NBC IS FEEL­ING

For­mer Fox News an­chor’s talk with con­spir­acy the­o­rist has led to back­lash.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Stephen Battaglio stephen.battaglio @la­times.com

the heat in only the sec­ond week of its new news­magazine be­cause an­chor Megyn Kelly, above, is sched­uled to in­ter­view far-right con­spir­acy the­o­rist Alex Jones this Sun­day.

The so­cial me­dia back­lash against Megyn Kelly’s NBC News in­ter­view with far-right con­spir­acy the­o­rist Alex Jones is show­ing how the tran­si­tion from cable to broad­cast news can be a tricky one.

Kelly, who joined NBC af­ter 12 years at Fox News, is the high­est-pro­file cable star to cross over to broad­cast news. While con­tro­versy of­ten drives view­ers to cable news per­son­al­i­ties, it’s gen­er­ally es­chewed in the more but­toned-down en­vi­ron­ment of a broad­cast net­work news di­vi­sion.

NBC News poached Kelly from Fox News with the hope of mak­ing her a big­ger star. But many TV news in­dus­try ob­servers be­lieve the neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity over an in­ter­view with a sub­ject who isn’t con­sid­ered a big TV “get” is not the for­mula for her turn­ing her new show into a hit.

The net­work is feel­ing the heat in only the sec­ond week of its new news­magazine “Sun­day Night With Megyn Kelly,” the prime-time plat­form for the an­chor re­port­edly earn­ing $17 mil­lion a year.

As a Fox News an­chor, Kelly reg­u­larly re­ceived crit­i­cism from lib­eral me­dia watch­dogs and oc­ca­sion­ally the ire of con­ser­va­tives who grew dis­dain­ful of her tough cov­er­age of Pres­i­dent Trump. Provoca­tive po­lit­i­cal talk is what drives view­ers to watch cable news ev­ery night as minute-tominute rat­ings are of­ten bro­ken down to mea­sure au­di­ence in­ter­est in ev­ery seg­ment.

But broad­cast news pro­grams — even with their di­min­ished rat­ings — still have a level of stature that isn’t ap­pro­pri­ate for a fringe fig­ure such as Jones, said Joe Pey­ron­nin, for­mer net­work news ex­ec­u­tive and jour­nal­ism pro­fes­sor at Hof­s­tra Univer­sity.

“There is no jour­nal­is­tic rea­son to give him a prime­time net­work plat­form,” Pey­ron­nin said. “While the con­tro­versy around the Alex Jones in­ter­view may draw higher viewer tune in, it will not ben­e­fit the Amer­i­can peo­ple, and has opened NBC News and Megyn Kelly to enor­mous crit­i­cism.“

In its sec­ond week on the air, “Sun­day Night With Megyn Kelly” av­er­aged 3.608 mil­lion view­ers — down 2.5 mil­lion view­ers from its June 4 de­but.

Jones — head of “In­fowars,” a Web-based ra­dio and video net­work that has re­lent­lessly pushed con­spir­acy the­o­ries — has re­peat­edly sug­gested the shoot­ing that killed 26 peo­ple at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School in New­town, Conn., in 2012 was a hoax staged to al­ter the coun­try’s gun laws. He has made sim­i­lar sug­ges­tions about the mass shoot­ing at a movie the­ater in Aurora, Colo., the same year.

Af­ter NBC aired a lengthy teaser Sun­day that showed Kelly in­ter­view­ing Jones for a seg­ment sched­uled to air this com­ing week­end on her pro­gram “Sun­day Night,” hun­dreds of an­gry mes­sages ap­peared on so­cial me­dia.

“A new low,” Diane Sher­man posted on Twit­ter with a photo of the 20 chil­dren killed by gun­man Adam Danza in the shoot­ing. “Have u no in­tegrity or shame @meg­ynkelly @NBC?”

The neg­a­tive re­sponse led JPMor­gan Chase to pull back its lo­cal TV ad­ver­tis­ing on “Sun­day Night” and other NBC News pro­gram­ming un­til af­ter the Jones seg­ment airs. NBC News did not re­spond to an in­quiry on whether other ad­ver­tis­ers are opt­ing out of the episode.

Kelly was also dropped as the host of a gala spon­sored by Sandy Hook Prom­ise, an anti-gun vi­o­lence or­ga­ni­za­tion founded by the par­ents of chil­dren killed in the school shoot­ing. The or­ga­niz­ers cited the in­ter­view as a rea­son for dump­ing Kelly from the event sched­uled for Wed­nes­day.

Kelly re­sponded with a state­ment on her Twit­ter ac­count that said she is dis­ap­pointed with the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s de­ci­sion. But she de­fended the in­ter­view, which is still sched­uled to air.

“I find Alex Jones’ sug­ges­tion that Sandy Hook was ‘a hoax’ as per­son­ally re­volt­ing as ev­ery other ra­tio­nal per­son does,” she said.

Kelly’s state­ment said that her in­ter­view is aimed at learn­ing how Jones, “who traf­fics in th­ese out­ra­geous con­spir­acy the­o­ries, has the re­spect of the pres­i­dent of the United States and a grow­ing au­di­ence of mil­lions .... Our goal in sit­ting down with him was to shine a light — as jour­nal­ists are sup­posed to do — on this in­flu­en­tial fig­ure, and yes — to dis­cuss the con­sid­er­able false­hoods he has pro­moted with near im­punity.”

Kelly said it’s her job to “shine a light” on news­mak­ers. Trump and his for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor, Michael T. Flynn, have been open en­thu­si­asts of Jones’ “In­fowars.”

Kelly was also de­fended Mon­day night by Liz Cole, an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer for NBC News, in an in­ter­view with CNN. “View­ers will see Megyn do a strong in­ter­view where she chal­lenges [Jones] ap­pro­pri­ately,” Cole said. “That’s the ben­e­fit of putting him out there. When some­one ac­tu­ally sits down and asks him ques­tions and he has to come up with an­swers — there’s value to that.”

Brian Doben NBC News

Tamir Kalifa As­so­ci­ated Press

ALEX JONES’ claims in­clude that the Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School mas­sacre was a hoax.

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