Megyn Kelly probably thought she had a blockbuster for her new Sunday night interview show on NBC. By sitting down with Alex Jones she clearly planned to use her considerable skill as a no-nonsense interviewer to show the world just who this guy is. It probably never occurred to her that by giving him a platform she was promoting his horrifically unreal nonsense and bringing it to a wider world.
It’s the kind of hubris that Shakespeare made a career out of portraying.
The backlash is massive and there is little doubt it was a mistake. But shouldn’t we shine light on these princes of darkness, the purveyors of a land a few hours past the Twilight Zone? Yes, perhaps, but it takes a certain standard of journalism to do so. The sad thing is that journalism, personified by objectivity, is quite dead. Kelly can’t revive it, either. For better or worse, this is the time for the new daughter of objectivity to take charge of the family treasure, truth, for a new age.
First the disclaimer. I am not a trained journalist and my only degree is in Chemical Engineering. If that causes you to stop reading now, or at least take everything I say with a grain of salt by all means do so. But I can tell you that I have always been a lectovore, a voracious consumer of journalism. It begin at a young age when I was trained in the art by the greatest school for the next generation of journalism, the pages of the Miami Herald.
If you have ever read Carl Hiaasen or any of other reporters at this paper, you know what I mean.
The problem with Alex Jones and his ilk is a simple one. They are con artists, with an emphasis on the great art necessary to fool masses of people. Like any other artist, they know the rules very well and bend them to a new purpose – not divulging the truth but twisting it into a story which not only feels good but injects those feelings into the readers like an addictive drug.
Walter Cronkite was a slave to the truth. Alex Jones is its master.
Actual journalism is quite dead. With the arrival of Trump, objectivity has lost all meaning and utility. No one actually makes use of the standards which made the press a critical democratic institution through the good old days, the American Baroque Era after WWII. The passing of this standard is just one of the many ways in which looking back to make American great again is only a dangerous fantasy.
In its place we have too much information, only some of it based on truth.
Whether we like it or not, the standard for the day is “infotainment.” Nothing can possibly make way through the damp fog of our new information age without having some shiny feature which grabs attention. Info is not enough, there must always be ‘tainment.
The death of “objectivity” as a standard is not entirely terrible. The old man served its purpose, but it gave a veneer of authenticity which wasn’t always properly earned. The new standard for truth has to have something for the heart and the guts as well as purely for the head. Reporters necessarily have to be involved in the story somehow, meaning that their perspective matters.
Megyn Kelly seems to think she has the chops to do this alone. Good as she is, she is almost certainly wrong.
Given the saturation of information which we have in our lives, the watchword these days has to be Context. A simple fact, such as the 20 children shot at Sandy Hook, is not enough. The classic who, what, when, where, and why can’t answer the questions raised. There has to be more to the story. There has to be a connection to the relevant, real world.
Providing something like Context is where con artists like Jones come in, of course. They understand what their audience is thirsty for and give it to them. Kelly, by relying on a one-on-one interview in the old school, is going to be forced to confront that wholly made-up Context by herself. The only possible antidote for this poison can be a greater Context, the truth in a greater scope.
This cannot come from one interview.
This leaves the other part of the story, the entertainment. What Jones is missing, along with other conspiracy peddlers, is the humanity at the heart of the story. Their craft is about the viewer or reader standing up against a monstrous machine, devoid of humanity, which their audience is compelled to fear. He is, after all, primarily an entertainer – one who tells stories.
Without Compassion these stories are completely empty. What makes the monster Jones dangerous is his complete lack of Compassion for the families of Sandy Hook, or Mark Rubin, or anyone else whose tragedy has become fodder for his con. While infotainment may seem like a terrible standard to accept, as long as it has genuine Compassion at the heart of it the authenticity which can only come from a human story can make it ring true through head and heart both.
The standard of infotainment becomes something like journalism as long as it provides both Context and Compassion.
This is where Kelly’s mission to shed a light on Jones is doomed to failure. Sitting in a room with him, alone, removes the Context which is necessary to tell the whole story. Being “hard hitting” itself doesn’t change the fact that it is still his context. And it does nothing to bring Compassion to the story of a career where the finer art of being a decent human has been completely absent.
This will be Jones’ story because it will apply his standard, stripped of real Context and all hint of Compassion.
You can hit people like this all you want with hard questions, but they will always turn them back on you. Kelly, after all, sold out to the MSM long ago – so naturally the big machine has paid her to try to squelch Jones. This only proves how heroic he is and how scared they are that his “truth” will get out there.
As noble as it seems to want to shine a light into this darkness it’s far darker than credible people understand.
This is why we need a new standard. We have to insist on Context and we have to insist on Compassion. Everything that happens in our news has people in it somewhere, and it is always going to be their story first and foremost. How they intersect is the Context. How their hearts drove them into the connection is the Compassion.
It’s not the same old objectivity, for sure, but in the right hands it can and should be more powerful.
Megyn Kelly wants to make a name for herself doing good work, I am sure. She isn’t stupid and she does seem to have at least some sense of decency. But she is in way over her head. In the world of infotainment which she has found gainful employment in she needs a much firmer foundation on which to stand before she is going to be at all relevant.
Context and Compassion are what the world is hungry for. They need to be the new standards.