hated: Fox News. Typical of this reporting was a June 17 article at CNN.com by Dylan Byars titled "How NBC botched the Megyn Kelly rollout."
In 2015, [Kelly] told Variety, "Barbara Walters has retired, Diane Sawyer left her anchor role. Oprah has moved to the OWN network and is doing a different thing now. So why not me?"
What the first month of "Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly" has shown is that wanting to be Walters, Sawyer or Winfrey does not necessarily make it so.
Indeed, Alex Jones's phone conversations with Kelly, uploaded to his YouTube channel, show Kelly sounding more like a duplicitous, smarmy poseur than a hard-hitting investigative journalist as she appears to promise Jones a non-confrontational, even sympathetic, portrait on her show. In reality, once she and her production crew arrived in Austin, Texas on June 6 for the interviews, she tried to sandbag Jones by repeating allegations, and barraging him with questions based on her belief that he is a dangerous purveyor of sensational, made up, and harmful conspiracies, Sandy Hook in particular.
While the Sandy Hook shootings and Jones's insensitive and confusing comments about Sandy Hook are not an inappropriate topic of investigation, Kelly's show was originally promoted to Alex Jones and to the public as a fair and balanced profile of Jones, the leading new media phenom, in which Jones could have his say. Kelly implied if not stated outright that her program would not be primarily an exposé into Jones's past reporting and commentary about Sandy Hook. That is not at all how the show turned out.
Megyn Kelly Reports on Alex Jones and "Infowars": The review
Like Kelly's interview with Vladimir Putin two weeks earlier, which she was not as totally able to control as her encounter with Alex Jones, Kelly's reporting on Jones amounted to a predictable big yawn. In terms of actual substance, it revealed few new insights. What it was – and Jones was correct to anticipate this – was a major network television news hit piece – an instant classic of the genre – that skillfully edited hours of interviews and "B roll" taping down to 17 minutes of highly stylized, slick, one-sided audio-visual demagoguery. The Jones segment made generous use of state-of-the-art, masterfully manipulating video production wizardry. Obnoxiously short sound bites, jump cuts, an uncountable number of edits, stage lighting and camera angles used as weapons, the thermostat turned up to make the interview subject sweat – these and other tricks were all present in abundance and amounted to a "high-tech lynching." Mother Teresa herself could have been made to look bad if she had been subjected to techniques of this kind.
As the pre-show controversy about the episode heated up (including Kelly being uninvited to host the annual gala event sponsored by Sandy Hook Promise in Washington, D.C. on June 14), it was reported that NBC was "scrambling" to re-edit the Jones segment to make him look worse while making Kelly appear tougher and more convincing as a journalist. Additionally, some of the relatives of the victims of Sandy Hook were reportedly invited to participate in a new taping for the purpose of showing how Jones's comments had hurt them. A number of the relatives declined the invitation, and only one young victim's father was featured in the June 18 broadcast.
At the end of Kelly's program, former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, 77, was resuscitated and rolled out to pontificate about "Taking a Stand Against Hate." This pervasive "hate," Brokaw insisted, is caused by the proliferation on the internet of toxic news, disinformation, and hate speech by the likes of numerous right-wing hate-mongers like Alex Jones. It was at that point that I shouted out at the decrepit electronic image of Brokaw and started looking around for a shoe to throw at the TV.
A surprising and disgusting element of the program was the allotment of about one quarter of the Alex Jones segment, coming at the very start of the piece, to an attempt to link President Donald Trump to Jones and Infowars, as in cause and effect. Employing expert editing once again, it was made to appear that Jones is the noxious alt-right tail wagging the malleable presidential dog. These elements looked as though they had been added during last-minute editing in order to deflect criticism of Kelly and to earn her cachet with the anti-Trump "resist" audience.
A plethora of articles about and reviews of Kelly's program with Alex Jones appeared online shortly after the broadcast ended on the east coast. Citing a selection of them, Business Insider claimed, "Early reviews praise Megyn Kelly's controversial interview with far-right provocateur Alex Jones." Independent observers outside the swamp of New York and Washington, D.C. would be better served by watching the video of the program themselves and making up their own minds.
Notwithstanding what the ratings for this third outing of Kelly's weekly program will ultimately reveal, the loser here will likely be Megyn Kelly. Alex Jones is an archetype of the provocative personality for whom any publicity – even negative stories – turns out to be good, as the saying goes, as long as his name is spelled correctly. In light of this new level of network TV exposure, Jones stands to gain many new listeners, viewers, and website visitors. One can imagine lots of people who never heard of Alex Jones before checking out his websites and programs.
In contrast, Megyn Kelly's career path at NBC and her reach for a higher level of visibility and credibility – an attempt to make her on-air work rise from the mundane to the rarified level of appointment television like what Oprah Winfrey's syndicated show once enjoyed – may have fallen flat. One can easily imagine millions of Oprah Winfrey's dedicated fans thinking, "I knew Oprah Winfrey. Oprah Winfrey was a friend of mine. And Megyn, you are no Oprah Winfrey!"
Considering the longer term, Jones is in touch with and riding the wave of a powerful new meme that's gaining currency worldwide. Its adherents believe that the game is stacked against the middle class as powerful and often unseen Deep State actors, globalists, the media, academia, popular culture, government bureaucracies, and other corrupt players conspire to transform for the worse life as we know it. Peaceful opposition to this onslaught is, as Jones has defined it, the Infowar. The internet and the new media are making more plausible a worldwide wake-up call and a paradigm shift in information, awareness, and action. And they aren't going away.
Meanwhile, one wonders what the NBC suits are thinking now about their widely reported $15-million-plus investment in their new golden girl, Megyn Kelly. She is decidedly not an Infowarrior or open in the least to the emerging new paradigm. And as her work at NBC is demonstrating, she is not even a good journalist.
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.