Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly | Media Matters for America

Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly

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  • 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.

  • 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]

  • Megyn Kelly turned to Alex Jones because her struggling show needs a viral moment

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Just a week after mocking the breakdown in civility on cable news shows and in the White House during the premiere episode of her new NBC newsmagazine program, last night Megyn Kelly teased an upcoming interview with Infowars’ Alex Jones, the megalomaniacal radio host known for his wide range of conspiracy theories.

    The first episode of Kelly’s Sunday Night was panned by critics and lost in the ratings war against a rerun of its direct competitor, CBS’ 60 Minutes. Her Jones interview, scheduled to air June 18, is an attempt to overcome this poor start by manufacturing a “Megyn moment” -- one of those unexpected instances where Kelly calls out her right-wing guest’s nonsense. These often-viral interview segments do little to inform Kelly’s audience. But they helped her gain an undeserved reputation in the mainstream press as an impartial truth-teller -- in part by distracting observers from the extreme, race-inflected rhetoric that made her a creature of the cable news culture that she now claims to deplore.

    Kelly certainly isn’t the first television host for whom high-minded rhetoric about creating a different type of program quickly yields to the raw desire to build on the show’s audience by any possible means. But the bar is high for Kelly’s Sunday Night, a program which aspires to compete with the storied 60 Minutes brand as a source of agenda-setting interviews and investigations. To do so, the show needs to not only entertain viewers -- or build Kelly’s brand -- but actually inform them about crucial events happening in the world around them.

    As such, the clips of Kelly’s interview with Jones that were previewed last night do not inspire confidence. Kelly asked Jones questions that could not possibly yield honest or accurate responses (“They call you the most paranoid man in America. Is that true?”) and sparred with him over his claims that the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks and faked the Sandy Hook mass shooting.

    It is extremely difficult to successfully interview a conspiracy theorist who is willing to lie about what he has previously alleged. The subject can often run circles around the interviewer both because he is inevitably more familiar with the nuances of the theory and because he is willing to engage in rhetorical strategies for which the interviewer just isn’t ready. After the interview is over, the conspiracy theorist can retreat to his own media platforms to provide his own spin on what happened to an audience predisposed to believe him, not the mainstream press.

    This phenomenon was on display in March, when 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley interviewed the pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich. As BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel explained, “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.”

    At worst, if Kelly is similarly unprepared, she will have given a platform and the NBC imprimatur of credibility to one of the more despicable figures in that parallel press, helping him gain access to a new audience. That’s what happened back in 2011, when MSNBC, NBC, and ABC all hosted Jones to discuss actor Charlie Sheen’s bizarre interview on his show. At the time, Jones acknowledged what should have been obvious -- that he was using those opportunities to “inject Infowars.com into the discussion” in the hope that “people will come here and find the larger picture." Jones is hoping history will repeat itself, having been counseled by Infowars cohort Roger Stone to do the interview in order to “break through to the mainstream.”

    At best, Kelly will joust with Jones over his past conspiracy theories, perhaps trapping him once or twice in a way that creates a “Megyn moment,” bolstering her brand and allowing her show to recover from a rough opening. (After sitting for the interview last week, Jones linked Kelly with the “new world order” and announced to viewers that he wasn't even attracted to her, suggesting that he is not happy with the result.) But the NBC audience probably won’t learn much from an interview segment in which two people operate from contrary views of reality. And Jones will still have had the opportunity to pitch his show to her viewers, and he will be able to manipulate the result in order to build his credibility with his own audience.

    That opportunity is angering the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy. On Facebook and Twitter, they have called out Kelly, describing how Jones’ conspiracy theories have spurred years of emotionally brutal harassment from his fans and warning that giving him a platform can only encourage that campaign of abuse.

    Jones is a newsworthy subject, and it’s important for the American people to know about his relationship with the president. But given the difficulty in pinning down Jones on the facts, the best way to inform a radio or television audience about Jones isn’t to build a segment around a high-profile interview with him -- it’s to interview his victims.

    Don’t ask Jones how he feels about the people who “get very angry” about him saying that the Sandy Hook parents faked their children’s death. Sit down with those family members and ask them how their lives have been changed by Jones making those claims to an audience of millions, as the BBC’s Mike Wendling did earlier this year.

    Without giving Jones the opportunity to spread his lies to a new audience, you can lay out his conspiracy theories, why they are wrong, their impact, and what it means that he has fans in the White House.

    A segment like that will educate your audience about one of the worst people in public life. It might even be riveting television. It just won’t give you a “Megyn moment.”