NBC anchor Megyn Kelly faced more than a week of withering backlash over her decision to interview Alex Jones, the far-right founder of Infowars.com, a site that has perpetuated conspiracy theories about 9/11 and the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Kelly was uninvited as a guest at a gala hosted by relatives of the victims of the Sandy Hook elementary shooting in Connecticut, which left 20 children dead, and J.P. Morgan pulled its ads from the broadcast.
But when the piece aired Sunday evening, most of the reviews from a skeptical audience were positive. Observers heaped praise on the fact that Kelly’s highly edited piece frequently reminded viewers of Jones’ conspiracies about Newtown, the September 11 terror attacks, and a host of other topics.
“If this had been a ’60 Minutes’ interview, Jones did enough shuffling to look plenty squirrelly, without delivering what might be called a classic Mike Wallace moment,” CNN critic Brian Lowry wrote.
.@megynkelly scored high marks with Alex Jones interview. Nailed the scumbug.
Seeing a lot of positive reviews like this https://t.co/a0IK8VYOIA
yup good work by @megynkelly. Would love to know how much editing was done following public outcry. https://t.co/nb6jBvm8h1
This intvw was always supposed to be 4 ppl who didn’t know/barely knew who Jones was. For those ppl, they saw a sweaty conspiracy theorist
Watching @megynkelly interview with Alex Jones, I’m even more convinced that her piece wasn’t just ok to do, but important journalism.
#Megyn Kelly did more to expose the real Alex Jones and than anyone else on TV. Solid journalism.
Others, like Washington Post media writer Margaret Sullivan and Matthew Gertz of the left-wing watchdog group Media Matters, said that although Kelly landed blows, Jones would ultimately benefit from some of the network’s exposure.
Washington Post media columnist and former public editor of the New York Times https://t.co/Uuoo2uzeiv
My take on Megyn Kelly’s Alex Jones segment, a competent piece that underscores the effectiveness of public pressure https://t.co/1XMEAPGloo pic.twitter.com/6NBT4pKFXp
For all the hype that Jones built up to the broadcast, his reaction seemed somewhat subdued considering his historic rants against critics of his work.
On a livestream airing after the broadcast, Jones oscillated between opinions about the segment.
At points, he lamented the editing of the piece, telling viewers that they were watching his unedited livestream and urging Kelly to disavow what he said were threats he received on social media during the broadcast. But at other points, he declared victory, popping a bottle of champagne while simultaneously arguing the broadcast was a letdown.
“It was kind of a nothing-burger,” Jones said. “Everyone who has texted me says it was nothing.”
Although the segment delivered little in terms of new information — Jones had previously been confronted about many of the conspiratorial claims on which he was pressed — Kelly’s segment addressed some of the concerns critics expressed leading up to the broadcast.
The New York Post reported that the piece was edited again this week to take a more critical tone on Jones’ work, while behind-the-scenes audio leaked by Jones himself showed Kelly assuring the Infowars founder that the segment would not be a hit piece.
Despite the public outcry, Kelly’s team largely avoided the negative reviews that have plagued other major newscasters who attempted to confront far-right personalities.
Earlier this year, CBS’ Scott Pelley attempted to confront pro-Trump provocateur Mike Cernovich over spreading wildly unproven claims about Hillary Clinton’s health. But critics panned the interview, arguing Pelley was clearly unprepared. Cernovich quickly flipped the anchor’s claims on their head when Pelley admitted the only information he had about Clinton’s health came from the campaign.