Megyn Kelly | Media Matters for America

Megyn Kelly

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  • Laura Ingraham’s attack on David Hogg is nothing new. Fox has been mocking students and children for years. 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On March 28, Fox News host Laura Ingraham tweeted a link to a Daily Wire article pointing out that Parkland survivor David Hogg was rejected by several colleges and accused him of whining about it. Ingraham’s attack on the teenage mass-shooting survivor is far from a shocking development given her and her Fox News colleagues' repeated slandering of the shooting victims. 

    In the month and a half since the shooting in Parkland, FL, Ingraham herself has said the Parkland students should not be given “special consideration” on gun policy; told her viewers that the March 14 student walkout wasn’t some sort of “organic outpouring of youthful rage,” but rather “nothing but a left-wing, anti-Trump diatribe”; and complained that anti-abortion protesters didn’t get the same attention. Two of Fox’s other primetime hosts, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, both dismissed the students as pawns being manipulated by gun control advocates. Carlson went a step further, calling the students “self-righteous kids” who “weren’t helping at all” and comparing them to Mao's Red Guards. The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, who is also a Fox News contributor, dismissed the students as just “children, not founts of wisdom,” and Fox & Friends Weekend host Pete Hegseth responded to the student-organized March For Our Lives by angrily commenting, “Spare me if I don't want to hear the sanctimoniousness of a 17-year-old.” Fox’s sustained and hostile attacks on students in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting fit right into the network’s years-long pattern of insulting and belittling students and children.

    Fox’s attacks on students and children go back years

    In 2017, two Fox employees attacked 8-year-olds in the course of five months. In May, after a young boy followed Vice President Mike Pence to ask for an apology for bumping into him, Tammy Bruce called the child a “snowflake” who “needed a safe space” and said he “pretty much stalked the vice president afterward.” Months later, Rachel Campos-Duffy smeared a football team of 8-year-olds as “shameful” for kneeling during the national anthem at a football game.

    Fox figures have consistently insulted college students and mocked them for attempting to make changes to their colleges and universities. A 2012 Fox panel dismissed students as “immature and irrational” after they attempted to persuade their school to divest from fossil fuels. In 2015, Fox contributor Judith Miller insulted student protesters, asking, “You want a safe space? Stay in your playpen,” and Fox anchor Martha MacCallum dismissed students’ push for safe spaces in response to racial injustice, suggesting that “if they want to see the violation of a safe space,” then they should “visit ground zero.” In 2016, then-Fox contributor George Will labeled students “snowflakes, these fragile little creatures who melt at the first sign of the heat of controversy.” Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle laughed at students’ activism on offensive terminology and mockingly asked if an injured horse should “get a lawyer because the horse is offended” by being called “lame.” In September 2017, a Fox contributor derided college students who sought mental health care and compared them to teenage soldiers in WWII. Just two months ago, Fox & Friends ran a selectively edited hit piece against college students created by the conservative activist group Campus Reform. The show further edited the video and showed students' responses without giving sufficient context to the nature of the questions posed to them, making the students look ill-informed.

    Fox personalities have targeted some of the most vulnerable students with vicious, racist, and anti-LGBT attacks

    In 2015, Fox personalities repeatedly besmirched 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, a Texas student arrested after bringing a homemade clock mistaken for a bomb to school. Then-Fox reporter Anna Kooiman claimed that Mohamed “might not be as innocent as he seems,” backing up her claim by noting that teen was once caught “blowing bubbles in the bathroom” at school. Fox contributor Mark Fuhrman, famous for committing perjury and spewing racial epithets during the OJ Simpson trial, assured viewers that he didn’t “feel sorry for Ahmed,” adding that the child seemed “passive aggressive” to him. Another contributor, Mike Gallagher, repeatedly compared Mohamed’s homemade clock to a bomb and suggested that the student should have been more "forthcoming" when he was interrogated by the police. And Brian Kilmeade asked whether Mohamed might be “extort[ing]” his former school district by suing.  

    Fox often attacks children who have immigrated to the United States or whose parents are immigrants. Fox personalities have repeatedly used the derogatory term “anchor baby” to belittle the children of immigrants. Tucker Carlson once responded to the notion that it is the United States' legal obligation to educate children who come into the country by saying, "But what about the rights of the kids who were born here?” Fox Business Networks’ Brenda Buttner questioned whether parents should be concerned with "a surge of up to 60,000 illegal kids in their classrooms." Buttner exclaimed, "Forget the Ebola scare. Is it really the back to school scare?" In 2016, Fox’s Heather Nauert and Brian Kilmeade slammed several refugee students who sued a school district in Pennsylvania after alleging their educational needs weren’t being met. Kilmeade smeared the students as “ungrateful,” and Nauert mocked their request, commenting that “going to our schools for free” was “apparently… not good enough for them.”

    Fox hosts have also used their shows to attack transgender students. In 2013, during a conversation about a California bill aimed at allowing transgender students to use facilities and play on sports teams that correspond to their gender identities, Fox host Greg Gutfeld mocked the “gender-confused students” that would benefit from the bill. Two years later, in 2015, then-Fox host Megyn Kelly asserted that accepting transgender students causes “confusion” for other students.

    Fox employees have also gone after other groups of students. In 2014, Fox News' "Medical A-Team" member Dr. Keith Ablow claimed that middle school girls can "certainly provoke" harassment by wearing leggings to school. In 2015, Megyn Kelly labeled a group of protesters in Missouri “angry black students.” That same year, the hosts of Fox News’ Outnumbered lamented that overweight children are allowed to feel confident in their bodies. Fox’s Sandra Smith bemoaned that kids “feel good about themselves when they shouldn’t.”

    As David Hogg demands accountability for Laura Ingraham’s bullying, it is clear that Ingraham’s behavior was not a mistake or an anomaly, but representative of her network at large.

  • The attacks on Jane Fonda show who Megyn Kelly really is

    Megyn “Santa just is white” Kelly called Fonda “a woman whose name is synonymous with outrage” 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Megyn Kelly may be an NBC host now, but her January 22 monologue about actress Jane Fonda reveals how little Kelly has deviated from her signature Fox News diatribes.

    This morning, Kelly devoted a three-minute monologue to attacking Fonda, a former guest on her show, and largely focused on the actress’ radical anti-Vietnam War activism in the 1970s. Kelly’s monologue exhibited classic Fox News feigned outrage about a guest Kelly seemed to originally have no problem booking. “This is a woman whose name is synonymous with outrage. ... She has no business lecturing anyone on what qualifies as offensive,” Kelly said.

    The attack on Fonda appeared to be in response to a comment Fonda made during an interview she and her Netflix costar Lily Tomlin did on Today last week. During the January 16 interview with anchors Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie, Fonda made a joking aside referencing her interview with Kelly last September in which Kelly had awkwardly asked Fonda about her past plastic surgery. At the time, Fonda had deflected the question and had instead discussed the film she was promoting. Fonda has since spoken about the embarrassing exchange several times, noting she would still return to the show if Kelly “comes around and learns her stuff.”

    NBC reportedly pays Kelly an annual salary of $18 million to host her hour of Today featuring interviews and monologues like the one this morning. She will be co-hosting the network’s State of the Union address coverage next week.

    During her time as a Fox News host, Kelly was known for delivering race-baiting and anti-feminist rants, including dismissing campus sexual assault, declaring a black teenage girl attacked by Texas police was “no saint,” and insisting that Santa Claus and Jesus Christ were both white. A former Fox colleague reportedly told Yashar Ali that her monologue this morning “just shows that [Fox News] never made her do anything… this is who she is.”

    From the January 22 edition of NBC’s Megyn Kelly Today:

    MEGYN KELLY (HOST): Look, I gave her the chance to empower other women, young and old, on a subject which she purports to know well. And she rejected it. That’s OK. But I have no regrets about that question. Nor am I on the market for a lesson from Jane Fonda on what is and is not appropriate. After all, this is a woman whose name is synonymous with outrage. Look at her treatment of our military during the Vietnam War. Many of our veterans still call her “Hanoi Jane” thanks to her radio broadcast which attempted to shame American troops. She posed on an anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down our American pilots. She called our POWs hypocrites and liars, and referred to their torture as understandable. Even she had to apologize years later for that gun picture, but not for the rest of it. By the way, she still says she is not proud of America. So the moral indignation is a little much. She put her plastic surgery out there. She said she wanted to discuss the plight of older women in America. And honestly, she has no business lecturing anyone on what qualifies as offensive.

  • Megyn Kelly Today needs you to forget how she built her career

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Megyn Kelly -- the former Fox News host who NBC hoped would become the latest star in the network’s firmament -- opened the premiere episode of her new morning talk show, Megyn Kelly Today, by laughing at the idea that she might devote time to her sometimes foe President Donald Trump’s latest remarks. “The truth is, I am kind of done with politics for now,” she told a live studio audience with a smile.

    During the hour that followed, Kelly offered up a panoply of typical morning show fare -- a synergistic but wooden sit-down with the stars of Will and Grace, returning to the network’s airwaves this week; a soft-focus piece on a Chicago nun who is “cleaning up her streets”; and Oprah-esque “surprises” for members of the audience, for her guests, and for Kelly herself. Along the way, Kelly sought to wash away her past work and rebrand herself as a joyful and upbeat bringer of hope.

    Kelly devoted much of her opening monologue to crafting an origin story, trying to connect with her morning show audience by describing her upbringing, her parents, the death of her father, and her career. “I went on to become a TV anchor. And that was good, until it wasn't,” she explained. “So much division. So much outrage. And I wasn't happy,” she said of the 2016 presidential election. “For years I had dreamed of hosting a more uplifting show,” Kelly added. She said the dream was answered by NBC, which allowed her to host the new morning show, “whose mission would be to deliver hope and optimism and inspiration and empowerment.”

    This isn’t the first time Kelly has castigated -- and sought to separate herself from -- the rancor of political discourse. But this rising wave of vitriol didn’t emerge fully formed in 2016, and Kelly was no mere onlooker to the trend -- she was one of its foremost beneficiaries. Kelly spent years at Fox News, a network built on the division and outrage she now decries. And her raw talent for playing on the racial anxieties and resentments of her audience helped make her a Fox star.

    Kelly has always been a savvy self-promoter, and during her time at Fox she drew fawning profiles from reporters who focused on her “Megyn moment” takedowns of right-wing guests and her sympathetic confrontation with a brutish, vulgar Trump rather than her larger body of work. If you push her, she’ll still defend the work she did at Fox, and she refuses to criticize her past employers. As her premiere shows, she’d rather not talk about it, and would rather you wouldn’t either. She is no doubt hoping that this latest effort at self-re-creation will produce more uncritical media coverage -- and an audience for her NBC show.

    But what may trip her up is that this rebranding requires us all to forget that this isn’t the first NBC program Kelly has debuted this year. “As you know, I am the new kid here on The Rock,” Kelly said at the top of a pre-taped segment in which she hung out with her “new Today family.” But while Kelly may not have previously had the opportunity to ride bicycles to work with Al Roker or make eggs with Matt Lauer, she’s been in the NBC studios for months, working on Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, a newsmagazine program the network had hoped would be its answer to CBS’ 60 Minutes.

    Kelly may now be promoting her morning show by saying she’s “kind of done with politics.” But just a few months ago, she was championing her journalistic bona fides on the Sunday Night press tour. “I've spent enough time staring at the refrigerator, it's time to do some news,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in April. The program launched with an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin and also featured a sit-down with the pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

    But Sunday Night was a flop -- a boring show that never found an audience, routinely losing its time slot not only to 60 Minutes, but also to reruns of America’s Funniest Home Videos, before NBC pulled the plug and put the show on hiatus two episodes early in July. The program exposed Kelly’s weaknesses when cut off from the outrage sensibility that made her reputation: She lacks creativity in putting together an interesting show and range in interviewing nonpolitical guests.

    Sunday Night’s failure was bad for NBC’s reputation, but as a relatively inexpensive show in a low-profile time slot, it was hardly cataclysmic for the network. Megyn Kelly Today, however, represents a sizable bet from NBC that Kelly will be able to bring credit and ratings to the network’s high-profile, moneymaking franchise. “If she doesn’t [succeed], it’ll be a disaster for NBC,” a news-industry veteran told Vanity Fair earlier this month.

    It was an ominous sign for the network that Kelly has already proved she lacks a built-in audience that will follow her from show to show. What’s worse for NBC is that the very skills Sunday Night exposed Kelly as lacking are crucial for daytime talk shows. And that competitive market has been the career graveyard of any number of previously successful TV hosts.

  • Megyn Kelly's new show is NBC's worst nightmare: It's boring

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 9, after a week in which President Donald Trump had unloaded on CNN, the Senate struggled to assemble legislation to repeal Obamacare, and The New York Times had revealed that the president’s son had met with Russian agents as part of their government’s pro-Trump election effort, Megyn Kelly -- NBC’s pricey new hire and the centerpiece of their revamped lineup -- sat down for an interview. Her subject wasn’t a politician or a business leader, a lawyer with insight into the Trump administration’s legal troubles or a wonk prepared to diagnose Congress’ flailing attempts at health care reform. Instead, Kelly’s guest on her struggling newsmagazine program, Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, was affable, red-headed English singer Ed Sheeran, who was about to make a cameo appearance on HBO’s Game of Thrones.

    They talked about Sheeran’s childhood shyness and why he thinks he became a success. At the end of it all, Kelly had elicited the revelation that Sheeran stopped carrying a cellphone last year, which he considers a “pretty amazing” development. And more than any hard-won insight into Sheeran’s stage fright, the audience was left with a pressing question: Megyn Kelly, arguably one of the buzziest cable stars of the 2016 election, a woman who prompted a bidding war when her contract was up, left Fox News to do this?

    Kelly was one of the undisputed media winners of the presidential election cycle, taking the industry by storm after her August 2015 primary debate question roasting Trump over his misogyny triggered a vicious response from the Republican front-runner. Always a savvy self-promoter, Kelly parlayed her turn in the spotlight into a series of incandescent profiles and a billing as her network’s biggest star. By luring her away from Fox, NBC’s executives surely thought they had acquired one of the biggest talents of her generation, someone who could help the network dominate the ratings for years to come.

    But as Kelly’s attempts to pivot have suggested, much of her appeal depended on her context. Her star power derived from her ability to play to Fox News’ penchant for racial grievance, while showily pushing back on especially retrograde displays of sexism. But that unmatched proficiency in projecting outrage covered over other significant deficiencies. On a larger stage, Kelly’s tried to be like many other anchors, seeking to become the “next Matt Lauer” or the “new Oprah.”  In the process, she’s shed what made her distinct, and turned in a show that ought to be NBC’s worst nightmare: It’s boring.

    Kelly signed on with NBC because the network offered her the most freedom to do the type of programming she wanted. "I'm thrilled now to be able to anchor the kinds of broadcasts that I'd always dreamed I'd be able to do, that I felt in my heart I was born to do," she said in May.

    The kinds of broadcasts Kelly wanted turned out to be the ones everyone else is already doing: three to five segments per show, each of which features Kelly or one of the rotating cast of NBC contributors doing reports NBC describes as “focused on in-depth investigations, newsmaker interviews and stories of adversity, accomplishment, inspiration and adventure.” She didn’t even bring on distinctive correspondents; instead the program relies on the network’s already-prominent talent. And the stuff of her dreams turns out to be Ambien for the rest of us.

    Her interview subjects are universally Good People and Bad People. The Good People are the ones Kelly wants to promote, like conservative author J.D. Vance, journalists Erin Andrews and Maria Menounos, several women in the tech industry who experienced sexual harassment, and the like. They receive softball questions that allow them to tell their personal stories of tragedy and triumph. The Bad People -- like Russian President Vladimir Putin or conspiracy theorist Alex Jones -- get significantly tougher questions, often built from deep research into their past statements, surrounded by interviews with their critics. Among Kelly’s carefully handpicked interview subjects, there is no complexity. There are no interviews with interesting but flawed individuals who are challenged to defend their opinions and ideas.

    By the time Kelly interviewed Vance for her June 26 broadcast, he had been in the spotlight for nearly a year. Vance’s memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, which describes the despairing hillbilly culture he grew up in as a form of social decay that does more to hold back the people of that community than economic insecurity, hit The New York Times bestseller list last August; he is an op-ed contributor at that paper, and has a talking head gig on CNN which he uses to tell his story and the lessons he believes it holds for contemporary politics. Journalists across the political spectrum have delved into his life and work with vigor.

    Faced with an interview subject whose harrowing childhood and effort to overcome those circumstances have been told over and over again by her colleagues, and with no real news hook, one might have expected Kelly to try to break new ground. Instead, her piece focused almost entirely on Vance’s biography, with Kelly asking him how he felt during particularly distressing moments and whether he is surprised by the book’s success (“When did it even occur to you that you could get into a place like Yale Law?”). Kelly’s other interviews for the segment -- with Vance’s wife, sister, and a college professor -- all served to flesh out aspects of that well-trod personal story. Vance’s work invokes ideas, but Kelly made no effort to interrogate them. She quoted a single line from an unnamed critic, allowed Vance to laugh it off, and moved on without the kind of follow-up question that any interviewer should have handy.

    When Kelly examines less familiar subject matter, her problem is not redundancy but a failure to contextualize. She introduced her viewers on July 9 to Princeton philosophy professor Sarah-Jane Leslie and New York University psychologist Andrei Cimpian, whose research finds that beginning at age six, girls become significantly more likely to identify males as smarter than females. This could have been the springboard for an in-depth discussion of the impact such gender biases may have, both for those children and in society at large. Instead, most of the segment was taken up by the NBC team recreating that study with a panel of children and showing the results to their shocked mothers, hitting the same beats over and over again, and leaving little time for the researchers to explain how this may limit girls’ choices or discuss their prior research showing that women are underrepresented in science and engineering.  

    As the show faltered, Kelly experimented with shorter interviews with celebrities, sitting down for "Q&As" with Sheeran, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, and comedian Ricky Gervais and turning out brief segments that aired in the last block of the run’s later episodes. These did not go well, and may indicate a real limit to Kelly’s range as a TV host.

    Kelly gives little indication that she has any but the most cursory understanding of who she’s interviewing. At times her questions are extremely generic -- she asked Sheeran to “complete this sentence: Success requires …” Others demonstrate a paper-thin knowledge of the subject’s background -- Kelly asked Smith about her occasionally troubled relationship with her husband, which Kelly acknowledged both have openly discussed at length; she quizzed Gervais about whether he gets “blowback” because he roasts attendees when he hosts the Golden Globes, a role he performed most recently 18 months before the interview.

    Then, inevitably, each interview ended with a lightning round of “quick hits,” a selection of the most banal questions imaginable, recycled from interview to interview, with the questions getting recycled from subject to subject. If you always wanted to hear each of the three artists divulge their favorite movie and the thing they’d most like to change about themselves, this show is for you. If you were interested in hearing them address their work in any real detail -- or if you’re even curious why Gervais’ favorite film is The Godfather -- go elsewhere, because Kelly lacks either the knowledge or the ability to draw any of them out.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Kelly didn’t become a cable news star with illuminating interviews of celebrities. She built her audience by following her network’s standard playbook, appealing to conservatives’ worst impulses and resentments, lashing out at liberals and drawing on racially-inflected rhetoric. At the same time, she was able to win plaudits from media elites with unexpected, viral “Megyn moment” takedowns of right-wing guests, positioning herself to move to a mainstream network.

    But Sunday Night is a deliberate move away from the type of show that made her a star. “One of the things I didn’t like about my old job was it was all politics,” Kelly said in a May interview with The Wall Street Journal. She promised her NBC show would have less “red meat” and “more balance.”

    Kelly may not have enjoyed doing these sorts of segments. But without them, Kelly had little to offer the fans that might have followed her to NBC.

    And whatever you thought of their content (and we at Media Matters have had plenty to say on that front), those segments were more engaging spectacles than the ones she’s putting on at NBC. Thanks to her years at Fox, Kelly is without peer at projecting outrage and generating sensational viral clips. But that talent covered up her lack of range; her weakness in showing empathy or drawing out interesting, newsy details from her interview subjects.

    There’s little to be said about Kelly’s show when she isn’t on screen. The segments from NBC’s correspondents have been workmanlike but undistinguished, and nothing about them stands out as somehow unique to the program or even influenced by Kelly’s presence -- with little change, they could have run on Dateline.

    Their subjects are standard human-interest stories, in turn heart-warming or horrifying -- the possible impacts of a scientist’s new technique, an orphan from Sierra Leone adopted by Americans who became a ballet dancer, a pharmaceutical company’s scam to get doctors to overprescribe their medication, the dangers of dental anaesthesia, one man’s effort to heal anti-immigrant divisions in his hometown. The reports lack any sense of innovation or verve beyond what one would expect from any other newsmagazine show.

    None of the stories featured on Kelly's program broke major news or had a significant impact on the news cycle; no one in journalism is talking about the great reporting coming out of Sunday Night. Kelly’s reports also made little news, and other media companies have made no significant efforts to follow up on her stories. Her only stories to garner attention were the Putin interview, which made a splash because of its subject but not Kelly’s effort, and the Jones interview, which caused a PR disaster for NBC. The program’s own segment providing “updates” on the stories that were previously covered represents an unsuccessful attempt to demonstrate a record of journalistic accomplishment.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Boring shows don’t win big audiences. Six million people tuned in for the show’s premiere, the highest viewership of the run, but still fewer than the show’s chief competitor, CBS’ venerable newsmagazine show 60 Minutes. Sunday Night never again pulled in an audience of more than 3.6 million viewers, regularly and embarrassingly losing not only to old episodes of 60 Minutes, but to reruns of America’s Funniest Home Videos.

    NBC reportedly originally planned for Kelly’s show to have a 10-episode run, then go on hiatus from the end of the summer until the spring to make way for Sunday Night Football and the network’s coverage of the Winter Olympics. While a network source denies that NBC cut the run short by airing only eight episodes, one segment teased in the program’s premiere -- an interview with MyPillow’s Mike Lindell -- never aired, and an episode of Dateline NBC, the network’s durable newsmagazine show, is scheduled to air this Sunday in Kelly’s timeslot. It would not be surprising if Sunday Night never returns.

    Sunday Night, with a limited run in a low-profile timeslot and staffed by existing NBC talent, was fundamentally a cheap, low-risk bet for the network. They tried it, it failed, and it’s already off the air.

    The real threat to NBC’s hopes for future network dominance may be realized next month, when Kelly’s NBC weekday morning show, Megyn Kelly Today, debuts. Immediately following the network’s moneymaking and ratings juggernaut, Today, and with name branding tied to that crown jewel of the NBC News family, NBC is counting on that show to succeed. NBC lost Tamron Hall, the former co-anchor of their 9 a.m. programming, after executives handed her timeslot to Kelly; she’s since become a competitor, pitching a network daytime talk show. NBC has taken heat for replacing a program hosted by two African-Americans with a white host famous for her declaration that Santa Claus and Jesus Christ were white. If Kelly’s morning show fails, it will be a disaster for the network.

    The results from Sunday Night should be an ominous sign for NBC. Kelly showed that she lacks a large audience of loyal fans willing to follow her from show to show. Kelly’s more aggressive interviews didn’t draw viewers -- the audience didn’t stick around after the Putin interview or show up in big numbers for the Jones one. But crucially for a weekday morning show, her softer interviews have been mediocre. The “Q&A” celebrity interview segments -- the sort of friendly back-and-forths that are the backbone of a morning show -- were some of the most rote and boring of the show’s run.

    NBC’s executives made a huge investment in Megyn Kelly’s career, betting on Fox News stardom that they hoped would translate to a network audience. So far that bet hasn’t panned out. NBC could afford for her to fail on Sunday nights. But a similar wipeout on weekday mornings, with Kelly nailed to one of the network’s most high-profile brands, could be a disaster.

     

    Additional research provided by Shelby Jamerson.

  • Bret Stephens and MSNBC’s hiring spree: The network keeps moving right

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update: MSNBC and Greta Van Susteren have agreed to part ways.

    MSNBC is now a pasture for pseudo-intellectual conservatives. Climate denier and Iraq War booster Bret Stephens is just the latest right-wing hire at the network.

    In recent months NBC News Chairman Andy Lack has overseen a hiring spree of right-wing pundits and former Fox News personalities. The stable includes Hugh Hewitt, Megyn Kelly, Charlie Sykes, Greta Van Susteren, and George Will. They join other conservatives at the network: Elise Jordan, Steve Schmidt, Michael Steele, Rick Tyler, Nicolle Wallace, and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough. This is to say nothing of NBC News contributor and Trump apologist Mark Halperin; and given their frequent appearances, it may be just a matter of time until David Frum, a speechwriter for then-President George W. Bush, former George W. Bush chief of staff Andy Card, and neocon Bill Kristol join the network as well.

    Compared to CNN’s boorish Trumpists or the state media apparatchiks at Fox News, the common thread among MSNBC conservatives is a certain pretentious shine. They’re frequently just arguing that President Donald Trump is the wrong type of conservative, when in fact Trump is the apotheosis of everything conservatism has been careening toward for some time. (The exception is Hugh Hewitt, who is now just a huge Trump booster after vacillating during the campaign.) 

    Many of these hires have direct, intimate connections to Bush, the most disastrous president in decades. Card, Frum, Jordan, and Wallace worked in the Bush administration, and Stephens, Kristol, Will, Scarborough, and Hewitt were all huge cheerleaders for the Iraq War. And that history matters. Two major media institutions, including a newspaper of record, are now paying Stephens essentially just to troll liberals with climate denial and to push America towards a war with Iran.

    You can separate Lack’s hiring spree into two buckets: pundits and brands. Neither offer much value in the long run. In this media environment, opinions are cheap (including mine!). Everyone has one and most of them stink. There’s no long-term return on opinions (and no lack of people wanting to get on TV to share theirs).

    Adding brands like Megyn Kelly or Greta Van Susteren is equally pointless. It’s no wonder that both of these shows have failed. There’s simply no audience for them outside the Fox News bubble. Particularly with Kelly, NBC News executives seem completely unaware that her entire show at Fox News was built around racial dog-whistling (with occasional moments of bucking the party line).

    Also, as Ryan Grim noted, it is the progressive shows that Lack hasn’t touched that are succeeding the most.

    Rather than spending all this money on right-wing pundits and big names, the true value-add for news networks now is reliable and aggressive journalism. That’s hard to do. It’s expensive. It’s time-consuming. But it’s ultimately what will define NBC News and MSNBC.

  • Megyn Kelly's Alex Jones segment shows how public pressure works

    It could have gone worse, but a competent report won't undo the damage done

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A well-deserved firestorm of denunciations from the families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting and other critics forced Megyn Kelly to turn a report that was originally billed as a self-promotional head-to-head showdown with Alex Jones into a well-edited investigation of the dangers posed by an unstable megalomaniac with millions of loyal fans, including one in the Oval Office.

    But Kelly deserves little credit -- she acted in response to overwhelming public pressure, and the network’s impotent reaction to Jones’ own grabs for media attention may allow the nation's biggest producer of conspiracy theory media to come out the winner of tonight’s program.

    At no point since Kelly teased her interview with Jones at the end of last week’s show has she or NBC been able to control the narrative spinning out of her own show. It’s a shocking failure for one of the media’s savviest manipulators of her own image, and the network that hired her.

    Immediately after last week’s Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, Sandy Hook family members began speaking out. They said they had suffered years of torment and harassment due to Jones’ claims that the shooting was a “hoax,” and denounced Kelly for granting him a platform. Desperate to salvage the situation as brutal headlines rolled in, NBC all but promised its critics that the segment would be edited to portray Jones as negatively as possible.

    That’s exactly what happened. The segment benefited from devoting very little time to Kelly’s interview with Jones, minimizing his opportunity to appeal to her audience. Instead, through strong voiceover, clips from Jones’ program featuring the host spouting conspiracies, and interviews with a conservative commentator who opposes Jones’ influence and the father of a child who died at Sandy Hook, Kelly explained how Jones operates, the harassment his targets experience, and his close ties to President Donald Trump.

    The segment reportedly went through drastic changes following the spate of condemnation, with NBC adding an interview with a Sandy Hook family member and slicing and dicing the footage of Kelly’s sit-down with Jones to make it more damaging to him. It’s not unusual for networks to edit stories right up until airtime. But last week’s public relations nightmare clearly played a role in the segment NBC ended up running.

    NBC deserved that nightmare. Kelly was hired to be a new face of the network and given a program aimed to challenge CBS’ 60 Minutes for newsmagazine primacy. But after the first episodes of her newsmagazine show suffered from poor ratings and reviews criticizing her interviewing skill, NBC took a chance with a Jones sit-down, which offered Kelly the opportunity to reset the show’s reputation with a viral moment.

    That the network’s executives apparently didn’t realize that news of the segment would trigger a backlash from Jones’ victims shows a tremendous lack of foresight and ignorance of the subject matter. NBC paid for that failure with a series of awful news cycles pitting their new star against traumatized families who had lost their children who castigated Kelly for giving Jones a platform.

    I believe Jones is a newsworthy subject for national news outlets. It is important for the American people to learn how the nation's most prominent conspiracy theorist has garnered a large audience and gained the ear of Trump (the circumstances were different earlier in the decade, when Media Matters criticized several networks for giving him a platform). But as I argued last week, interviewing Jones’ victims would be more likely to shed light on his character than Kelly’s initial approach of focusing on a head-to-head showdown. The week of controversy drastically changed NBC’s calculus, producing a significantly better segment than suggested by last Sunday’s preview.

    It’s too early to tell whether the Sandy Hook families who criticized the decision to interview Jones will be satisfied with the result, or if they will deal another blow to Kelly’s stature. But while Jones isn't having a meltdown, he can't feel good about the segment's clear implication that he is a dangerous extremist. And given how badly the radio host beat the network’s PR team this week, they may have something to fear from him as well.

    Kelly and her network were caught flat-footed, unable to either anticipate or successfully react as Jones repeatedly outmaneuvered them, taking control of the narrative and successfully framing the story for the national media through the propagandistic manipulations that make him such a dangerous force.

    Jones “has learned how to program the mainstream news by inciting outrage online that is then discussed and covered by mainstream media,” BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel reported after Jones released embarrassing audio of phone calls in which Kelly tries to talk him into doing the interview. “But Kelly and NBC were ill-equipped to deal with the pro-Trump media apparatus. Instead, they adhered to the traditional rules of a big television interview that assume a good-faith relationship between interviewer and interviewee.”

    Jones escalated his public relations offensive as the interview approached, releasing a Father’s Day video in which he offered “sincere condolences” to the Sandy Hook families, lied about his previous comments about the attack, and lashed out at NBC. Jones was live on the air before Kelly’s show aired, spreading rumors about Kelly and threatening to release his own recording of their interview if he was displeased with the result. After it aired, seeking to bolster the image that he won the night, he and his cronies drank a champagne toast on camera. As Jones again tried to take over the story online, the NBC News and Megyn Kelly twitter feeds went dark, ceding him the social space.

    The radio host wanted more attention, and he got it, seeking to build his audience by portraying himself as the mainstream media’s victim. Thanks to Kelly’s failure to control her own narrative, he may well succeed.

    Kelly’s segment demonstrates that, with enough pressure, broadcast outlets can produce adequate reports on the pro-Trump fringe. But the last week shows they still haven’t learned enough to effectively defend their work against an alternative media assault. And it remains to be seen whether NBC’s failure to control the narrative around Jones’ interview helped him more than an otherwise competent segment hurt him.

  • What Megyn Kelly says in leaked audio from Alex Jones

    Kelly soothes Jones’ fragile ego, assures him the interview will not be contentious, tells him that her show is about “fun,” and even promises to let Jones review any clips they use.

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    Just days ahead of Megyn Kelly’s June 18 interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the Infowars founder leaked purported audio of him and the NBC anchor. Jones was seeking to defend himself because he believed that Kelly, whom he called a “modern-day Medusa,” would edit her report to make it a hit piece on Jones.

    There is no doubt that the audio was edited by Infowars. Jones released it to portray himself in a favorable light and “set the record straight” after he didn’t like NBC’s promo of his interview. Though Jones admits at points that he has done things that he is not proud of, the phone call includes several telling moments about Kelly and NBC:

    Kelly wooed Jones by downplaying his lying, conspiracy theories, and connections to harassment

    • “The reason you are interesting to me is because I followed your custody case, and I think you had a very good point about the way the media was covering it and for some reason treated you and your family and what was going on as fair game when they never would have done that, if you will, of a mainstream media figure. And I saw a different side of you in that whole thing. You just became very fascinating to me.”
    • “I just sort of thought you were this maybe, you know, one-dimensional guy. Like this is your thing. And the comments I heard from you during the course of that trial, and your plea to the media to be respectful of you and your kids just reminded me that you’re just like anybody. You know, you’re a dad.

    Kelly pledged that she wouldn’t ask Jones tough questions, that her show was “fun,” and that the interview would not be a “gotcha hit piece”

    • After Jones asked if Kelly would bring up his controversies, including his comments about Sandy Hook and Pizzagate: “No, I can ask you about that. This is not going to be a contentious, sort of, gotcha exchange. Right? That’s not what this show is and that’s really not what I want to do. I want to do in-depth profiles on people. Just interesting people. So I can ask you that, this is what the critics say. But this isn’t going to be ah-ha, let’s play a clip.
    • “I’m trying to create a different kind of program. And it’s fun. I’ll ask you about some of the controversies, of course. And you’ll say whatever you want to say. But, it’s not going to be some gotcha hit piece. I promise you that."
    • I’m not looking to portray you as some boogeyman, or, you know, do any sort of a gotcha moment. I just want to talk about you. I want people to get to know you. And the craziest thing of all would be if some of the people who have this insane version of you in their heads walk away saying, ‘You know what? I see, like, the dad in him. I see the guy who loves those kids, and who is more complex than I’ve been led to believe.’”

    Kelly told Jones he would have oversight of portions of the interview

    • “I will promise you to personally look at any clips we want to use of you. And have a producer run by you whether we are taking it in context and what you are saying about it.
    • “If I ask you about any controversy, you’ll have the chance to address it fully. And I’m not going to cut you in a way that’s going to take out the heart of your explanation or the real substance of it. I won’t do that.”
    • “We’ll do like a walk-and-talk and we’ll set up something nice. Or we can -- one of my producers will weigh in on that because they know how to make it look beautiful. And they’ll work with you and do something that’s acceptable to you.”

    Kelly referred to her audience on NBC as “the left”

    • “My goal is for your listeners, and the left who will be watching, some, on NBC, to say, ‘Wow, that was really interesting.’ All I can do is give you my word and tell you if there’s one thing about me, I do what I say I’m going to do, and I don’t double-cross. So I promise you, when it’s over you’ll say, ‘Absolutely, she did what she said she was going to do.’ And you’ll be fine with it.”

    Kelly highlighted the lack of editorial standards in cable news, such as her previous employer Fox​

    • “Truly, it’s like a whole new world over there [at NBC]. They deeply care about this kind of thing. And, it’s not that we didn’t care on cable. It’s just a different game on cable. You know, you move faster and it’s more real time. And it’s just the fact that more mistakes get made."

    Ever since Kelly floated the idea of this interview to Jones, he has been manipulating her and NBC with near impunity. As BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel wrote, “Jones has been in control of Kelly’s interview and delighting his audience every step of the way. He broke the news of the interview on his show in late May; he was the first to post teaser photos of Kelly in the Infowars studio online; he got out in front of the interview last week with a misogynistic tirade about how he wasn’t attracted to Kelly and called her and the interview ‘fake news.’”

    This trolling comes at a cost. Search traffic for Jones is at a multiyear high:

    Julie Alderman and John Whitehouse contributed to this piece. Language has been updated for clarity.

  • Days before Megyn Kelly interview airs, Alex Jones pushes more Sandy Hook conspiracy theories

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Just days before NBC is set to air an interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on Megyn Kelly’s new show, Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, Jones once again pushed several conspiracy theories about the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

    Kelly and NBC’s decision to interview Jones has created a firestorm of controversy, with some family members of Sandy Hook victims calling for NBC to shelve the recorded interview given that Jones has pushed toxic conspiracy theories about the shooting that spurred some of his followers to harass the families. Page Six reported that following harsh criticism of the decision to give Jones a platform, Kelly invited Sandy Hook families to be interviewed for the episode as well.

    During the June 15 broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, Jones promoted several conspiracy theories that he and others have previously used to deny that the tragedy ever happened.

    Citing the U.S. government’s use of misinformation to justify wars in the Middle East, Jones said, “If they’ll do that, then am I supposed to question Sandy Hook when it happens and they’ve got the kids going in circles in and out of the building, and they don’t call the rescue helicopters, and then instead an hour later there’s port-a-potties and food being delivered and PR firms are there and Anderson Cooper says he’s on location but he’s clearly faking the location.”

    It should go without saying that Jones’ claims about the shooting that took 26 lives are false.

    On his show, Jones continued to lie about what he has said about the Sandy Hook tragedy in the past, saying he has “looked at every angle of” the shooting and claiming that he has said previously, “It could have been totally true, could have been totally fake.” (In recent months, Jones has repeatedly claimed he was merely playing “devil’s advocate” when commenting on the shooting.)

    As Media Matters documented, in the years following the tragedy, Jones definitively stated on several occasions that the shooting did not happen. In 2014, for example, Jones said, “It took me about a year with Sandy Hook to come to grips with the fact that the whole thing was fake.”

    Jones has been lying about his past comments on Sandy Hook since his statements started drawing heightened scrutiny following his claim after the 2016 election that President Donald Trump would soon appear on his show. (Trump appeared on Jones show in 2015 and praised the conspiracy theorist’s “amazing” reputation.)

    Kelly’s interview is set to air June 18 at 7 p.m. EST.

    Jones’ June 15 comments on Sandy Hook:

    ALEX JONES (HOST): It is a fact that on the eve of the Gulf War in 1990 a PR firm was hired, and the daughter of the owner of the PR firm, who’d never been to Kuwait and who spoke fluent English and had been brought up in the U.S., went and testified to seeing Iraqi soldiers ripping babies out of incubators and bashing their brains out by the hundreds. This was used as the pretext to launch that war that was meant to legitimize the U.N. as a global government body and bring in a new world order as George Herbert Walker Bush said, or Bush 41. Now, if criminal elements of our government will do something like that to launch now three wars in the Middle East, back radical jihadists to take over Iraq, Syria, Libya, other areas, overthrow our allies in Egypt, kill millions of people, starve millions more, and have Madeline Albright, Clinton’s secretary of state, say a half-million kids is an OK price to pay -- in fact, let’s cue that up. If they’ll do that, then am I supposed to question Sandy Hook when it happens and they’ve got the kids going in circles in and out of the building, and they don’t call the rescue helicopters, and then instead an hour later there’s port-a-potties and food being delivered and PR firms are there and Anderson Cooper says he’s on location but he’s clearly faking the location. We looked at every angle of that. And so they’ve now misrepresented what we’ve said, that I said it could have been totally true, could have been totally fake. I didn’t progenerate. I didn’t create. I wasn't the fount of that. The things that I am the fountain of, I’ll tell you. 1776 worldwide. Rebooting America. Nationalism.

  • Media Matters Angelo Carusone explains to USA Today why the bar is set so high for interviewing Alex Jones

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In a USA Today report, Media Matters President Angelo Carusone explained how Megyn Kelly’s upcoming NBC interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, while “not necessarily inappropriate” because of Jones’ newsworthy connections to President Donald Trump, appears to be in danger of falling short by failing to provide sufficient context and criticism of Jones.

    Kelly, desperate for “a viral moment” after her debut episode on NBC lost the ratings war to a CBS 60 Minutes re-run, traveled to Austin, Texas, to interview Jones about his rise to fame as a prominent conspiracy theorist. In previewed clips from the upcoming interview, Kelly asks Jones softball questions such as, “They call you the most paranoid man in America. Is that true?”

    While the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims have spoken out on giving a platform to Sandy Hook truther Jones, Kelly has defended the interview by claiming she wants to “shine a light” about the “considerable falsehoods” he spews. As a result of the interview, J.P. Morgan announced they would be removing ads from NBC News and Sandy Hook Promise, “a leading gun violence prevention organization,” disinvited Kelly from hosting the organization’s Promise Champions Gala.

    In the interview with USA Today, Carusone agreed there “is a really compelling case to be made that you should shine a light on Alex Jones” but also warned that the apparent purpose of Jones’ feature on Kelly’s show “was not to really draw a meaningful critique of the way that the current president gets his information and who he gets it from.” From the June 12 article:

    Megyn Kelly and NBC are facing blowback for an upcoming TV interview with the controversial radio host Alex Jones.

    Opposition quickly surfaced soon after promotional videos of the interview with the InfoWars founder, scheduled for the June 18 episode of Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, were first shown during the June 11 episode and appeared online.

    A #ShameonNBC hashtag began trending on Twitter with an outcry of concern about giving a platform to Jones, who in the past has supported conspiracy theories about the government blowing up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 and the 9/11 terror attacks. "9/11 was an inside job," he says in the promo video.

    [...]

    NBC and Kelly's booking of Jones is not necessarily inappropriate, says Angelo Carusone, president of liberal media activist group Media Matters. "There actually is a really compelling case to be made that you should shine a light on Alex Jones because of his relationship with the current president," he said.

    However, Carusone expects, based on the preview and Kelly's past performances -- including last week's interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin -- "it appears that the reason of having Alex Jones on was not to really draw a meaningful critique of the way that the current president gets his information and who he gets it from."

    A softball interview, "allows him to promote himself," he said. "The idea he is on NBC, in and of itself, is a really big deal. What that says for his audience is that he is so important and powerful that even the people that Alex Jones speaks the worst of can’t ignore him anymore." [USA Today, 6/12/17]

  • Here is exactly what Alex Jones has said about the Sandy Hook massacre

    Jones on Sandy Hook: “Staged,” “inside job,” “undoubtedly there’s a cover-up,” “giant hoax,” “the whole thing was fake,” “in my view, manufactured”

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is calling for his upcoming interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly not to air because he says Kelly misrepresented his views on the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

    A short promotional video released by Kelly on June 11 showed Jones attempting to obfuscate and spin his past statements about Sandy Hook, with the prominent conspiracy theorist and ally of President Donald Trump calling Sandy Hook “complex,” claiming he has advocated both for and against concluding that the shooting actually happened, and claiming he “looked at all the angles.”

    Following the release of this promo, Jones wrote on Twitter, “I'm calling for @megynkelly to cancel the airing of our interview for misrepresenting my views on Sandy Hook.” Jones’ tweet included a link to a 40-minute video in which he complained about the interview. The interview is scheduled to air June 18.

    While we don’t know how the Sandy Hook exchange will play out in the full interview, what can be proved is that Jones is a liar who -- since developing a high profile during the 2016 election -- has attempted to sanitize his definitive past claims that the shooting was a “hoax.”

    In 2013, Jones called the shooting “staged” and said, “It’s got inside job written all over it.”

    In March 2014, Jones said, “I’ve looked at it and undoubtedly there’s a cover-up, there’s actors, they’re manipulating, they’ve been caught lying, and they were pre-planning before it and rolled out with it.”

    In December 2014, Jones said on his radio program, “The whole thing is a giant hoax.”

    Jones continued: “The general public doesn’t know the school was actually closed the year before. They don’t know they’ve sealed it all, demolished the building. They don’t know that they had the kids going in circles in and out of the building as a photo-op. Blue screen, green screens, they got caught using.”

    Making it clear he didn’t view the occurrence of the shooting as an open question, Jones explicitly said that the Obama administration was behind the shooting, noting, “It took me about a year with Sandy Hook to come to grips with the fact that the whole thing was fake.”

    Jones made similar comments the following January, saying the shooting was “a synthetic, completely fake with actors, in my view, manufactured. I couldn’t believe it at first. I knew they had actors there, clearly, but I thought they killed some real kids. And it just shows how bold they are that they clearly used actors.”

    In July 2015, Jones said cast doubt on whether children were actually killed during the shooting, before citing prominent Sandy Hook hoaxer Wolfgang Halbig.

    Jones began to spin his past Sandy Hook statements in earnest following the victory of Donald Trump as his past statements came under increased scrutiny because of his association with Trump and his claim that the new president would appear on his show in the near future.

    Despite his recent contradictory claims about the shooting, Jones continues to make statements that fuel Sandy Hook conspiracy theories.

    Here are some headlines that advance Sandy Hook conspiracy theories that are still active on Jones’ website, Infowars.com:

    [Infowars.com, accessed 6/13/17]

    [Infowars.com, accessed 6/13/17]

    [Infowars.com, accessed 6/13/17]

    [Infowars.com, accessed 6/13/17]

    [Infowars.com, accessed 6/13/17]

    [Infowars.com, accessed 6/13/17]

    [Infowars.com, accessed 6/13/17]

    [Infowars.com, accessed 6/13/17]

    [Infowars.com, accessed 6/13/17]

    [Infowars.com, accessed 6/13/17]

    [Infowars.com, accessed 6/13/17]

    [Infowars.com, accessed 6/13/17]
     

    [Infowars.com, accessed 6/13/17]