Every Person You See on Air, Someone Chose to Put Them There
Former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly is best known to some for her harassment claims against her former boss, Roger Ailes. But NBC hired her to host a primetime news program, presumably based on her journalistic record at Fox—which included questioning whether education, marriage and employment are “valued in the black communities, in the inner cities,” wherein it might be “cool” to “be somebody who doesn’t necessarily prize being there for your family.”
And her famously adamant argument that Santa Claus is “just white,” that “Jesus was a white man too” and, to the African-American writer who dared to broach the issue, “just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change.”
Of her new NBC gig, Kelly has said, “It’s allowed me to open up more and show more of who I am through my interview subjects.” So NBC is now getting what it either wanted or should have expected: controversy, complete with advertisers pulling out—due to Kelly’s surprising-only-to-those-who-are-easily-surprised decision to devote an early show to a tete-a-tete with noted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, whose right-wing nuttery is popular with Donald Trump, among others, despite Jones’ own attorney’s contention, in a child custody battle, that it’s all really a kind of performance art.
Kelly was dropped from the roster of an event organized for victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre, because, among other things, Jones has dedicated years to vigorous propagation of the notion that the attack didn’t happen, the children and teachers never died, and so a campaign of hateful harassment aimed at their families is only appropriate.
“I find Alex Jones’s suggestion that Sandy Hook was ‘a hoax’ as personally revolting as every other rational person does,” Kelly says in a statement, dutifully reported in a New York Times story:
It left me, and many other Americans, asking the very question that prompted this interview: How does Jones, who traffics in these outrageous conspiracy theories, have the respect of the president of the United States and a growing audience of millions?
Media Matters’ Matt Gertz points out that though Alex Jones is newsworthy, it’s long past time for reporters to understand the perils of trying to “trap” conspiracy theorists who are willing to lie about what they’ve previously alleged. If Kelly truly wanted to inform people about Jones’ impact, Gertz says, she wouldn’t build up a high-profile interview with him, but with his victims.
The notion that she would, of course, only ever give a hater a platform in order to break a path into the important story of his popularity is easily enough undermined, but the Times makes it effortless with a link right alongside to its related story: “He Calls Hillary Clinton a ‘Demon’: Who is Alex Jones?”—from October 2016.
Of course, that also invites the question of why the Times would cover Kelly’s decision as something remarkable, from afar, when they presumably could provide a much more personal perspective.
And that’s the thing to remember: Every person you see on air is there because someone chose to put them there, and is taking the place of someone else who might be there. So when they, say, trot out the “n-word” and say it’s less “a race thing than a comedian thing”; when they ask an Indian-American spelling contest winner if she’s “used to” writing “in Sanskrit” because they’re “joking”; when they lament a commemoration of the Orlando Pulse shooting being used to agitate for gun control because “most gay people aren’t political. Most gay people, you know, they care about pop music and going to the beach”—the thing to keep in mind is that freedom of speech is not the same thing as a guaranteed right to a megaphone. It is always appropriate to ask media outlets why they have chosen these people over others to fulfill their obligation to serve the public interest.