Why the left is wrong about Alex Jones and Megyn Kelly

June 23, 2017 GMT

When the Sandy Hook massacre happened, my older daughter was still in diapers; now she has a little sister. At the time, and often since, I have experienced internal horror at the thought of finding out that a crazed person with easy access to a gun had ended their lives while I was at work.

I deeply sympathize with the parents who went through that nightmare that will never end, and my contempt is profound and endless for someone such as Alex Jones, who in hucksterish, willfully ignorant fashion claims that Sandy Hook was a hoax designed to shore up support for gun control. The shooting rampage in Alexandria only underscores the unforgivable callousness of Jones’ take on Sandy Hook and his contempt for efforts to stanch the ability of murderous madmen to get their hands on lethal weapons.

Or that Chobani was hiring rapists, or that assorted pedophile rings are rampant in our land, or that the recent election was rigged, and on and on. And now here comes Megyn Kelly, giving him the privilege of a face-to-face interview on NBC to be aired this weekend. The final insult? Actually, no — the furor over Kelly’s choice is, I believe, more about the heart than the head. To censor the man from mainstream engagement would 1) serve no purpose and 2) provide justification for similar treatment of people most of us would be less comfortable seeing silenced.

We are supposed to be appalled that Kelly is “giving Jones a platform” at all. Multiple advertisers, including JP Morgan Chase, have withdrawn from Kelly’s show in protest; the bank’s chief marketing officer, Kristin Lemkau, tweeted: “As an advertiser, I’m repulsed that @megynkelly would give a second of airtime to someone who says Sandy Hook and Aurora are hoaxes.”

However, it would appear that Jones already has a platform, with his hit radio show and his website regularly consulted by millions of people. Would one interview with Megyn Kelly somehow constitute a tipping point in Jones’ exposure? Of course not — his trajectory would be identical whether or not Kelly spoke with him. Sure, some people may get their first hit of Jones via the Kelly interview and become fans, but we can be sure that otherwise, they would become fans of his later through other means.

If this were 20 years ago and Jones were scoring an interview on national television as someone who until then had been peddling his message through mail-order videos and a newsletter, then this aggrievement might make some sense. But those days are as long gone as the Macarena.

Some of the anger at this interview is also about who is conducting it. Kelly will always be associated with her roots in the Fox News orbit, which lends a sense that she may not be as starkly opposed to the likes of Jones as many would prefer.

Note, for example, that if the interviewer were George Stephanopoulos or Lester Holt, many would feel at least somewhat less uncomfortable. This means, however, that the sense of disgust is not only about Jones himself. And might we consider whether some of the contumely aimed at Kelly has something to do with her being a woman, and perhaps especially a woman who embraced the Fox house brand of “pretty blonde” for so long?

In that vein, we might say that the issue is the principle of the thing rather than its logic. According to this approach, the responsible media figure does not interview Jones because this indicates a certain basic validation, conferring by gesture a kind of legitimacy on someone best cast outside of respectable society as a revolting clown. However, that isn’t logical. Nietzsche reminded us, for example, that with punishment, we often justify it on the basis of logic — that we are rehabilitating — when what is actually driving us is vengeance. In the same way, one can claim Jones should be barred from the air for logical reasons having to do with exposure and principle when at heart we just can’t stand Alex Jones and want to show it.

But the perils of following the heart rather than the head become clear when we look elsewhere. Take the debates in the 1980s and 1990s and beyond over the nature of many rap lyrics. The kind of rap lyrics that openly celebrated guns, murder, misogyny, greed and profanity are no longer in mainstream fashion as they once were, but there was a time when a certain contingent — Tipper Gore, C. Delores Tucker, legions of editorialists — devoted quite a bit of time to assailing these rappers as scourges of society — poor role models for minority youth, dangerous to women, polluting society with filthy language and so on.

However, I feel confident that few of the people who want to bar Jones’ interview from being aired on NBC would feel, or would have felt back then, the same way about silencing Tupac Shakur or 50 Cent. Crucially, a common line in response to a call for Shakur to be denied an interview with, say, Barbara Walters, would have been that one television interview wasn’t such a big deal anyway.

In general, if NBC silences Jones now, we all need to get ready to sputter and double-talk when some articulate right-wingers start saying that certain leftists should be barred from high-exposure television “on principle” because they foment interracial enmity, for example.

The truth is the concern about Jones’ influence is overblown anyway. Recreationally alarmist nutjobbery tends to have a short shelf life, especially in these times when the media 1) offer so much to hook people on to the next big thing ever over the horizon and 2) crave scoops that knock down the famous to feed the insatiable maw of round-the-clock news. Remember the cocktail party sense of alarm about Sarah Palin and the idea of her being a heartbeat away from the presidency not so long ago? She ended up not even being able to make it as a Fox News host. Or, goodness, how frightening Glenn Beck ... was. Christine O’Donnell? Anybody? Yes, conspiratorial malarkey will always thrive — but silencing the latest flavor of it is just a game of whack-a-mole.

Now I do hope Kelly gives the man a hard time and possibly even does a tag after the interview where she hacks away at some of the verbal kudzu Jones will surely upchuck during his allotted time. The media do not have a responsibility to muzzle anti-empiricist and even dangerous opinions. They do, however, have a responsibility to air them amid intelligent engagement including, if necessary in the view of a critical mass of reasonable people, pointed and pitiless takedown.

And for the record, I would never dare to speak for the Sandy Hook parents, but having looked inside myself before writing this, I can say I personally believe I would feel this way even if I had suffered the kind of unspeakable loss they did.