In an unusual broadside that has tested the resolve of NBC News, controversial radio talk show host Alex Jones has posted the audio of a pre-interview phone conversation he had with Megyn Kelly when she was pitching him for the profile, which will air on her magazine program this Sunday.
The audio — posted on Jones’ Infowars website under a banner in bold red letters, “Leaked” — features Kelly casually speaking about the proposed interview during a phone call earlier this spring, with some pushback by Jones.
On Friday, NBC News said it was still airing the segment.
In a statement, the network said, “Despite Alex Jones’ efforts to distract from and ultimately prevent the airing of our report, we remain committed to giving viewers context and insight into a controversial and polarizing figure, how he relates to the president of the United States and influences others, and to getting this serious story right.”
Since Monday, Jones has demanded that the profile be dropped, saying it will misrepresent his claims about the Sandy Hook massacre — which left 26 dead, including 20 children — while Sandy Hook families have also sought to have the interview dropped.
In a prepared prologue before going to the audiotapes, Jones said “she told me she wasn’t going to talk about Sandy Hook [and] then when she got here with her own intelligence operatives [producers] she did the opposite of what she said from our pre-interview.”
Based on the audio that Jones streamed on his site, Kelly does not explicitly say she won’t ask about Sandy Hook, but does seem to indicate her profile will be a general interest one that would seek to humanize him.
“Well, I’ve started my new job, you may have heard,” she says on the phone. “I know what you do [and] the reason you are interesting to me is I followed your custody case,” referring to the April trial in Austin, Texas, over custody of his three children, with a jury ruling in favor of his ex-wife, Kelly Jones.
“I think you had a very good point about the way the media was covering [the trial] and how it treated you and your family as fair game when they would never have done that if you were a mainstream media figure,” she said. “I saw a different side of you. You became fascinating to me. I thought you were one-dimensional, [then] I heard from you and that trial and it just reminded me you are like anybody. You’re a dad and go through the same things we do. I thought that would be an interesting story to tell.”
A promotion for the interview, which has aired all week, shows Kelly challenging Jones on his comments about Sandy Hook. But during the audiotapes, Jones is heard saying that his comments on the massacre had been misrepresented by others.
In fact, Jones said on at least two occasions in 2014 that the Dec. 12, 2012, massacre was a hoax. According to transcripts released earlier this week by longtime Jones antagonist Media Matters for America, he said in March of that year, “I’ve looked at it and undoubtedly there’s a cover-up, there’s actors, they’re manipulating, they’ve been caught lying, and they were preplanning before it and rolled out with it.” Then in December 2014, Jones said on his radio program, “The whole thing is a giant hoax.”
Kelly’s soft-sell to Jones on the phone is hardly unusual. Anchors or reporters don’t always telegraph the punches they are going to the throw when seeking interviews with controversial subjects. Jones’ surreptitious recording isn’t unusual either. Indeed, major interview subjects regularly record their encounters with the media — surreptitiously or otherwise — for liability reasons.
What is unusual is these pre-interview counter punches. NBC News has, in fact, been caught flat-footed by the ferocity of the blowback from both Jones and the Sandy Hook families, who have threatened to sue over the interview. According to a letter secured by the Los Angeles Times — which reported that it was sent by their attorney, Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, to NBC News chairman Andy Lack — “Airing Ms. Kelly’s interview implicitly endorses the notion that Mr. Jones’ lies are actually ‘claims’ that are worthy of serious debate; and in doing so it exponentially enhances the suffering and distress of our clients.”
Meanwhile, there is, of course, reason to believe both Jones and NBC News are benefiting from the brawl that broke out earlier this week.
For his part, Jones gets boosted visibility from the dust-up and a presumed basis for his long-standing claim that the “mainstream media” traffics in lies and distortion. “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly” has had softer-than-expected ratings for its first two airings — a pattern that may be reversed Sunday night.
Nevertheless, the public relations damage has already been considerable for the network. Kelly was forced to issue a statement earlier this week that said she found the “suggestion that Sandy Hook was ‘a hoax’ as personally revolting as every other rational person does.” She defended the decision to do the interview because she said it was her job to “shine a light” on major news figures, particularly one who has been praised by President Donald Trump.