Megyn Kelly and Alex Jones: Two Peas in a Pod
Update: The New York Post reports the father of a child slain at Sandy Hook has been added to the broadcast "to counter Jones’ rhetoric."
Megyn Kelly and Alex Jones actually have a fair amount in common. Both have spent the last couple of years denigrating Black Lives Matter, Kelly on her old Fox News show and Jones in a seemingly infinite number of Infowars segments. Both have done their fair share to push fevered conspiracy theories involving the New Black Panthers, a group with a fraction of the KKK’s membership or the alt-right’s influence, but a better fit boogeymen-wise for an audience of white racists. Both Kelly and Jones have leaned into the ridiculous idea that Christmas—the right's rhetorical stand-in for White America™—is being destroyed in a war waged by godless multiculturalists. And though their styles may differ dramatically, both have made careers out of shamelessly hyping the fears, stoking the paranoia and bolstering the bigotry of the right.
In the flap over Kelly’s upcoming interview with Jones, one fact critics keep missing, or willfully ignoring, is that Kelly and Jones are two sides of the same coin. Sure, Jones arguably says more outlandish things from a position that used to be the far lunatic fringe. But Kelly spent more than a decade doing her own version of the right-wing’s dirty work from within the establishment at Fox News. The difference between Kelly and Jones, at the end of the day, amounts to nothing more than aesthetics. Together, their steady output of garbage has helped expand and thicken our current toxic atmosphere, which is now engulfing and threatening to choke us.
For evidence, just revisit Kelly’s body of work. Remember that she once characterized remarks emphasizing the need for a racially diverse judiciary by then-Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as an example of “reverse racism.” She accused Michelle Obama of perpetuating a “culture of victimization” for publicly relaying a personal experience with racism, and falsely suggested President Obama was going to force communities deemed "too white [and] too privileged" to integrate "whether [they] want it or not." In one 2015 segment, Kelly wondered aloud if finishing high school and getting a job is “valued in the black communities,” and in another, she derided a 15-year-old black teenage girl tackled by a white cop twice her size as “no saint.” Kelly spent 45 segments relentlessly promoting an absurd conspiracy theory linking the Obama administration and the New Black Panther Party in an anti-white voter suppression effort, suggesting a twin obsession with delegitimizing the first black president and turning a marginal group into a brand-new scary black thing. Also, never forget her insistence that both Santa Claus and Jesus are white.
Kelly’s resume is basically a catalog of her contributions to a culture of white racial resentment, fear of the other, counterfactual thinking, and right-wing paranoia that inevitably gives rise to a character like Jones. To take stock of the cultural impact of Kelly—and Fox News, for that matter—is to recognize the symbiotic relationship she has with Jones and his followers. Alex Jones couldn’t possibly have become a household name without the work Kelly—along with other right-wing mouthpieces like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity—put in for more than a decade at her old job. If Jones doesn’t open their interview with a handshake and a hearty thank-you, Kelly should be pissed.
We’re supposed to buy that Jones and Kelly are not alike, though, which hinges on the idea that Megyn Kelly has changed. The effort to rebrand and reform her image started quietly, gaining momentum ahead of the announcement of her NBC deal. It’s absolutely true that Kelly should never have had to endure years of workplace sexual harassment from Roger Ailes, and neither did she deserve the misogynist bullying from Donald Trump and his supporters that followed her questioning Trump on his long history of... misogynist bullying. But the mainstream assumption that those experiences transformed Kelly into a feminist hero, despite all evidence to the contrary, was misguided. It was also fortuitous, and did a tremendous amount to shift Kelly’s image toward the center.
So did a few of Kelly’s deliberate moves, such as joining a league of vocal Democratic celebrities including Kerry Washington, Emma Watson, Lena Dunham and Eva Longoria on “Lean in Together,” a feminist-lite campaign led by Sheryl Sandberg. Kelly also published a memoir in 2016, Settle For More, that was promoted in press materials that took pains to note she is “respected by... Republicans and Democrats” and has “fans across the political divide.” Atlantic contributor Caitlin Flanagin cites an NPR interview in which Kelly state she's interested in the “relative lack of power of certain minority groups and the fear they’re feeling in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.” It’s an interesting area of attraction for Kelly, given that it runs counter to nearly everything she’s ever done.
The subtext of Kelly’s interview with Jones is more of the same. The idea is to put Kelly in a seat of judgment over someone whose ideas are so abhorrent and despicable, so clearly wacked-out, that her background will not so much pale in comparison as be virtually erased. In a statement aimed at taking the heat off after outrage erupted around the interview, Kelly stated that her “goal in sitting down with [Jones] was to shine a light—as journalists are supposed to do—on this influential figure.” Except that the best way to illuminate how horrific and irresponsible Jones’ cult of personality is would be to interview those he’s harmed the most—the parents of children who were murdered in the Sandy Hook mass shooting, who have been pleading with Kelly for weeks to drop this whole thing.
The argument that the best strategy to stop Jones is to expose him to even more potential fans also falls flat. Infowars reached 4.5 million people between May 16 to June 14 according to Quantcast, while Jones' radio show attracted millions more. He's popular enough that yogurt behemoth Chobani bothered to file a lawsuit that successfully forced Jones to retract charges the company had "import[ed] migrant rapists.” A few months prior, Jones bowed to public pressure and apologized for promoting a bizarre conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria, a notion that attracted a nutjob with an AR-15 rifle. Jones claims mass shootings at Sandy Hook, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Brussels and Boston were “false flag” operations. He says 9/11 was an inside job and believes antidepressants in the oceans are making shrimp suicidal and chemicals in the water are making “the friggin’ frogs gay.”
Jones may well be in need of something—a mental health intervention, anger management classes or a new best friend. But what he does not need is access to a wider audience, especially since the president is one of his biggest fans. During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump called into Jones’ radio show and praised the host as “amazing,” promising “I will not let you down.” Now Infowars has White House press credentials and the president’s ear.
“Have you seen how the president sounds just like me?” Jones said on a recent episode. “Have you seen how Stephen Bannon sounds just like me? Have you seen how the whole paradigm’s globally shifting and you can’t hold it back?”
This is who Kelly is helping. As one Sandy Hook parent noted, it is especially cruel that Kelly’s interview with Jones will run on Father's Day. But the clear priority here is ratings, since Kelly’s viewership is already down 42 percent since her show’s debut. It’s the same old Kelly, despite all the efforts to convince us otherwise. “I have no mea culpa to offer," Kelly—who Newsweek described as "soulless, heartless, shameless, avaricious"—recently told the Daily News when asked if she felt any contrition for all the damaging crap she’s spewed. "I had the number one show in all of cable news in the demo (advertiser-friendly viewers 25-to-54 years old).”
None of that matters to the Sandy Hook families, who fear Jones’ interview will set off a retraumatizing set of events.
“We have been harassed repeatedly by people who we call hoaxers that think this hasn’t happened,” Cristina Hassinger, the daughter of Dawn Hochsprung, the school principal, told the New York Times. “When there is going to be such a widely available interview with attention given to one of the hoaxer ringleaders, it is going to unleash the trolls on us tenfold all over again.”