Experts say the interview with the Infowars conspiracy theorist will do NBC News good as long as Kelly is tough but fair
Megyn Kelly is under fire (again), and she likely wouldn’t have it any other way.
The new NBC star is facing heavy criticism for interviewing alt-right fake news provider Alex Jones on a segment on “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly” set to air this week. While no one outside NBC has actually seen the TV segment, Kelly is being accused of providing a platform for Jones, who among other conspiracy theories, has claimed that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax. J.P. Morgan Chase has pulled its ads from NBC until the episode airs, while some family members of Sandy Hook victims have dis-invited Kelly from hosting a gala for their charity.
Others however think that Kelly is doing exactly what she’s paid a reported $18 million annually for. “If you try to eliminate all controversy from journalism, you’re eliminating some of the most useful information,” says Adam Clayton Powell III, a former senior executive at NPR and ABC Cable news. Powell has worked several times with Kelly’s boss, NBC News head Andy Lack, and says that the top brass at 30 Rock will be happy with Kelly’s work as long as she serves up a tough-but-fair interview with Jones on Sunday. “They have to make the case that it’s a legitimate topic that meets their professional standards,” he says. “If that’s upsetting for some, it’s the cost of doing business.”
Here is my statement regarding Sunday night’s interview: pic.twitter.com/iS2VfyLt6S
— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) June 13, 2017
Powell, now a senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, would know. He once produced a talk show about skinheads and the far-right, in which someone was physically attacked on set—something that made his higher-ups gleeful. “We rarely see a major loss of advertisers,” he said. “If anything, this is a great source of publicity for NBC.”
Kelly is not the first media personality to face the brickbats for talking to a highly divisive subject. Here are five other controversial interviews:
1. Condé Nast sent renaissance woman editor Joan Juliet Buck to interview Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad for a flattering U.S. Vogue piece that ran in early 2012. Weeks after the cringe-worthy piece titled “A Rose in the Desert” was published, Assad’s dictator husband began a brutal crackdown on dissidents that continues today. The fashion bible later pulled the article and Buck got canned from her contributing writer gig.
2. New Zealand journalist Peter Arnett interviewed Osama Bin Laden in 1997, just after the terrorist declared a holy war on the United States government. In an eerie foreshadowing of the 9/11 attacks, Bin Laden said that America would “see [his future plans] and hear about them in the media, God willing.”
3. When white supremacist David Duke was running for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1990, Powell was a producer for Rev. Jesse Jackson. He arranged for the African-American liberal activist to interview the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan on Jackson’s talk show. “The reaction from the staff was a fear that we’d legitimize him,” says Powell. “I asked them if they really thought letting Duke say racist things” would have that effect. The reverend went along.
4. Shortly before the Shah of Iran fell, Mike Wallace of “60 Minutes” flew to Tehran to interview the autocratic ruler. Wallace told the Shah to his face that the Central Intelligence Agency considered him a “dangerous megalomaniac,” while the Persian leader complained that there was too much Jewish influence in the United States. While the Shah was a U.S. ally, his poor human rights record had led to increased criticism on the part of the American public.
5. Rapper Lil Wayne tried to get an ABC “Nightline” interview pulled last year after he made controversial remarks. “I don’t feel connected to a damn thing that ain’t got nothin’ to do with me,” he told interviewer Linsey Davis. “I ain’t no f–king politician.” The “Lollipop” star was apparently triggered by Dais asking if his daughters would mind him rapping in less than flattering terms about women in his songs. ABC aired the interview anyway and Lil Wayne apologized for being agitated.
6. Oprah Winfrey interviewed a group of skinheads on her eponymous talk show in 1988, and one neo-Nazi ended up being thrown out after he swore and called Winfrey a monkey. “I’ve never seen such or felt such evilness or hatred in all my life,” the media personality said at that time. Over two decades later, two members of the racist faction returned to the show and apologized for their behavior.
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