Outcry over ‘insulting’ Alex Jones interview

Amped up: “They call you the most paranoid man in America,” Kelly told Jones. © Sean P Anderson

Last night an American TV network aired a prime-time interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The show has triggered a furious debate: should Jones have been interviewed at all?

It was supposed to be the interview that established Megyn Kelly as America’s top interviewer, weeks after the launch of her new NBC show. Instead, it turned into a PR nightmare for her.

Last night, NBC aired Kelly’s conversation with Alex Jones, a broadcaster known for his far-right views and factually dubious claims. The interview touched on some of Jones’s favourite subjects, from 9/11 (an “inside job”) to animal-human hybrids.

Jones has spent decades causing outrage with his extreme opinions. Via his radio show and news website Infowars, he makes outlandish — and highly offensive — allegations about public figures. He often warns of a global conspiracy by shadowy elites to enslave ordinary people.

But it is his past comments on the Sandy Hook massacre, which he has called “a giant hoax”, that are at the heart of his latest controversy. When the news broke that Kelly would interview Jones, there was a huge backlash.

The mother of one of the massacre’s victims called the decision an “insult”. The bank JPMorgan Chase pulled its ads from the show. NBC executives considered cancelling the interview.

The pressure on Kelly only increased when Jones leaked a recording of his pre-interview negotiations with her. She can be heard assuring Jones that she will try to humanise him. “I’m not looking to portray you as some kind of boogeyman,” she says.

For years, Jones was seen as a fringe commentator whose views were only taken seriously by a tiny minority. However, his influence has increased with the rise of Donald Trump, who has appeared on his show and shares his fondness for conspiracy theories.

Jones now commands a huge audience. His radio show claims to play on over 160 stations. In May, Infowars received a million pageviews daily. Trump adviser Roger Stone has called Jones “the single most important voice in the alternative conservative media”.

“Our goal in sitting down with him was to shine a light — as journalists are supposed to do — on this influential figure,” said Kelly. Was she right to do so?

Keeping up with the Jones

No way, say some. The role of the media is to present intelligent debates about the world’s issues. Jones is a proven liar; he has no place on Kelly’s show. By interviewing him, she is giving legitimacy to his dangerous views. She is only doing this because she knows it will boost her ratings. Shame on her.

Like it or not, reply others, Jones is a key figure in the age of social media and fake news. The media has a duty to reflect what’s going on in society, even if that means paying attention to awful people like him. Besides, if it ignored him, it would only make him stronger: he thrives on the idea that everyone is against him.

You Decide

  1. Was Kelly right to interview Jones?
  2. What (if any) kinds of speech should be illegal?

Activities

  1. Imagine you have your own TV show. Who would you most like to interview? Pick one person, write a paragraph explaining your choice, and come up with five questions to ask him or her.
  2. Find someone who has done something interesting in your community. Conduct an interview with him or her, then read it out (or play a recording) to the class.

Some People Say...

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Alex Jones started out in the 1990s on an Austin, Texas radio station. As well as giving a four-hour broadcast on Infowars every day, he has written two books and produced dozens of films. He very occasionally goes back on his claims. For example, he apologised for claiming that the Democratic Party was involved in human trafficking after being threatened with legal action.
What do we not know?
Whether Jones truly believes what he says. Some argue that his opinions must be genuine if he has spent two decades promoting them. Others say that he is in the business for the money. Moreover, in a recent custody case following his divorce, Jones’s lawyers argued that he is a “performance artist”, nothing more. Jones later said that the lawyers had been misinterpreted by the media.

Word Watch

Megyn Kelly
The journalist made her name at Fox News; she infamously clashed with Donald Trump, who made sexist comments about her. She started hosting her Sunday night show on NBC News earlier this month.
PR
Public relations: the efforts by a person or organisation to maintain a good public image.
Animal-human hybrids
This is not pure fiction. Some scientists want to implant human stem cells in animal embryos to help their research into human development and disease. But Infowars has covered this subject in a very sensational way, warning that it could lead to “a creature that is 60% human and 40% bear”.
A giant hoax
Jones has claimed that “no one died” during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, and that the Obama administration orchestrated the hoax. He has since denied having said this.
Mother
Read Nelba L. Márquez-Greene’s article for The Washington Post in Become An Expert.
Appeared
Trump appeared on Jones’s show in December 2015. “Your reputation is amazing,” he told his host. “I will not let you down.”
A million pageviews
According to Alexa.com.

Subjects

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