In the weeks prior to Megyn Kelly’s interview with Alex Jones, the internet was not happy. Advertisers withdrew sponsorship, and people were upset not only that Alex Jones was being given a platform, but that Megyn Kelly — someone rightly considered quite problematic in her own right — was the one giving it to him. I, myself, was very much prepared to hate it.
It was, as it turned out, a ratings flop. Which I think is unfortunate, honestly, because — as it turned out — it was actually very good for what it needed to be.
To be clear, this was not an interview for people who already know Alex Jones is the worst. It wasn’t for me and it probably wasn’t for you. Kelly does not tell us anything we do not already know. This was Alex Jones Is A Monster 101. This was for people who perhaps know nothing more about him than the fact that our President thinks he is a swell dude.
In the interview, Kelly took viewers from Point A — this is Alex Jones, this is what he said about the Sandy Hook shooting being “fake” (a thing most people, regardless of political affiliation can agree is horrible) — to Point B — here is a different man, one whose child was killed at Sandy Hook, and here is how this is affecting him and other parents — to Point C — this is a man who has the ear of the president.
Kelly did a good job, I thought, of zeroing in on the harm Jones has caused to real people, people they can see on their television, people who are devastated by the loss of their children. People they can relate to on a human level. She did an excellent job of showing people exactly who Alex Jones is — a sniveling, poorly informed, manipulative person who immediately shrinks down when forced to explain any of his actions. She did an excellent job of meeting people where they are rather than where they are “supposed” to be.
Now, let me be very, very clear — I do not care for Megyn Kelly. I was never on the “Oh look! Megyn Kelly is a fabulous feminist now!” train during all the Trump shit. She has said many things I find completely appalling, from the “Santa Claus is white” shit and beyond. That being said — this was the right way to handle this particular interview, and I am glad that she did it. In fact, I’m almost glad that she was the one who did it, specifically because of the fact that her audience is the one that needs to hear these things most.
If someone more like me were to have conducted that interview, a lot of people would have been able to tune it out as white noise from someone with an obvious agenda who merely wanted to attack Jones. It would have been less effective — and I truly believe that sometimes we need to put aside our own comfort in order to focus on what is most effective in terms of reaching people and changing their minds.
Now, sure — NBC could have merely done a special on the families and how they have been affected by Alex Jones’s bullshit, hosted by someone who does not have “issues” of her own. It would have been much nicer and probably everyone would have approved. But that would not have been quite as effective as him also being on the show, stammering about and trying to excuse his complicity in this, and not doing a very good job of that at all. Enough rope, and all that.
The general zeitgeist of our time is that bad people are not supposed to be rewarded with attention. When there is a mass shooting or other horrible crime, we’re not supposed to focus on the killer, but rather on the victims — to the point where news outlets are harshly criticized for saying the killer’s name or showing pictures of them. On the less serious side, calls to “PLEASE STOP GIVING HER ATTENTION SO SHE’LL GO AWAY!!!11!!!!” erupt every time a story about Kim Kardashian comes out.
The feeling, partially, is that attention is the oxygen that keeps bad things and bad people thriving. If someone is bad and they don’t get attention for it, they will just stop being bad. If they are legitimized by the attention, their influence will grow and more people will think that this is a good way to get attention and go along with them and also be terrible. Thus, the only way to handle this is to ensure that the only people getting attention are good people, which ideally will create a Pavlovian response across the world whereby if people want attention they will be good people.
As much as I understand the feeling and intent behind this, I have also yet to see it actually work. Not with loudmouth conspiracy theorist bigots, not with Kim Kardashian, and, quite frankly, not with the middle school bullies who were, in many ways, the first experiment in “ignore them and they’ll go away, they’re just doing it for attention!” culture.
I am firmly not on team “Don’t give them attention!” For one, because I believe with all my heart that sunlight is the best disinfectant, but also because I do not believe that ignoring people actually makes them go away or makes them less influential. In Jones’s case in particular, it makes him all the more powerful. He gets to tell his followers, “they ignore me and want me to go away because they can’t refute me.”
He gets to be a martyr for his own terrible cause, and it makes people all the more devoted to him. It’s like a cult, and part of the way cult leaders inspire intense devotion among their followers is to do the whole “See how I am persecuted! And how you are also persecuted by believing in me!” thing. The way you deprogram people is not by categorically telling them that what they believe is wrong and hitting them over the head with it, but by first simply planting a seed of doubt and then chipping away at it.
Things that appeal to me, personally, that feed my id as a very leftist, social justice warrior-y kind of a gal are not necessarily the way other people are going to be reached. So if Kelly’s interview got through to even a few people who might not have previously understood just how awful Alex Jones truly is, then, hell, I am all for it.
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