If you've spent any time on social media in the past 24 hours, you are likely aware that NBC's Megyn Kelly has recently done an interview with Infowars founder and chief ranter, Alex Jones. Just the mention of the existence of the interview prompted calls for the network to pull the segment. In a increasingly fragmented media environment, the one thing that seems to unites just about everyone is that this interview should not be aired.
And all of you would be wrong.
Let's be clear about one thing: Alex Jones is a loathsome individual. He's argued that 9/11 was a government conspiracy and that the school shooting at Sandy Hook was a false flag designed to give cover for anti-gun enthusiasts to pass new legislation. Whether it's Pizzagate or secret troop movements in the U.S., Jones is a oddly charismatic purveyor of whatever conspiracy will make him money and bring him attention. And given the damage he's done to the country already, I can understand why some critics believe that giving Jones a network platform is dangerous. Jones is Art Bell on crack, a guy who seems to have lost the ability to distinguish facts from paranoia.
And yet, I believe his interview with Megyn Kelly deserves to be seen.
I've heard a number of arguments against airing the interview and they generally fall into two categories. First, there's the worry that providing Jones with a primetime television platform will give his opinions a wider distribution and open up the possibility that more people will hear his theories and take them at face value. Since this isn't 1977, I'm pretty sure that most of the people who are open to his special brand of crazy have already used the Google machine to type in "false flag excuse for any tragedy" to find the Inforwars archives.
I'm not concerned the interview will find Jones new fans. It's not as if America has a large pool of paranoid, anti-government types who want to believe in unlikely conspiracies. But they just haven't been motivated to watch cable or peruse the Internet. No, my fear is that Jones will be able to explain his POV in a way that makes him seem less dangerous than he is in real life. But more on that later.
The second argument is that Jones shouldn't be rewarded for his years of hurtful paranoia with a long, high-profile interview and feature. The phrase bandied around is that this interview would "normalize" Jones and make him seem more like just an average guy who just happens to harbor some deeply, conspiratorial theories. The belief is that the only way to deal with speech you disagree with to the depths of your soul is to lock it away and protect the world from its spread.
But evil isn't spread with sunlight, it finds its strength in the shadows. Evil people are adept at pointing to boycotts against them and using those efforts as "proof" that elites or the powerful are hiding the truth. Every effort to restrict speech and wall off dangerous thoughts only strengthens the resolve of the paranoid. Shelving this interview or going after advertisers only increases the claims from the Infowars crowd that the press and American government have something to hide.
Despite all of this, whether or not this Alex Jones interview is revelatory or propaganda depends on how successful Megyn Kelly is at stripping away the layers of Jones' carefully constructed veneer. He's an experienced talk show host who isn't afraid of a verbal tussle.
My fear is that he'll be able to deflect any tough questions from Kelly and come off as rationally conspiratorial. Such a result won't be a disaster for American society, but it would allow Jones to declare a moral victory of sorts over the dreaded mainstream media.
Ideally, Kelly is able to highlight some of Jones's more loathsome comments. She'll be able to surgically separate him from his Infowars followers by illustrating his often contradictory positions. In an ideal world, Kelly will reveal Jones to be the manipulative opportunist that seems to be always cowering just under his public persona.
But no matter how the interview turns out, this interview deserves to be aired. It's the right journalistic decision and it is also the outcome that best reflects the soul of America's founding fathers. That every American - no matter how unsettling or morally bankrupt their beliefs - has the right to be heard.