Fake news. Conspiracies. Old-fashioned propaganda. Whatever label you choose, it’s had a gangbusters week — and it’s only Tuesday.
Making tsunami-sized waves across the media is Megyn Kelly’s forthcoming sit-down interview with fringe radio personality Alex Jones, whose specialty is politically motivated conspiracy theories — such as Hillary Clinton running a child sex-trafficking ring out of a pizza parlor, Barack Obama creating ISIS, and the creeping fungus we should all beware that’s killing Americans.
But it’s his appearance with Kelly this Sunday on NBC that has kickstarted a new round of outrage, and in a time when you’d think we’d be all tapped out.
Teasers for the show suggest Jones is slated to once again argue that the heartbreaking 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax staged by gun-control advocates to further their cause. Ads for the show picture the stout Jones seated in front of a waving American flag, the logo for his Infowars.com show behind him.
“As an advertiser, I’m repulsed that @megynkelly would give a second of airtime to someone who says Sandy Hook and Aurora are hoaxes. Why?,” asked Kristin Lemkau, JP Morgan Chase chief marketing officer on Twitter. The company has pulled its advertising from the upcoming episode of “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly.”
The nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise foundation disinvited Kelly as host of its annual gala Wednesday in Washington. #ShameOnNBC began trending. Photos of the children who were slain by a lone gunman were posted next to comments of grief and outrage aimed at Kelly.
It’s doubtful that this is the sort of attention the former Fox News host was looking for while staking her claim in the mainstream media as a Barbara Walters-type interview journalist; the news personality who banks her reputation on landing those hard-to-get, exclusive “event” interviews.
Then why, oh why, make the misguided choice of inviting a political propagandist whose rantings are regularly available on radio, YouTube and any dark den of far-right Internet conspiracy?
Because Kelly, and apparently NBC, high off ratings from her event-less Vladimir Putin interview last week, lost all news judgment.
This isn’t Walters with the Menendez brothers or Anwar Sadat. It’s a former Fox News host, with a fake news peddler who is using the murder of children to make a pro-gun argument.
Had this been an investigative segment into the various lobbies or interests backing him, or how his claims have terrorized the parents of the slain children (they are continually victimized by Jones’ fellow “truthers”), or the myriad ways in which the fake news/far-right propaganda that Jones peddles influenced the 2016 election, the reaction might have been different.
Still, if the interview isn’t pulled, the increasingly loud uproar could have the effect of giving Kelly her highest ratings ever. On Father’s Day, no less. A cynical win at best.
Kelly isn’t behind the only high-profile television event where propaganda passes for entertainment and/or news.
Showtime’s four-hour special, “The Putin Interviews,” features former KGB head Vladimir Putin palling around with the who-killed-“JFK” director Oliver Stone: “... why did you bother to hack the election then?” asks Stone. Putin looks at his nails nonchalantly: “We did not hack the election at all.” And then they watch “Dr. Strangelove” together.
And, on Monday, in a ring-kissing ceremony disguised as a Cabinet meeting, the only thing on the agenda appeared to be praising Trump — and the “blessing” of serving under him. Putin couldn’t have orchestrated a better state-sponsored ad and have every media outlet in the free world broadcast it.
Beyond the excellent comedic material it’s all provided (see: Stephen Colbert’s interview with Stone, or the satirical “Cabinet meeting” video by Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer), Kelly’s interview with Jones crosses a particularly queasy boundary.
Nelba Marquez-Greene, whose daughter was killed in the mass shooting, tweeted a photo of her bright-eyed daughter with this: “Here you go @megynkelly — her name is Ana Grace Márquez-Greene. Say her name — stare at this & tell me it’s worth it. @nbc#SandyHook”
One truther replied: “I’d like to know why cops pronounced bodies dead instead of hospitals & why bodies were kept til late nite & removed secretly. Who does that”
NBC, and Kelly in particular, know the reputation of Jones and his followers.
The Sandy Hook deniers regularly harass the parents of the slain children, calling them liars and threatening them with violence. A woman was recently sentenced to prison for such threats.
Yet the same network who gave us Tom Brokaw and “Meet the Press” still chose to give a professional fabricator their coveted Sunday time-slot.
You could argue, perhaps, that Kelly will be tough on him. Clips for the upcoming segment show a stern Kelly pressing Jones: “When you say parents faked their children’s death, people get very angry.” “But no one cares about the thousands of dead Iraqis,” he says. “That’s a dodge,” she says.
Jones is calling for the interview to be pulled because he says Kelly misrepresented his views regarding the school massacre. But if the segment is anything like her interview with Putin last week, Jones need not worry.
Without putting Jones’ dangerous Sandy Hook conspiracy in a wider context a la “60 Minutes” (her Sunday night competition), it legitimizes Jones beyond the small pool of Infowars and the slightly bigger pond of Fox.
Responding to the criticism, Kelly tweeted she wanted to “2 shine a light” on the man behind Infowars, a show President Trump gets his information from when not watching Fox or reading Breitbart. Trump, in fact, granted Infowars White House press credentials.
The light, however, seems to be shining back at Kelly and her poor news judgment. The Jones interview is not “a get,” it’s a travesty.
Kelly has been a journalist long enough to know better. Perhaps blinded by ratings, she chose to give voice to the worst kind of propagandist.
Forget Jones. It’s the kids — their pigtails, sparkly hair clips and toothless first-grader smiles — we need to remember.
‘Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly’
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Rating: Not rated