Is It Ethical to Interview People Who Cause Harm?

Screenshot of Megyn Kelly's Twitter feed.

Screenshot of Megyn Kelly’s Twitter feed.

People are calling on NBC to forgo showing an upcoming interview between its journalist and a well-known conspiracy theorist.

Megyn Kelly posted a teaser on Twitter Sunday night to promote her upcoming interview with Alex Jones, a well-known conspiracy theorist. The brief video caused an immediate backlash with people calling on NBC to forgo airing the interview on Sunday.

Foremost among people’s concerns is that Jones will get airtime on NBC after his website InfoWars pushed untrue and harmful conspiracy theories that claimed the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that resulted in 26 deaths was a hoax.

Part of the video shows Kelly in conversation with Jones. He first says the September 11, 2001 attacks were an “inside job.” Kelly then prompts him with the words, “Sandy Hook.” The answer Jones provides is as nonsensical as the stories found on his website.

The Society of Professional Journalists is often asked whether certain people or subjects should be avoided due to past harmful actions or the immense emotions they cause. The answer – like most – is more complex than just yes or no.

Journalism that focuses on controversial topics and figures is not inherently unethical. Journalists around the world dissect and analyze these types of topics each day in front of readers, viewers and listeners. What matters most is how the stories are reported.

At this point, people don’t have enough information to know how Kelly’s interview with Jones ultimately transpired beyond the few seconds published online.

For example, people may feel differently about the interview if Kelly aggressively challenges Jones about his words and confronts him with the unnecessary pain and torment he helped unleash upon grieving families.

On the other hand, people’s concerns may be justified if Kelly’s interview proceeds as a simple back and forth conversation.

In his nightly newsletter, CNN’s Brian Stelter included quotes from an interview between his colleague Dylan Byers and Liz Cole, who is executive producer of Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly.

“Until you see the full program, in the full context, I wouldn’t judge it too much,” Cole is quoted as saying. “Judge it when you see it. Megyn does a strong interview, we’re not just giving him a platform.”

Society should not get into the habit of forcing journalists to shy away from harmful, painful or emotional subjects. Instead, it should push journalists to uphold their profession’s abiding principles and show people what is fact and what is fiction.

If nothing else, the public outcry over the upcoming interview sends a very loud and clear message to NBC and Kelly that they must be conducted with extreme care and awareness of the subject’s complexity.

People will learn on Sunday night whether NBC and Kelly got the message.

Andrew M. Seaman is the chair of the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics committee.

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  • Guy

    More and more in these polarized times, the first reaction of many is to censure the messenger in order to suppress or delegitimize who or what they don’t agree with. The newest method is the social media swarm.

    However sure these self-appointed enforcers may feel about what they consider legitimate news sources or opinions, trying to preemptively deny public knowledge and discussion is wrong and counterproductive. It denies the mission of journalists.

    Journalists should strongly oppose any efforts at prior restraint, either by governments or private individuals. Would-be censors must not be allowed to invoke their laws or ethical standards to intimidate news organizations seeking to report freely on what is going on in the world, even if it does not conform to their worldview. (Certainly they are fee to dispute the journalistic product once it is published or aired.)

    The public is not served by such pressure and it only makes it easier for others to claim the right to intimidate journalists this way. And it only weakens journalism by making the implicit assumption that the news is only propaganda and that journalists are just propagandists for one side or another. SPJ should explicitly and emphatically reject this idea because, if too widely believed, it will mean the end of a free press.

  • DatBus

    is an attempted dig at Alex Jones, as if the free expression of
    Infowars was “causing harm”. The question should be directed at the
    globalist mouthpiece NBC: “Is It Ethical For People Who Cause Harm To
    Interview People”.

  • DatBus

    This looks like yet another Soros-funded front group, masquerading as a “champion of the people”. Ethics indeed.

  • Guy

    DatBus: As a former SPJ board member, I can tell you George Soros does not give SPJ any funding. We have been around since our founding in 1909 defending press freedom and the First Amendment and promoting strong ethical journalism. You sound like another mentally lazy right wing groupie who has no real grasp of the world and sees everything in terms of plots and conspiracies. I wish the world was that simple. Get off your computer and get out into the real world.That’s what good journalists do.

  • DatBus

    Nice try. “mentally lazy right wing groupie” tells me all I need to know about you. Besides I read your page.


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