From the moment NBC News announced their newest star anchor Megyn Kelly would be sitting down with renowned fabulist and deadbeat father Alex Jones, nearly everyone agreed it was a very, very bad idea.
Jones — proprietor of the online clearinghouse of conspiracy theories, anti-government psychobabble and racist drivel known as Infowars — makes a living preying upon an audience that has been primed for years to distrust the media. It’s Jones who first amplified the lie that the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut was a government-sponsored hoax. (Indeed, parents of the children murdered at Sandy Hook have been among the more vocal critics of NBC’s decision to give Jones a national platform to spread his vitriol.)
Jones also continues to endanger children by convincing their parents that vaccines are dangerous.
But NBC has held its ground, arguing that Jones, for all of his moral and ethical deficiencies, is a newsmaker worthy of primetime coverage. Kelly herself has defended the decision, saying in a statement that her “goal in sitting down with him was to shine a light — as journalists are supposed to do — on this influential figure, and yes—to discuss the considerable falsehoods he has promoted with near impunity.” And of course there’s the ratings, which promise to be big thanks to the “exclusive” nature of the interview.
Or at least that was the thinking. But on Thursday, Jones released secretly-recorded audio from his pre-interview with Kelly, wherein the NBC host can be heard trying to convince Jones to sit for the interview in the first place. The recordings are somewhat embarrassing for NBC and for Kelly—at one point she assures him “I really just want to talk about you. Take the measure of the man. This is your chance to tell people who you are.”—but pre-interviews are commonplace in broadcast journalism.
Far more concerning for NBC and Kelly is Jones’ threat to release the full audio from his entire interview, which he claims to have also recorded in secret. After weathering days of criticism and frantically trying to salvage their interview and assuage nervous advertisers, NBC News might somehow get scooped on their own exclusive by its very subject.
Don’t for a second feel bad for NBC News, though. This is entirely a debacle of their own making, and failure of this magnitude is exactly what the network deserves.
NBC fell into the same trap that upended CBS’s Scott Pelley and 60 Minutes in March. The news magazine sat down with pro-Trump wackadoo—and Alex Jones disciple—Mike Cernovich, who refused to acknowledge even the most basic facts. As Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel wrote at the time:
Pelley, like other legacy journalists who are unfamiliar or only lightly acquainted with the meme-wielding arm of the right, confronted the pro-Trump Upside Down media without an understanding of its cardinal rule: The New Right media isn’t just an opposition force to the mainstream media — it’s a parallel institution armed with its own set of facts that insists on its own reality.
Walking into an interview armed with cold, verifiable truth is no longer the ace in the hole it once was. Once upon a time, confronting a serial liar with facts and demanding he produce evidence to support his claims was enough to get him laughed off the stage and out of the spotlight. But those rules only apply to those who live on the same plane of existence as the rest of us. For Jones and his ilk, such trivialities as fact and truth are meaningless when presented by sources they deem untrustworthy or malicious. Like the 60 Minutes crew, Kelly walked into her interview unprepared and ill-equipped to disarm or discredit Jones.