Megyn Kelly, NBC’s first lady of normalizing – Salon

 In Entertainment
In March 1997 veteran journalist Peter Arnett journeyed for CNN deep into eastern Afghanistan to interview a man relatively unknown to most Americans. The subject’s name was Osama bin Laden. Arnett and his crew were not allowed to use their own cameras. The reporter had to submit questions to bin Laden in advance and was not allowed to ask any follow-ups.

In archival video of the interview, bin Laden’s calm, measured explanation as to why he had declared war on the United States sounded just shy of understandable. CNN even illustrated his observations about the West’s double standard in regard to terrorism (“If [children] throw stones against the Israeli occupation, it says they are terrorists,” bin Laden pointed out) with footage of small, skinny boys running from uniformed men wielding automatic weapons.

But CNN countered bin Laden with interviews from United States intelligence officials, explaining his ties to terrorist attacks on American interests that claimed innocent lives. These too were accompanied by devastating imagery, this time of American people being pulled from smoking ruins, their faces contorted with fear and agony.

In doing this interview, bin Laden sought to sell himself to the Western world as a man of purpose, determination and intelligence. The al-Qaida founder was well aware that CNN, ABC and every other major outlet who sought him were granting a broad, powerful platform to espouse his views. In the interview segment, he said as much to Arnett when the journalist asks about his future plans. “You’ll see them and hear about them in the media, God willing,” bin Laden answered. Four and a half years later on Sept. 11, 2001, bin Laden made good on that statement.

Journalism’s purpose is to shed a light. Megyn Kelly is absolutely correct in making that observation. But knowing she does so in defense of her interview of Infowars host Alex Jones that, as of this article’s publication, is still set to air on her NBC newsmagazine “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly” is troubling.

It’s too easy to dismiss Jones as a kook: All signs point to his being one, not to mention a hateful person. How else can you characterize the claim that the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, was a hoax?

NBC’s announced plans to feature Jones on her Sunday news program resulted in a massive outcry led by some family members of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre. A number of these individuals say they have been harassed on social media by followers of Jones’ program Infowars. JPMorgan Chase pulled its advertising, and Sandy Hook Promise, a group that advocates the prevention of gun-related deaths, canceled Kelly’s planned appearance at its upcoming gala event.

Their anger is warranted. It’s wrong, however, to posit that Kelly or any other journalist should shy away from interviewing influential madmen, despots or agents of disinformation. Jones disseminates messages ranging from the ludicrous to the dangerous. Among his various claims to fame is his peddling of the theory that 9/11 was “an inside job.”

But this is not the reason I bring up Arnett’s exchange with bin Laden 20 years ago. Rather, it offers proof that seeking out these exchanges can serve a purpose beyond a ratings grab. Arnett’s interview, as well as one conducted afterward by ABC News’ John Miller, explained why viewers needed to know the name of a man speaking to them from a cave in Afghanistan — a person with the power to reach across the ocean and tear asunder their sense of safety.

And both Arnett and Miller knew how to handle a hostile interview subject, even one who sought to box them in with stipulations and rough conditions.

The issues and conditions facing Kelly right now are wildly different from those Arnett and Miller dealt with. But the main question now is one those men didn’t face, which is whether Kelly can handle Jones, a foaming-at-the-mouth conspiracy theorist who has President Donald Trump’s ear. Anyone who watched Kelly’s cozy one-on-one with Trump (following his long media feud with her) or her more recent conversation with President Vladmir Putin  two Sundays ago is correct to suspect that she’s not up to that task.

Here’s another important question: Is there truly value in “shedding light” on a man like Jones, a figure who attempts to soften his malignant influence by calling himself a performance artist? Or is Kelly simply doing her part to make Jones another part of the new version of normal?

Let’s consider that tête-à-tête with Putin. What value did viewers glean from it? Over and over again Kelly pressed him on intelligence assertions that Russia hacked the 2016 presidential election and alleged connections between Russian officials and the Trump campaign — questions the former KGB lieutenant colonel was ready to respond to with smooth denials, deflecting and redirection. Kelly managed to slide in one question that alluded to his suppression of journalism and free speech with no follow-up. Regarding Russia’s involvement with Syria or his view of Russia’s relationship to NATO or the European Union, Kelly asked . . . nothing.

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