Establishment news outlets reviewing Megyn Kelly’s controversial interview with radio host and Infowars publisher Alex Jones have mostly panned the NBC News host for a “shallow” profile that spends more time trying to justify itself than revealing anything interesting to her audience.
A handful of TV critics offered faint praise for Kelly’s performance, with most saying she avoided “disaster” or the “worst-case scenario.” However, the majority faulted the “bald-faced ratings grab” for being far less compelling than its subject warranted.
“Megyn Kelly is getting crushed in the big leagues and it’s beginning to show,” wrote Don Kaplan at the New York Daily News. “Sure, she looked tough as she grilled Jones, but Kelly delivered no news. She did not move the story of this monster forward, nor provide anything aside from a shallow profile.”
Will Oremus of Slate wrote: “in her determination to avoid normalizing Jones, Kelly also avoided drawing anything particularly interesting out of him or the phenomenon he represents… Ultimately, the segment came off less as a hard-hitting work of journalism than an apologia for its own existence.”
Sonia Saraiya of Variety called the segment “empty” and the interview with Jones “stilted.” The content, she wrote, was “much less interesting than the conversation that led up to the broadcast… For all the build-up, the segment ultimately revealed more about Kelly’s weaknesses as an anchor in the ’60 Minutes’ mold than it did about Jones.”
“Ultimately, the segment covered all the right bases, albeit frustratingly briefly,” said Frank Scheck of the Hollywood Reporter. “But it needed to be far more hard-hitting.”
Lorraine Ali of the Los Angeles Times: “Kelly responded to the criticisms, saying she felt it was important to ‘shine a light’ on Jones. But come Sunday, that light was a dim bulb at best.” Ali called a supplemental interview with the father of a Sandy Hook victim “a cynical attempt for NBC and Kelly to appear as if they were offering up a real news story rather than a bald-faced ratings grab.”
Hank Stuever of the Washington Post was more forgiving, calling the news package “far from dreadful.” However, he did not let Megyn herself off unscathed: “Kelly, who has many miles to go before she finds her footing as a big-time newsmagazine anchor, can and has done worse.”
Cleveland.com‘s Joey Morona said the interview was “pointed and challenging at times” but “wreaked [sic] with the unavoidable stench of damage control.”
Madeline Berg of Forbes declared that Kelly “managed to succeed with a challenging interview,” though she chalked up at least some of the success to excessive editing: “Even if it was due to editing–which was clearly very heavy, as Jones spoke in only frustratingly brief soundbites–Kelly’s segment was not the softball journalism that many feared.”
Jeff Guo of Vox called Kelly’s effort “a failure of journalism, but not a complete disaster.” He lamented that the pre-interview phone call audio that Jones leaked was “far more illuminating than what aired on Sunday night.”
CNN’s Brian Lowry ruled that “the piece that aired Sunday credibly justified covering the Infowars phenomenon,” but he advised NBC and Kelly to avoid any more controversy for the rest of the show’s summer run.
Politico‘s Jack Shafer delivered some real praise for the segment: “Megyn Kelly Pantses Alex Jones,” his headline read. “Short of waterboarding him, I don’t know what more Kelly could have done to expose Jones’ dark methods,” he wrote. “She was needlessly defensive in her presentation… She didn’t take Jones down, but really, who could have in a newsmagazine segment? But she did do a credible job of exposing his lies. Give her a B+.”
The reviews do confirm that Kelly’s promises to Jones before their sit-down interview were false. “It’s not going to be some gotcha hit piece, I promise you that,” she said, stressing that the aim of the profile would be humanizing Jones for his critics:
All I can do is give you my word and tell you — if there’s one thing about me, I do what I say I’m gonna do. And I — I don’t double cross, so I promise you when it’s over you’ll say, “Absolutely. She did what she said she was gonna do.” And you’ll be fine with it. I’m not looking to portray you as some boogeyman or, you know, do any sort of a gotcha moment. I just want to talk about you. I want people to get to know you. And the craziest thing of all would be if some of the people who have this insane version of you in their heads walk away saying, “You know what? I see, like, the dad in him. I see the guy who loves those kids and who is more complex than I’ve been led to believe.”
Jones live-streamed his reaction to the news package as it aired, sipping champagne and providing commentary alongside New Right figurehead Mike Cernovich. He claims that he recorded the full, hours-long exchange with Kelly — and has challenged NBC News “to release its full, unedited interview — before he does!”
Kelly’s ratings gamble failed to pay off, even with a controversial guest like Jones. Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly grabbed fewer viewers than reruns of CBS’s 60 Minutes and ABC’s America’s Funniest Home Videos, according to the Hollywood Reporter.