After advance hype, public outrage, and sponsor departures, Megyn Kelly’s interview with lying-for-dollars host Alex Jones aired last night. With 3.5 million viewers, it lost out to a rerun of America’s Funniest Home Videos in the ratings.
Though the public had no use for the stunt, some in the media fawned over it.
The Hollywood Reporter (your authority on journalism, gun violence, and the psychology of conspiracy theorists since 2017) said it drew mostly favorable reviews, generously including Media Matters’ Matthew Gertz’s pronouncement that it was “adequate” in the tally. You can read his excellent blog post on the topic, including Kelly’s “shocking failure” to control the narrative, here.
Politico media writer Jack Shafer proclaimed that Kelly “pantsed” Alex Jones. If that were literally the case, I might have tuned in. Suffice it to say, he was among those who was impressed with Kelly’s performance, stating:
“When Kelly’s show finally aired, she took the mendacious Jones apart in such a textbook manner you had to wonder what all the shouting had been about.”*
*All the shouting had been about giving a platform to a truly worthless liar who is not even president.
Even if we concede that Megyn Kelly did a good job of interviewing Jones, that doesn’t mean that the interview did anything to expose the truth nor to show the damage Alex Jones has done. It could add up to nothing.
To test whether an interview could accomplish what it was supposed to, I’ll share a little exercise I do as part of my writer’s workshops. I ask my students:
Which of the following is “evidence?”
• Polar bears are white.
• A CDC study concluded that vaccinations do not cause migraines.
• Ted Cruz loves Nickelback.
Nine times out of ten, students say the CDC study. It‘s a credible source stating objective fact. It‘s the kind of thing their professors, myself included, would accept as support for a claim.
However, the answer is that none of them is evidence.
They are all information. “Evidence” doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Something only becomes evidence when it is used to support a claim.
So then I introduce my claim: Ted Cruz is uncool and Canadian.
Now which one could be evidence? Lighbulbs go off. True, “Ted Cruz loves NIckelback” is also a claim, but if we could prove it, it could possibly be evidence to support our claim that Ted Cruz is uncool and Canadian.
(We then tackle the problem proving that Ted Cruz loves Nickelback. What if Nickelback was on all of his playlists? My all-time favorite response was from a lawyer friend who said maybe Ted Cruz listens to Nickelback out of a religious feeling that he must suffer, like people who beat themselves).
Now let’s replace “Ted Cruz Loves Nickelback” with “Alex Jones is a liar who harms real people.”
Is Megyn Kelly’s interview evidence that Jones lies or harms people?
Some critics praised her for making him backpedal about Sandy Hook. When pressed about his lies, he stated:
“At that point — and I do think there was some cover-up and some manipulation — that is pretty much what I believed. But then I was also going into devil’s advocate — but then we know there are mass shootings and these things happen.”
Arguably, if you already mistrust Alex Jones and you’re inclined to like Megyn Kelly or a good hard-nosed interview (if 2016 taught us anything, it’s that America loves nothing more than a tough, educated woman standing up to a jackass, amirite?), you would experience that interchange as exposing Jones’ mendacity. Or would he just look weak or scared? How do we know this would undermine his credibility? We don’t.
The interview full of examples of one person (not even an expert) publicly contradicting the interview subject whom she chose to put on the big stage (not as big as America’s Funniest Home Videos, obvi).
But that is not a departure from the standard CNN false equivalence panel that pairs, e.g., a climate scientist with someone who has a weather app on her phone. It’s Kelly’s home turf (and editing suite), but ultimately viewers are seeing two entertainers in a room together.
Nonetheless, Politico’s Shafer stated “Short of waterboarding him, I don’t know what more Kelly could have done to expose Jones’ dark methods.”
Oh, really? I do.
- There are actual experts on Jones’ “dark methods.” People who study how charlatans use media to spread lies and why people believe them. Then, instead of relying on audiences’ visceral response to Jones, she might have shown him what mechanisms actually turn the little man behind the screen into the Wizard.
- Interview an expert on the psychology of conspiracy theories who can explain how Jones’s tactics persuade so many in spite of being baseless. People study this, you know.
- Bring in an expert on debunking misinformation to discuss how to undo the damage that Alex Jones has wrought.
- Interview a panel including people whom Jones has harmed personally. For example, Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis. Alex Jones has apologized for spreading the lie that Comet Ping Pong is home to a child sex trafficking ring, but the conspiracy lives on.
- Interview a Sandy Hook parent, several of whom have bravely come forward to expose Jones’ lies. If you want to show the truth about Sandy Hook, why not interview someone familiar with the truth? In response to public outcry, the final show included a family member. But the fact that this wasn’t the original plan undermines the claim that truth was the goal.
- Six-year-old Noah Pozner’s funeral was open casket. Many people bear the scars of bearing witness. Instead of an afterthought, people who experienced the truth in its most painful form could be front and center. Alex Jones could have been shown through their eyes.
- How about Newtown, Connecticut’s undertaker, who handled the funerals of 11 of the children?
- Interview law enforcement and first responders who were on the scene of the Sandy Hook murders.
I know those would expose more about Alex Jones than that interview. How about you? Play along at home. How would you expose the truth about Sandy Hook, Pizzagate, 9/11, and Alex Jones?
Incidentally waterboarding, as Shafer probably knows, is not an effective way to expose truth. Like Kelly, it still has its fans.
In fact, the interview material was so ineffective at exposing Jones that, the show that aired heavily pared down the Jones interview footage and interspersed it with other voices and clips. The show itself is a damning statement about Kelly’s choice of Jones as a hard-nosed impact interview. Had she chosen to approach this project through truthful and credible sources from the outset, rather than set up an on-screen wrestling match, she might have done some good.
In fact, I think Alex Jones is going to get more mileage out of this than Kelly will. I won’t link to the Alex Jones YouTube channel, but suffice it to say that if you google “Megyn Kelly” lies right now you’ll find “Alex Jones Exposes More Megyn Kelly Lies.”
Sometimes you have to interview a liar, and in such cases, being a tenacious interviewer matters. But in this case, there was no reason to give Jones a platform. It’s not as if he is a political candidate or government official (yet). He has the same job as Megyn Kelly—presenting the stories of his choice to a wide audience. I can think of some other prominent liars and Alex Jones fans, who have to get airtime. But no one elected Alex Jones (yet), nor is he in front of a jury (yet).
There is only one reason to ask him to participate in his own exposure— to establish Megyn Kelly as a tough interviewer.
That, and not “Alex Jones is a life-destroying liar,” is the claim that the show was meant to prove all along. That is what Mitchell and Shafer commented on: not that the truth won out, but that Kelly did well. This wasn’t a test of Alex Jones’s lies or the damage they do; it was a test of a new TV show.
Even with low ratings, which could be the result of protests that won’t affect future shows, Kelly might have burnished her credentials as a tough interviewer. That does not mean she “exposed” Alex Jones’ lies or moved the needle on hair’s breadth toward truth.
Talk about a ridiculous exercise.
PS: After years of trying to prove Ted Cruz Loves Nickelback, I found evidence it was Paul Ryan all along (or was he being ironic? Did Ted Cruz set him up? How would we go about proving it?).