NBC’s storied news division is coming under heavy fire for what its critics say is a botched handling of its new hire Megyn Kelly’s interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones – and for its overall rollout of Megyn Kelly as a broadcast network news star.
NBC is determined to air the Jones interview Sunday evening despite enormous pressure to cancel it from parents of children who died in the Sandy Hook massacre, which Jones has previously alleged was faked.
NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, 70, has said the story on "Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly" will be edited with the sensitivity of its critics in mind.
Jones is the far-right radio host whose allegations about Sandy Hook being a hoax have sparked widespread outrage. A deranged gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators at the Newtown, Connecticut school in December 2012.
Lawyers who represent 12 people who lost loved ones in the massacre urged Lack and other NBC officials not to air the interview. The report is likely to have devastating human consequences, the families wrote to NBC.
Lack, who made a big splash by hiring Kelly, is under pressure now over the messy handling of the Jones interview which has become a public relations nightmare for NBCUniversal and parent company Comcast. Also under pressure is Lack’s handpicked deputy, Noah Oppenheim, who traveled to Moscow for Kelly’s interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which was criticized as weak by reviewers.
The controversy over Kelly’s Jones interview exploded after NBC aired promos for the interview in which Kelly did not appear to be challenging Jones’ Sandy Hook conspiracy theories sufficiently harshly.
Jones then released a photo of him and Kelly sitting together in a vehicle, smiling at the camera.
CNN anchor Chris Cuomo told journalists at a promotional event for his morning program last week that the NBC-produced promo put Kelly in a bad spot.
“You bring people on who are controversial—that’s not a new concept,” Cuomo said. “It’s always been about how do you do it, how you position them, how much of a platform you give them…The tease got them into trouble…I think that’s objectively stated.”
At least one advertiser, JP Morgan Chase, has pulled ads from NBC News programming until after the Jones interview airs. And NBC Connecticut affiliate WVIT, whose viewing area includes Newtown, has said it will not carry “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly” on Sunday.
The situation got far worse when, in embarrassing audio recordings that Jones released Thursday night, Kelly can be heard saying the following about the host's conspiracy theory regarding Sandy Hook: “I’ll ask you about some of the controversy and I’ll ask you and you can respond."
Kelly was also heard saying to Jones that “It’s not going to be some gotcha hit piece, I promise you that.”
Kelly goes on to say in one of the pre-interview recordings that she is a “combination of Mike Wallace, Oprah Winfrey and Larry the Cable Guy.
“That’s what you’ll get in the interview – a little bit of all three of those and hopefully everybody will walk away feeling like they had a good dinner – nutritious, some red meat with some dessert at the end,” she is heard saying.
“Of course I’m going to do a fair interview I’m still me – I’m not going to go out there and be Barbara Walters,” she added derisively about the famous interviewer.
Broadcasting experts said NBC’s experienced producers should never have let Kelly, a newbie when it comes to news magazine style programming, make those kinds of “booking calls” to a wily subject like Jones who was likely to be recording everything.
According to the New York Post, an embattled NBC has been completely overhauling the interview to be tougher on Jones following all the backlash this week.
The New York Post also reported that as the controversy raged, Kelly personally called the Sandy Hook families to invite them on the show to counter Jones’ rhetoric. However, a number of families reportedly declined to appear on the show.
Jones now doesn’t want the piece to air because “from the promos NBC has run, Megyn is distorting me,” Jones told The Hollywood Reporter. “It has all the markings of a PR stunt.”
He added, “They just want me to be the devil because I’m the alternative media … Fake news lives at NBC. They basically made me look like a Halloween character.”
He also said he would release an unedited version of the Kelly interview that he recorded.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.