Megyn Kelly got hammered last week for her decision to interview right-wing nutjob Alex Jones — despite the fact that nobody had actually seen the interview. If only her critics had waited. (Nobody waits anymore.)
Well, the segment ran last night on her NBC News show, and guess what: Kelly repeatedly detailed his repugnant serial lies. She reminded us — as if we should need reminding — that demagogues need to be confronted, that it’s delusional to think that ignoring them will somehow make them go away.
According to last week’s knee-jerk Twitter-meme, Kelly was torpedoing her new job, and further debasing our debased civic dialogue, by “raising the profile” of the Trumpian conspiracy freak who spews hate on his website Infowars. But that argument was dead wrong.
For starters, Jones’ profile has long been high – under the mainstream radar. Trolls and other credulous souls already know who he is; in November ’16, his YouTube rants drew 83 million viewers. The people who aren’t familiar with Jones are likely to be consumers of mainstream news outlets like NBC. They need to know who this guy is; they need to be aware of the war he wages against rational thought. That was precisely the public service Kelly performed last night.
Her critics somehow assumed that by putting Jones on the air, she’d gift him a puff piece. If they’d shown patience, and waited to see the actual segment, they would’ve heard her opening words: “His baseless allegations aren’t just offensive, they’re dangerous.” That set the tone.
Kelly confronted him for the remarks he made right after the terrorist bombing in Manchester, England. (He’d ridiculed the victims — kids and teens — as “liberal trendies.”) Kelly narrated, “Jones did what he always does. Jump mouth-first into controversy.” Then she demanded that he explain his smear. His response: “The ages of the victims weren’t known, and I saw ‘jihadi’ [on the news], and I thought ‘How crazy is it that liberal trendies are now the victims?'” To which Kelly said, “That pattern — reckless accusation followed by equivocations and excuses — is classic Alex Jones.”
She confronted him for his lies about the Washington pizza store that supposedly ran a Clinton pedophile racket in its basement; and for his lies about Chobani Yogurt, whose employes had supposedly committed a sexual assault in Idaho. (Chobani sued him and extracted an apology.) But the main event was her duel with Jones over the remarks he’s made about the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
Jones has long inexplicably insisted that little kids didn’t really die in Newtown; as he said on his website, two years after the massacre, “The whole thing was fake. I did deep research and, my gosh, it just pretty much didn’t happen.”
In the NBC segment, Kelly read the latter sentence back to Jones and challenged him to defend it. The ensuing exchange laid bare his toxic mentality.
Jones: “I knew there was some coverup and some manipulation. That is pretty much what I believed …”
Kelly: “If you wrongly went out there and said it was a hoax, that’s wrong.”
Jones: “Listeners and other people are covering this. I didn’t create that story.”
Kelly: “But Alex, the parents. One after the other. Devastated. The dead bodies that the coroner autopsied.”
Jones: “And they blocked all that, they won’t release any of it.”
Kelly: “All of the parents decided to come out and lie about their dead children? What happened to the children?”
Jones: “I will sit there on the air and play devil’s advocate.”
Kelly: “Was that devil’s advocate? That the whole thing was a hoax, the whole thing was fake?”
Jones: (Long pause.) “Yes, because I remember, even that day, from memory, saying, ‘Some of it looks like it’s real, but then they’ve got the kids going in and out of the building in a circle with their hands up.’ I watched the footage. It looks like a drill.”
Kelly: “When you say parents faked their children’s deaths, people get very angry.”
Jones: “Oh, I know. But they don’t angry about the half-million dead Iraqis from the sanctions, they don’t get angry about all the illegals pouring in —”
Kelly: “That’s a dodge.”
Jones: “That’s not a dodge. The media never covers all the evil wars, the big things —”
Kelly: “That doesn’t excuse what you said and did about Newtown.”
Jones: “Here’s the difference, here’s the difference. I looked at all the angles of Newtown. And I made my statements long before the media even picked up on it … I tend to believe [now] that children probably did die there, but then you look at all the evidence on the other side, I can see how other people believe that nobody died there.”
Kelly: (voiceover to the viewer) “Of course, there is no evidence on the other side.”
I don’t mean to imply that Megyn Kelly is Edward R. Murrow, but what she did last night was in the tradition of the CBS icon’s on-air takedown of demagogue Joseph McCarthy in 1954. Should Murrow have stayed silent, for fear of “raising McCarthy’s profile” and “giving him a platform”? In truth, that journalistic reckoning came too late, long after McCarthy was allowed to rampage unchallenged. Kelly, by putting Jones on her show, did what should’ve been done years ago.
Nobody knows this better than Charlie Sykes, a former conservative talk-show host who views people like Jones as a threat to legit conservatism. Sykes writes, “For years, we imagined that we could simply ignore the crackpots because they were postcards from the fringe. But I’m haunted by this question: Had we done more to expose the viciously dishonest, might things have turned out differently? [If] Jones had been exposed as the lunatic charlatan he is, perhaps not even Donald Trump would have deigned to be associated with him.”
All told, “We would naturally prefer not to reckon with the worst of what people do or say, but we have to.”
At least Megyn Kelly tried, better late than never.