Here’s the problem: Kelly doesn’t quite have a place in these highly partisan times, and her early “gets” with Vladimir Putin and Alex Jones don’t change that. The Left is still disgusted over her race-baiting reports on Fox News over the years. (NewsOne has helpfully chosen her “10 most racist moments” here.) The Right now sees her as a traitor, heading to NBC in a bid to go mainstream.
NBC should have known this wouldn’t be easy, but instead of working on an image rehab, the network threw her to the wolves with Putin and Jones. Simply showing up at NBC and saying (wink-wink) now I can be a real journalist doesn’t make that baggage go away.
It ought to have been no surprise that re-entering the hornet’s nest might sting. Now we’re watching the karma unfold live, thanks to her chat with conspiracy quack Jones.
Kelly and NBC should have considered the likelihood that a man who is willing to battle the grieving parents of dead Sandy Hook children would have no problem secretly taping her and releasing their interview early. Ironically, Jones is pushing the narrative that Kelly isn’t giving him a fair interview — a concept that’s raw meat for his many disciples — when the truth is, NBC has promoted Kelly’s interview as a softball look at a very hateful human being.
CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker, who has his own issues (as someone instrumental in creating a springboard for Donald Trump’s rise to power), told reporters Thursday that the way NBC News has so far presented the interview “has not led to the belief that he’s held to account as much as somebody who spews such hatred and nonsense needs to be.” Later, he added, “Marketing of this has thus far been unfortunate.”
Jones is absolutely worth interviewing. Anyone — good or bad — who has amassed power and the ear of the president should be held accountable by the media. Kelly pointed that out on Twitter on Thursday: “President Trump, by praising and citing him, appearing on his show, and giving him White House press credentials, has helped elevate Jones, to the alarm of many,” she wrote. “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.”
However, her interview has so far been positioned as much as a personality profile as it has a serious one-on-one with someone who has built an empire spreading hateful rhetoric.
Newsmagazines are hard to sustain, especially shows built around a single celebrity anchor. In fact, their track records have a near-perfect failure rate: “Rock Center with Brian Williams,” “Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel,” “Eye to Eye with Connie Chung,” “Real Life with Jane Pauley,” and “Now with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric” were all built around A-list anchors. None lasted long.
That’s partly because, despite the marquee names, these shows aren’t supposed to be cults of personality. They live and die on big “gets,” and there often aren’t enough huge interviews out there that move the needle. Deep investigative pieces are great for shows like “Frontline” and “60 Minutes,” but they don’t attract enough eyeballs to justify those anchors’ hefty paychecks.
“Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly” is making headlines in its early weeks with two big interviews, and that’s sure to help with tune-in. But is NBC getting its money’s worth? (Particularly, the $18 million annual salary Kelly is said to be earning at her new network).
NBC News ought to be concerned that viewers are already making up their mind on what they think of Kelly in her new home, before the network even launches the real vehicle behind their investment: a weekday 9 a.m. show that will air immediately after “Today” on NBC starting this fall.
In hindsight, NBC did this backward. A morning show is the perfect place to reinvent and reintroduce Kelly to viewers who have heard the gripes from both sides of the aisle and perhaps want to make their own judgment. Now, she’s been politicized all over again. And no matter how the Alex Jones piece winds up being edited and presented Sunday night, NBC has an $18 million problem.
Here’s Jones’ highly edited version of his surreptitious recordings of Kelly: