Megyn Kelly smacks down dangerous conspiracy theorist
As vigorously hyped broadcast events go, Megyn Kelly’s televised confrontation with internet conspiracy cultist Alex Jones proved something of a dud. Not because Kelly didn’t give it her best. And maybe not even because the former Fox News-blonde’s best falls considerably short of legendary TV inquisitors such as Mike Wallace or even Barbara Walters.
It’s partly a gravitas thing; a matter of stage presence. At this point in her new career as a “mainstream” performer, Kelly hasn’t quite mastered it. She’s intelligent, poised and almost alarmingly attractive. But authoritative? Not yet. So whose idea was it to schedule Kelly opposite CBS’s “60 Minutes” anyway? For all of the controversy attending her Father’s Day interview with the Austin-based proprietor of InfoWars, a website that peddles low-IQ political pornography along with male enhancement products and survivalist gear (there’ll be a hot time in the fallout shelter tonight!), the program finished far behind U.S. Open golf and a “60 Minutes” rerun during the time period. Dead last.
But the real loser was Jones himself, whom Kelly had little difficulty exposing as a sweaty, blustering fraud. “Some thought we shouldn’t broadcast this interview because his baseless allegations aren’t just offensive, they’re dangerous,” Kelly pointed out. “But here’s the thing: Alex Jones isn’t going away.”
She’s correct on all counts. It’s also true that exposing the sheer fraudulence of a mountebank like Jones could be terribly important. People like him thrive in the semishadows of the internet. Viewers who wouldn’t dream of buying the poison InfoWars peddles need to be more aware of what he and similar far-right hucksters like him are all about. Because millions of naive dimwits ARE buying, including the president of the United States.
NBC documented several examples of evidence-free allegations going right from Jones’ paranoid rants straight to candidate Trump’s mouth -- such as the absurd allegation that Hillary Clinton would show up for a presidential debate high on drugs. Trump thought so, too.
Of course, Jones has also alleged that Hillary’s a space alien.
“When I think about all the children Hillary Clinton has personally murdered and chopped up and raped, I have zero fear standing up against her,” Jones said in a YouTube posting just before the 2016 election. “Yeah, you heard me right. Hillary Clinton has personally murdered children. I just can’t hold back the truth anymore.”
That was the infamous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory InfoWars also promoted. He has since backed off.
Fear of lawsuits can do that sometimes.
To date, Trump has left the space alien thing alone. But you never know. However, Jones now claims that the president phones him for advice. There seems no reason to doubt it. But enough about Trump. During their interview, Kelly shrewdly zeroed in on Jones’s bizarre insistence that the 2015 massacre of 26 children and teachers at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut was a hoax -- an Obama-orchestrated theatrical spectacle to promote gun control.
That obscene and deeply offensive lie caused one Connecticut NBC affiliate to refuse to air the program. Kelly’s willingness to put Jones on the air initially caused great anger and sorrow among the surviving parents of the slain 5- and 6-year-olds, several of whom have received hate mail and death threats from InfoWars adepts. Their pain is unimaginable.
Ultimately, however, they needn’t have worried. Whether or not NBC drastically re-edited the episode in response to critics, as some have claimed, the end result was nevertheless revealing of InfoWars’ methods.
So long as it fits the paranoid mindset, basically anything goes.
First, Kelly softened Jones up by highlighting his recent lampooning of teenaged terrorist victims in Manchester, England as “liberal trendies.” One of those trendies, she pointed out, was 8 years old. She described his practice as one of “reckless accusation, followed by equivocations and excuses.”
On cue, Jones began stammering, equivocating and babbling alibis. Maybe some children really died at Sandy Hook after all, he allowed. “I tend to believe that children probably did die there,” he said. “But then you look at all the other evidence on the other side.”
“Of course,” Kelly said in a brisk voiceover, “there is no ‘evidence on the other side.’”
As, indeed, there is not. Nor ever was. Kelly interviewed Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son Jesse died in the tragedy. The brokenhearted father’s courage at standing up to Jones can only be admired. Broadcast images of Jesse’s shining face shamed the blustering fraud.
And ultimately, shame may be the only known antidote for Jones’ brand of political obscenity. People inclined to accept absurd conspiracy theories can be more vulnerable to ridicule than reason. Men particularly fear the laughter of beautiful women. What’s more, precisely because of her longtime affiliation with Fox News, Megyn Kelly could end up being the perfect person for the job.
Assuming, that is, that she wants it.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000).You can email Lyons at eugenelyons2@ yahoo.com.