After all the advance fury and worry, the Alex Jones segment of Megyn Kelly’s NBC Sunday Night show turned out to be a solid chunk of TV news: a profile that came somewhat close to depicting the kind of repulsive, lying weasel that the king of Infowars really is. If all Kelly did was to compel much of her audience to shake their heads and ask, “Wait — you mean millions of people believe this horrible idiot?” then her segment was worth it.
Kelly spent the nearly 20-minute segment playing clips of Jones spreading conspiracy theories and lies about events such as the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn., and asking Jones to admit that his various scenarios are obscene falsehoods. He never did. When he’s spouting off from his Infowars Internet bunker, Jones is all barrel-chested bluster and aggression. Seated across from Kelly, however, he came off differently: Although he was sweating under the camera lights, his eyes frequently had the vacant stare of a man who was concentrating way too hard on how to spin his maliciousness in a way that would both evade Kelly’s questions and enable him to crow to his viewers tomorrow that he did not give an inch.
Jones had spent the days leading up to the interview trying to disavow the interview as being manipulated by Kelly — it was whining as a publicity stunt. I would say that Kelly’s segment demonstrated to any rational viewer that Jones is a gibbering bully spreading coarse cruelty, but it’s become increasingly clear that there are a lot of irrational people who will never be convinced by anything they do not already want to believe. Kelly even singled out a few of Jones’s listeners who have broken the law for obeying his rancorous rants against innocent people.
Kelly was a lot tougher on Jones than she was with Vladimir Putin, but of course, there were things I wish she’d done differently. I wish she had aired the NBC News online-only clip where she asked about Jones’s recent custody hearing, during which the legal defense of his anger issues was that what he does is “performance art.” If Kelly had explained to mass America what that concept implies, it might have helped discredit his sway over his basket of gullibles. And when Jones insisted that he had not said the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax but rather that he was “examining all the angles,” I think Kelly should have insisted that there are no other “angles” to the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults. Still, credit where it’s proportionately due: Start from the premise that TV journalism in barely real journalism, but rather an argument presented while wearing makeup. In this, Kelly was certainly tougher on her subject than 95 percent of the fabled tough interviews conducted on her time-period competitor 60 Minutes. As for the question that many had going in — why give the scummy Jones a network-news showcase? — Kelly did establish a justification.
It was this: her persistence in framing the Jones story, at its beginning and at its conclusion, with the primary reason Jones is worthy of mainstream-media scrutiny — his connection to President Trump. Trump has parroted some of Jones’s lies. Trump was heard sucking up to Jones soon after winning the election (“You will be very, very impressed, I hope”). It’s one thing to make a mean-minded little man sweat in front of a TV camera — that’s a useful but small achievement. It’s a greater thing to remind America of the extent to which our president is willing to ignore basic decency and facts in the interests of self-interest.
Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly airs Sundays at 7 p.m. on NBC.