A firestorm erupted this week when NBC released a highlight reel of the forthcoming Megyn Kelly interview with Alex Jones, the histrionic conspiracy theorist who thinks 9/11 was an “inside job” orchestrated by the Bush Administration in order to bring about a New World Order in the Middle East, that the Sandy Hook mass shooting massacre was a false flag operation by the Obama Administration to abolish the Second Amendment and take away our guns, that Hillary Clinton and her clan were running a satanic pedophile ring through a pizza joint (when they weren’t creating ISIS), and that a cabal of covert operatives he calls “the elite” secretly runs the world. And this is what Alex Jones says when he’s sober. Watch him on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast after getting stoned on-air (with a whisky chaser) and see what he really thinks. Hint: it has to do with a race of interdimensional alien-human hybrids with hive-mind consciousness controlled by Google, which is going to take over human consciousness from which a new species will arise.
Why would NBC, one of the last bastions of “real news,” and Megyn Kelly, a noted national journalist with aims toward even greater respectability, air an interview with this delusional unctuous toad? A few numbers give us an answer: From May 15 through June 13, 2017, Jones’ Infowars show drew 28 million unique global views, and in 2016 he pulled in 238 million unique visitors. Those are some serious numbers, which both Kelly and NBC acknowledge. Kelly tweeted “POTUS’s been on & praises @RealAlexJones’ show. He’s giving Infowars a WH press credential. Many don’t know him; our job is 2 shine a light.” The producer for NBC’s Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, Liz Cole, told CNN: “Until you see the full program, in the full context, I wouldn’t judge it too much. Judge it when you see it. Megyn does a strong interview, we’re not just giving him a platform.”
Sure. And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to nowhere to sell you.
This charade of an “interview” is nothing more than another contribution to the click-bait competition for the craziest headline-grabbing story a major network can offer to compete for market share of an ever diluted audience being pulled by countless other sources for audience attention. “You won’t believe what Alex Jones says next…!” Click. Bait.
After 25 years of publishing Skeptic magazine I have seen it all. Alex Jones is just one of countless kooks on the make for attention. If Megyn Kelly wants to “shine a light” on such people, who’s next? How about Holocaust denier David Irving, the subject of a 2016 feature film (Denial) staring Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, and Timothy Spall as the British historian who sued Deborah Lipstadt for calling him a denier. He lost his case in 2000, but earlier this year he told The Guardian, “Interest in my work has risen exponentially in the last two or three years.” Teenagers in America find his many lectures on YouTube “and these young people tell me how they’ve stayed up all night watching them.” What are these kids curious about? “They get in touch because they want to find out the truth about Hitler and the Second World War. They ask all sorts of questions. I’m getting up to 300 to 400 emails a day. And I answer them all. I build a relationship with them.” Megyn? NBC?
How about Richard Spencer, the self-identified founder of the Alt-Right movement that helped put Trump in the White House? Surely he deserves a network national stage? As he said shortly after the 2016 election, Trump’s victory was “the first step, the first stage towards identity politics for white people.” And how about an interview with David Lane and the “1488rs,” the revolutionary white nationalists who contend (and hope) that racial strife will destroy America and thereby set the stage for the resurgence of white nationalism. The 1488 moniker comes from Lane’s 14-word credo: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The number “88” stands for the eighth letter of the alphabet—“HH”—designating “Heil Hitler.” Megyn? NBC?
Maybe going head-to-head with CBS’ August 60 Minutes leads to desperate measures. But it’s the wrong move for many reasons. First, the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting have voiced their feelings about putting on a man who says their children are really still alive somewhere and that they’re all just actors on some conspiratorial proscenium on a national stage. It’s beyond hurtful; it’s utter madness. And of all people to conduct such an interview, Megyn Kelly is a parent who was set to host the annual gala event of the nonprofit “Sandy Hook Promise Foundation,” which works on legislation to help curb gun violence. One would think that dignity and character would obviate the desire for ratings on the part of a TV host, but one would be wrong in this instance.
Finally, what makes this all so problematic is that people act on their beliefs, and if you believe—as many of Jones’ listeners do—that the Sandy Hook tragedy was all a fake that the parents were in on, it leads to such behaviors as confronting grieving parents and accusing them of faking it all as part of some government cabal. It’s a testimony to these parents’ patience that they haven’t responded violently to Jones’ sycophants who show up at their homes and places of work. One Florida woman made death threats against one of the Sandy Hook fathers, for which she’s spending five months in the slammer. Lock. Her. Up.
These listeners don’t know that it’s all a show and that Jones is, in the words of his attorney in his child custody case, just a carnival barker showman (“a performance artist” in the lawyer’s more dignified characterization). Or is he? At times he seems genuinely sincere in his conspiratorial concoctions. Other times he appears out of his mind. Who knows? It’s possible Jones doesn’t even know what he believes. And that’s the problem. Why “interview” a man who very likely himself cannot identify the line between click-bait punditry and madness?
Watch Alex’s secretly recorded chat with Megyn, which added even more fuel to the fire....
Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. He is the New York Times bestselling author of The Believing Brain, The Moral Arc, and The Science of Good and Evil. His next book is Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia.