Former Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly caused a wave of controversy last week when she announced that she would air an interview with Alex Jones, the truth-free provocateur behind the website InfoWars, on her new NBC program on Sunday. Kelly’s reasoning was that Jones was worth covering since his paranoid ramblings have started to have real-world consequences, including influencing the president of the United States. Skeptics worried that by giving Jones a mainstream platform, Kelly would help him expand his influence and his own sense of self-importance.
In the end, the segment that aired was nothing but critical of Jones, and included a tearful interview with the father of one of the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting, which Jones has claimed may not have actually happened. Media Matters notes that after what was reportedly some last-minute editing in response to the barrage of criticism Kelly received,
The segment benefited from devoting very little time to Kelly’s interview with Jones, minimizing his opportunity to appeal to her audience. Instead, through strong voiceover, clips from Jones’ program featuring the host spouting conspiracies, and interviews with a conservative commentator who opposes Jones’ influence and the father of a child who died at Sandy Hook, Kelly explained how Jones operates, the harassment his targets experience, and his close ties to President Donald Trump.
In the parts of the interview that did air, Jones continued to expose himself as an amoral publicity hound, for instance telling Kelly that his promotion of Sandy Hook trutherism—which has caused families of the victims such pain—was merely his playing the “devil’s advocate.”
Kelly also pointed to Jones’ relationship with Trump, including the recent email that the president’s campaign committee sent linking to an article on Jones’ Infowars. But there’s a larger story that she overlooked, one that doesn’t paint Jones—or even Trump—as an anomaly. As Brian wrote last week, Jones and Trump have both benefited from the “mainstream” GOP’s increasing reliance on conspiracy theories and “alternative facts”:
While Kelly certainly may not be the best person to question Jones, in part due to her own past as a conservative demagogue at the Fox News Channel, it was the president—not Kelly—who brought Jones into the limelight.
Jones is one of Trump’s most shocking sources of misinformation, but he’s far from the only one. While we dubbed Trump the “InfoWars candidate,” he has also relied on a host of other unreliable and often untrustworthy sources for many of his unverified claims: radio host Michael Savage, consultant and fringe media personality Roger Stone, the birther website WorldNetDaily, and the tabloid National Enquirer, just to name a few. Trump has also leaned on outlets like Breitbart, likely the source of his unfounded claim that President Obama wiretapped his campaign office, and Charles Johnson’s GotNews. If his son Eric is to be believed, Trump was motivated to run for president after reading a false chain email.
The ascendance of Trump and Jones didn’t come out of nowhere. Instead, it’s the inevitable product of a Republican Party that has increasingly relied on conspiracy theories generated by the right-wing media to push its political aims.
Kelly showed that Jones is a huckster, but that was already apparent. The more disturbing story is how Jones managed to become the household name he is—by helping to create, and then taking advantage of, a movement that is no longer bound to reality or objective fact.