Bucking critics and a reasonable assumption by some of those that this was all about ratings, Megyn Kelly and NBC News proceeded with a profile about conspiracist “Infowars” host Alex Jones Sunday. Moreover, Kelly and the network left little doubt about their editorial approach: “Tonight, we confront Alex Jones on his notorious lie about the Sandy Hook massacre.”
In the leadoff piece of “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly,” NBC’s newest anchor immediately addressed the controversy about the profile, which had infuriated the parents of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. “Some thought we shouldn’t broadcast this because [of] his baseless allegations,” she said. “But here’s the thing. Alex Jones isn’t going away.”
Jones, a radio commentator, has said on various occasions that the massacre at Sandy Hook — which left 20 children and six adults dead — is a hoax. Kelly repeatedly challenged him on the hoax claims, while Jones said, “at that point, that is pretty much what I believed. I was also being a devil’s advocate.”
The magazine program also interviewed the father of slain 6-year-old Jesse Lewis. The father, Neil Heslin, said “I held my son with a bullet in his head,” then recalled that he had “dropped him off at school [and] hours later I was picking him up in a body bag.”
The program said that Jones — “now worth millions” — has made most of his fortune from selling “male supplements,” then cut to a shot of a bare-chested Jones flexing his arms. Kelly said Jones and his money “have caused enormous pain.”
She added, “Jones has never completely disavowed his statements.”
The controversy over the Jones profile enveloped both network and star last week, with some Sandy Hook families threatening legal action if the network proceeded. Kelly repeatedly defended the story, but the risks for her were considerable: She is now among the highest paid network anchors in history, earning an estimated $20 million per year under the terms of her contract with NBC. However ratings for the first two telecasts of her Sunday program were relatively soft. While no one — critics included — expected Kelly to offer Jones an open forum, the concern was that broadcast network exposure would legitimize Jones’ views to some extent.
But the program and Kelly — last week and during the body of the profile — said Jones’ positions deserved scrutiny because President Donald Trump has appeared on his show, and had also praised Jones in the past. Kelly pressed Jones about whether he is “friends” with Trump. He denied that, but conceded they had a “friendly” relationship.