On Sunday night, former Fox News Channel star Megyn Kelly tweeted that next Sunday’s broadcast of her new NBC show will feature an interview with far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a move that could dramatically expand the audience for the false and inflammatory conspiracy theories he promotes.
The news understandably outraged family members of the victims of the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, because Jones repeatedly promoted conspiracy theories that the entire episode was a government hoax using paid actors to build support for gun control. As one parent of a murdered child commented on Twitter, Kelly’s interview with Jones will run on Father’s Day, when grieving fathers will be visiting their children’s graves.
For Jones, his Sandy Hook “trutherism” may have been all about ratings, but it had brutal consequences for grieving family members, first responders, and other members of a traumatized community, who have had their grief compounded by having to deal with harassment and intimidation from people who swallowed Jones’ ludicrous lies. Just last week a Florida woman was sentenced to five months in prison for making death threats against one of the parents whose children were killed in the attack.
Jones has promoted a wild array of conspiracy theories on his InfoWars radio show. PFAW’s Right Wing Watch blog has called Jones “one of the most notorious and, frankly, bizarre conspiracy theorists out there.” With good reason: Jones has also talked about the 9/11 and Oklahoma City terrorist attacks as false flag operations. Last year he called Hillary Clinton a “demon-antichrist” figure. He accused philanthropist George Soros of engineering the killings of Dallas police officers in a plot to start a race war that will lead to a “Marxist overthrow of the United States.”
Under threat of legal action, Jones has apologized for promoting the Pizzagate theory that a neighborhood restaurant in Washington D.C. was the centerpiece of a child sex trafficking ring involving Hillary Clinton and for suggesting that the Chobani yogurt company was “importing migrant rapists.”
Jones has a First Amendment right to say what he says. And NBC and Megyn Kelly have a right to share their platform with him. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
It is possible that Kelly could use an interview with Jones to expose him as a charlatan and fraud, or a “performance artist” if you prefer, something that his own lawyers seemingly admitted during a recent heated child custody case. That could potentially be a public service, and the trailer that has been released suggests that she could be calling him out for spreading falsehoods. But giving Jones nationally broadcast air time, even in a “tough” interview, could simply multiply his audience and give him credibility he doesn’t deserve. Jones himself says Kelly is “playing with fire.” He’s been bragging that he knew she would run “a giant hit piece” on him but says “I win by going into the Gorgon’s pit.”
Unfortunately, someone with an even bigger media platform than Megyn Kelly has already done more for Jones than Kelly can do. In December 2015, as a presidential candidate, Donald Trump appeared on his show, praising Jones for having an “amazing” reputation. Jones returned the favor, comparing Trump to George Washington. Trump and Jones agreed on air that America might not survive if Trump lost the election. Like Jones, Trump has promoted dozens of bogus conspiracy theories.
Last July, Jones gushed that Trump was “bringing our views into the mainstream.” And when it still looked as if anti-Trump Republicans might try to deny Trump the nomination at the convention, Jones scheduled a pro-Trump rally in Cleveland on the first day of the convention. The five-hour affair featured Jones and a bevy of far-right activists, including Roger Stone, who last fall floated the possibility of Bill Clinton being executed for treason.
Our political culture has been unquestionably damaged by fake news sites, “alternative facts,” and outright propaganda. Our ability to have real conversations about addressing the nation’s problems is undermined by the president and his enablers’ willingness to lie brazenly while attacking those who call them out for it and portraying the media as their enemies.
In this kind of climate, which holds real dangers for the future of the country, it is a challenge—but a vitally important necessity—for journalists to be truth-tellers who are willing to call lies lies and give the public the evidence. That’s especially true for the president and other public officials who now have real power over Americans’ lives. Unless that’s what Kelly’s interview with Jones does, it could be another ratings-chasing nail in the coffin of our political discourse and our democracy itself.
Michael Keegan is the president of People For the American Way.