More people tuned in to watch a repeat of America’s Funiest Home Videos.
After a week’s worth of controversy and second-guessing, NBC News anchor Megyn Kelly aired her sit-down interview with internet provocateur Alex Jones on Sunday evening, finally answering the question: if a news show gives a conspiracy theorist a platform, but nobody’s there to watch it, does it make a sound?
Just 3.5 million people tuned into Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, her lowest-rated episode yet in the three weeks she’s been on the air. More people tuned into a repeat of ABC’s America’s Funniest Home Videos during the same 7 p.m. hour.
Even as viewers and advertisers balked at Jones’ inclusion, NBC News defended the segment’s journalistic value. And while the 20 minute package that aired was well-received by some media critics, it failed to deliver on the one thing network executives care about above all else: eyeballs. Among the networks, NBC finished dead last during that time slot.
At least one affiliate—WVIT in Connecticut—refused to air the episode at all. The station’s General Manager Susan Tully explained the decision in an internal memo, and cited Jones’ abhorrent statements about the deadly elementary school shooting in Newtown, CT in 2012. “Over the last few days, we have listened intently to Sandy Hook parents [and] considered the deep emotions from the wounds of that day that have yet to heal,” she wrote.
Jones’ comments about the Sandy Hook shooting—he continues to argue the murderous rampage was a government-sanctioned hoax—were the main flashpoint for many advertisers and viewers. Kelly was to be the host of a gala to benefit the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, but was uninvited after news of the segment began to spread. The families of children killed in the Newtown shooting collectively urged the network to reconsider airing the episode as well, particularly on Father’s Day. In response to criticism, Kelly invited parents to participate in the segment, an offer that one father accepted.
To her credit, Kelly was aggressive in her questioning of Jones’ public comments during the segment itself, which drew from hours of sit-down conversations with Jones. But even a masterclass in dress-down interviews wouldn’t undo the damage already done by NBC News and Kelly. Jones was given a platform, on taxpayer-subsized national television, from which to spew his particularly toxic brand of hate to a whole new audience.
Megyn Kelly’s much ballyhooed interview with Alex Jones was a ratings catastrophe was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.