From The “Why We Can’t Trust The News Media” Files: The Megyn Kelly- Alex Jones Interview Fiasco

Here is the sequence of events:

1. Newly minted NBC “star” Megyn Kelly announced that she would be interviewing infamous right wing political troll and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on a segment of her new show.

Jones is a fringe media figure and a proven liar, but he has been cited positively by President Trump, and has successfully caused some wide-spread comtoversy and offense, such as when he claimed that the Newtown massacre was a hoax. There is nothing wrong with interviewing such figures; indeed, it is important to interview them. provided ethical journalism standards apply.

Unfortunately, as this episode demonstrates, journalists no longer know what those standards are.

2. In order to persuade Jones to agree to the interview, Kelly promised him—Jones had a tape—that he would be treated fairly. Note: when you tell someone they will be treated fairly in order to have him trust you, your definition of “fair” must be his definition of “fair.”  If he is thinking, “Ah! She will be neutral rather than adversarial, and will not be looking for gotchas!,” but she meant, “It’s fair that I fillet you like a trout, you bastard!” then the interview subject has been deceived.

3. The parents of the victims of the Newtown shooting, as well as their sympathizers and allies, protested the interview, as I wrote about here, saying that NBC was giving Jones a platform. Sympathy and grief are not excuses for censorship. The fact that the parents hate Jones suggests that they shouldn’t watch him be interviewed. They should not seek to interfere with my right to see how he presents himself, and companies (like J.P Morgan) that responded to the threatened boycott by pulling their ads told me that they will go as the winds blow, no matter how totalitarian the direction it might be.

Good to know. To hell with them.

4. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking of progressives with muddled values,  wanted NBC to pull the segment.. The NBC affiliate in Hartford refused to air the episode because the “wounds of that day that have yet to heal.”

Yes, by all means, journalists should never report news or do stories that might upset anyone.

5. Showing the integrity of a sneak-thief, NBC and Kelly furiously re-cut the interview and added a segment in which some Newtown parents could attack Jones.

6. Before the interview aired, Alex Jones released audiotape showing how egregiously Kelly misled him.

7. The interview aired last night, and reviewers were satisfied that Kelly was “tough enough” with Jones, and signaled with her voice, facial expressions, tone and questions that she thought he was scum. “Short of waterboarding him,” one critic wrote, “I don’t know what more Kelly could have done to expose Jones’ dark methods.”

Ugh.

Ethics Observations:

  • An interview, to be ethical, should be handled the same way regardless of whether the subject is Gandhi or Satan. This was something even the now deified Tim Russert wouldn’t accept. An interviewer who indicates to the audience that he things his subject is scum is biasing the interview and making it difficult for viewers to come to their own conclusions, which is what good journalism is supposed to foster. It is virtue signalling and manipulation when interviewers sneer, and glare, roll their eyes, and act like a prosecutor cross examining a serial killer.

I saw Russert interview David Duke this way, and he—Russert, that is— looked like a jerk. Katie Couric interviewed Ross Perot similarly, and CNN does this pretty much to every Republican or member of the Trump administration. These journalists aren’t trying to enlighten their audiences or give them any new insight; they just want to make sure that the audiences they care about know they feel feel the same way about the interview subject as any “decent” person out there.

  • There is nothing wrong with an “Alex Jones is horrible, and we’re going to show you why” TV news magazine segment, but that is  punditry piece, not journalism. I, for example, don’t need to be told how bad Jones is; I know already. I would, however, benefit from seeing a fair, open, tough but unbiased interview with him. That is what Kelly initially promised, and indeed promised Jones, until she was blasted into submission by a chorus of “Think of the children!”

That she and the network capitulated to outside interest group pressure to turn what was initially a straight interview into a hit piece represents the depths of unethical journalism. This is packaging the news to appeal to audience biases, not presenting facst and allowing the audience to make its own judgments. It is cowardice. The same instincts of base survival that made NBC pull a bait and switch on Jones are why the New York Times, the Washington Post and the networks are on a perpetual Trump-bashing orgy. Facts, objectivity and objective reporting will get them into trouble, they fear. Example: when President Trump announced last week that he would not be seeking to deport so-called “Dreamers,” illegals carried across the  illegally when they were infants or toddlers, the New York Times headlined the story as Trump once again breaking his campaign promises.

  • Bringing in a panel of foes to attack an interview guest without giving that guest a chance to confront his accusers is unethical, especially without informing the guest beforehand.

What would have been the reaction, do you think, if a typical Hillary Clinton soft-ball interview on “60 Mintutes” during the 2016 campaign had a tacke-on segment, in response to a letter campaign, where the Banghazi victim’s families vented about how they felt Clinton had lied to them?

  • Because nobody in the news media  likes Jones, no TV or media critic saw anything wrong with Kelly lying to Jones, or delivering an “interview” that was really an inquisition. The most-used rationalization was, “Oh, journalists do this all the time.” Not ethical journalists, they don’t. Wherever those are now.

Playing with passenger pigeons and Tasmanian tigers, perhaps.

  • David Susskind, who launched the genre of giving televised interviews to the worst of the worst on PBS, usually had the balance right. He interviewed dictators, IRA terrorists, Nazis, Klan members, pimps, drug-dealers, pederasts and more, always politely and without signalling contempt, asking probing questions but not spitting them, sometimes looking shocked and bemused but never going out of his way to make sure his audience knew that he really, really hated these people. Susskind approached most interviews with the objective of learning something, not bludgeoning his guests with what he had already decided.

In short, David Susskind correctly followed the Golden Rule: even deplorables should be treated the way you wish they would treat others.

  • We learned from this episode that today’s journalists take their cues from polls and boycotts, and march to the tune dictated by their partisan masters. They have no courage or principle, and as long as someone is unpopular enough that the public is willing to discard fairness regarding their treatment, then lies and misrepresentation are acceptable in dealing with them.

Writes Ann Althouse:

“It’s time once again to quote Janet Malcolm, “The Journalist and the Murderer”:

Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Like the credulous widow who wakes up one day to find the charming young man and all her savings gone, so the consenting subject of a piece of nonfiction writing learns—when the article or book appears—his hard lesson.

The catastrophe suffered by the subject is no simple matter of an unflattering likeness or a misrepresentation of his views; what pains him, what rankles and sometimes drives him to extremes of vengefulness, is the deception that has been practiced on him. On reading the article or book in question, he has to face the fact that the journalist—who seemed so friendly and sympathetic, so keen to understand him fully, so remarkably attuned to his vision of things—never had the slightest intention of collaborating with him on his story but always intended to write a story of his own. The disparity between what seems to be the intention of an interview as it is taking place and what it actually turns out to have been in aid of always comes as a shock to the subject.

5 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media

5 responses to “From The “Why We Can’t Trust The News Media” Files: The Megyn Kelly- Alex Jones Interview Fiasco

  1. Kelly is a typical hack who traded on Fox News’ known bias for a pretty face and a short skirt. Her true political leanings are little different from any other main stream talking head.

  2. Arthur in Maine

    Great stuff, Jack. I don’t disagree with a word of it – even the word that was misspelled.

    The thing I find most fascinating is that so much of the media – including Kelly – is overlooking something incredibly obvious to those of us who have been studying Jones – and the media – for a while.

    You know what I do for a living. Most people here don’t, and I’d just as soon keep it that way. Suffice to say: I need to be aware of media and media activities. Puts bread on the table. And as you know, I’m also a news junkie who finds what gets reported – and how – endlessly fascinating.

    I first became aware of Alex Jones during the early days of the Bush 43 administration.He was treated as a demigod by a certain segment of the American polity. It wasn’t the so-called “alt-right.” It was the moonbat left. Jones and his infowars.com and less-successful but still present sister site prisonplanet.com were often cited by hardcore progressives convinced that 9/11 was an inside job and that jet contrails revealed that the government was attempting to poison the United States with mind-altering chemicals.
    Conservatives were ignoring him; the paranoid left was citing him regularly.

    That switched during the Obama administration. The hardcore left sites I monitored that had praised Jones started vilifying him; the hardcore right started glomming on.

    I actually haven’t figured out whether Jones is a brilliant con man or just plain batshit crazy. If I were in a casino, I’d put a chip on black and another on red and hope that neither 0 or 00 showed up. But the ultimate leitmotif is this: either way, Jones has figured out a way to carve out a handsome living from people who believe that guvmint is out to get them.

    Yes, Kelly was unethical in her approach. That NBC is unethical is more or less res ipsa loquitur. The most brilliant irony in all of this is that assuming Jones is a charlatan – the conclusion Occam’s Razor would suggest – NBC, and Kelly, are equally guilty.

    But with all of this, I am reminded of this splendid quote from British author Alan Moore:

    “The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory, is that
    conspiracy theorists believe in a conspiracy because that is
    more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is actually
    chaotic. The truth is that it is not The Iluminati, or The Jewish
    Banking Conspiracy, or the Gray Alien Theory. The truth is far more
    frightening – Nobody is in control. The world is rudderless.”

  3. No argument from me. However, I also resonate with this Twitter moment… A parable about Megyn Kelly’s interview with Alex Jones https://twitter.com/i/moments/876522190061133825

    Jay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    1/ On the eve of Megyn Kelly’s risky interview with Alex Jones, I offer in this thread a fable. It’s title: The abyss of observation alone.
    263 replies 2,873 retweets 4,907 likes
    Retweet 2.9K
    Like 4.9K
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    2/ By a fable I mean a story, the outstanding feature of which is compressed insight. This did not happen. It’s not factual. It’s a fiction.
    5 replies 93 retweets 557 likes
    Retweet 93
    Like 557
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    3/ Reporters in conflict zones call it “going out.” Leaving the safety of the base, the city, the hotel— in order to observe for yourself…
    2 replies 86 retweets 509 likes
    Retweet 86
    Like 509
    More
    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    4/ Our fable is set in Sarajevo during the siege from 1992 to 1995, the longest in modern history, when more than 10,000 people were killed.
    1 reply 92 retweets 480 likes
    Retweet 92
    Like 480
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    5/ Through contacts, a Western reporter in Sarajevo gets an invitation: to visit with Bosnian Serb snipers and hear their side of the story.
    1 reply 87 retweets 449 likes
    Retweet 87
    Like 449
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    6/ After weighing the dangers and deciding how much he trusts this intermediary, the reporter decides to go. And the rendezvous is arranged.
    3 replies 81 retweets 446 likes
    Retweet 81
    Like 446
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    7/ He is picked up, blindfolded, moved from one car to another, and taken into the hills above the city. Which is where the siege “happens.”
    1 reply 82 retweets 442 likes
    Retweet 82
    Like 442
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    8/ At the encampment where the last car deposits him he is introduced to the men who shoot at innocent people in the streets below.
    2 replies 82 retweets 440 likes
    Retweet 82
    Like 440
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    9/ One of the snipers motions to the reporter to come look through his rifle scope: see what they see. This is why he is there. To observe.
    2 replies 90 retweets 446 likes
    Retweet 90
    Like 446
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    10/ So the reporter leans down to peer through the scope and sees two civilians idling on a corner, unaware that they are within range.
    2 replies 84 retweets 431 likes
    Retweet 84
    Like 431
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    11/ That is when the sniper says to the journalist: “Which one? The one on the left, or the one on the right?”
    2 replies 94 retweets 445 likes
    Retweet 94
    Like 445
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    12/ Stunned by the question, and declining to answer, the reporter pulls back from the lens. “I didn’t come here to be part of what you do.”
    2 replies 97 retweets 479 likes
    Retweet 97
    Like 479
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    13/ The sniper throws back his head and laughs. Then in two quick shots he kills them both.
    3 replies 100 retweets 471 likes
    Retweet 100
    Like 471
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    14/ “You should have answered,” the sniper says to the correspondent. “You could have saved one.” …That is the end of my fable. A fiction.
    10 replies 107 retweets 611 likes
    Retweet 107
    Like 611
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    15/ Now turn to Megyn Kelly: thinking she is going to stare into the abyss of Alex Jones and return with a great story to kick off her show.
    5 replies 120 retweets 658 likes
    Retweet 120
    Like 658
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    16/ In her mind, Kelly is “going out,” leaving the safety of the studio to see for herself. This is conspiracy theory, America. Take a look!
    10 replies 116 retweets 637 likes
    Retweet 116
    Like 637
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    17/ Surely she’s not joining up with Alex Jones. But it doesn’t occur to her that Alex Jones can join her to his cause— without her consent.
    13 replies 230 retweets 1,128 likes
    Retweet 230
    Like 1.1K
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    18/ Megyn Kelly may well end up fortifying Alex Jones with his core supporters and helping to spread his brand of media hate to more people.
    18 replies 244 retweets 999 likes
    Retweet 244
    Like 999
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    19/ Still, I would not say something like: it’s forbidden to interview Alex Jones. Rather, it is stupid to do so with an innocent intention.
    17 replies 346 retweets 1,654 likes
    Retweet 346
    Like 1.7K
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    20/ The lesson: just because you say you’re there only to observe doesn’t mean you have the power to confine yourself to an observer’s role.
    11 replies 481 retweets 2,235 likes
    Retweet 481
    Like 2.2K
    More

    Jay RosenJay RosenVerified account
    @jayrosen_nyu · Jun 17
    Replying to @jayrosen_nyu
    21/ That is what my fable is about. http://archive.pressthink.org/2005/03/01/svd_kpln.html … You may think you’re there to get a story. The story may have other plans. END
    PressThink: The Abyss of Observation Alone
    archive.pressthink.org

    • By all means, let’s protect people from their own inability to think critically by providing them pre-screened information.

      The fable is crap.

      But next time, I’m hoping Jay gives us his Twitter version of “Martin Chuzzlewit.”

  4. Though I doubt it would have changed Jones or his opinion on things had he been treated professionally, by doing what Kelly did, I think the end result is he will double-down more and will gain more followers.

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