The clash unfolding between Alex Jones and Megyn Kelly is fodder for close observers of the news media. And for good reason. By releasing audio of their discussions, Jones turned the affair into a chess match and provided us a rare glimpse into a high-profile journalist's attempts to court a potential interviewee.
Kelly's attempt to earn Jones' trust — and the interview — involved a pretty clear suggestion that she was seeking to humanize him. Noting her attention was drawn to Jones after following the media coverage of his custody case, Kelly explained to him in a pre-interview, "I'm not looking to portray you as some kind of boogeyman. The craziest thing of all would be if some people who have this insane version of you in their heads came away saying, ‘You know what? I see the dad in him. I see the guy who loves those kids and is more complex than we have been led to believe.'"
That's laying it on pretty thick, all in an effort to score an interview with a guy who peddles some false and harmful theories to a devoted audience. It's also in sharp contrast to the statement Kelly released after she was dropped as the host of a Sandy Hook organization's upcoming gala for giving Jones, who's promoted the theory that the tragedy never actually happened, a major platform.
In the statement, Kelly said her interest in pursuing the interview was prompted by Jones' relationship with President Trump. She also pretty clearly implies the interview would, in fact, "portray" him as a "boogeyman":
...I find Alex Jones's suggestion that Sandy Hook was ‘a hoax' as personally revolting as every other rational person does. It left me, and many other Americans, asking the very question that prompted the 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. 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. 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.
I completely agree. But, of course, that's not how she pitched the interview to Jones, despite her apparent assurance to him on the recording, "If there's one thing about me, I do what I say I am gonna do. I don't double-cross." She also appeared to pledge producers would run the interview by Jones before airing it, committing to a highly questionable practice.
Did she really not expect him to record everything?
I think Kelly's decision to interview Jones was the right one, though it's a tough call, and I don't necessarily fault her for pitching the piece as an attempt to show that even people on the fringes of our politics can be more complex than their personas — that doesn't necessarily result in a justification or promotion of his ideas.
The conversation about whether or not Jones is worthy of a platform, even one that delegitimizes his conspiracy theories, was one that became irrelevant when we elected Trump president. The need to interrogate Jones is a bizarre and unfortunate consequence of that process.
So if Kelly believes the argument she made to Jones — "Your comments during the trial just reminded me you are just like anybody and I thought that would be an interesting story to tell" — then she should be confident enough in what she said to Jones to say the same to the public. Though the tones are contradictory between her pitch to Jones and her public statement, Kelly can argue that taking a peek at the personal side of Jones (his legal team argued in the trial Kelly references that he plays "a character" on his radio show) does not preclude her from delegitimizing his ideas and exploring his relationship with Trump.
The backlash would be inevitable, but Kelly is capable of mounting a compelling defense of her argument, assuming that, in fact, is actually her argument.
If she believes the version of the story she pitched to Jones is a legitimate journalistic pursuit, she should say so. Most people would disagree, but if she really does what she says she's going to do, as she boasted in the pre-interview, there's only one way to prove it.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.