Deafening Chaos: NBC’s Upcoming Interview

Screenshot of Megyn Kelly's Twitter feed.

Screenshot of Megyn Kelly’s Twitter feed.

The chaos surrounding NBC’s upcoming interview between one of its journalists and a well-known liar and conspiracy theorist is now at a level that should make the network rethink its decision to broadcast the conversation.

Alex Jones, who is known for making false and harmful claims, appears to be capitalizing on the controversy surrounding the interview by drawing people to his website with recordings of conversations with NBC’s Megyn Kelly. The interview is slated to air on Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly.

I agreed with NBC’s decision on Monday to go ahead with the broadcast. As I said in a previous blog post, journalism that focuses on controversial topics and figures is not inherently unethical. The situation evolved beyond just focusing on a controversial topic or figure, however.

At this point, it’s difficult to imagine what – if anything – the public can gain from NBC airing the interview even if it includes an introductory editor’s note or other statements.

Good journalism tells a story. Bad journalism becomes the story. The interview is now the most newsworthy element of the broadcast. The topic or original intent will likely be completely overshadowed.

There are a number of paths NBC can take to correct course.

For example, Kelly or another journalist could make a brief on-air statement during the broadcast on Sunday explaining the decision to pull the interview. The network can then reformulate the story into a look at the damaged caused to people, communities and the nation by conspiracy theorists and peddlers of misinformation.

No matter what NBC ultimately decides, it’s important to look at the factors that led to such a large blunder. NBC should evaluate its editorial and – in this case – promotional processes to see where it went wrong and describe how it will prevent future mistakes.

Responsible journalism should be a constant goal. Journalists and news organizations will inevitably make mistakes. What’s important is that they take the time to evaluate those errors and learn from their missteps to avoid future slips.

Andrew M. Seaman is the Society of Professional Journalists‘ ethics committee chairperson.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrShare on RedditPin on Pinterest

Tags: , , , , ,

Defending the First Amendment and promoting open government are more crucial now than ever. Join SPJ's fight for the public’s right to know — either as an SPJ Supporter or a professional, student or retired journalist.

  • Never thought much of Megyn Kelly when she was at Fox and later when the mainstream news media started its drooling over her. But I did respect her business acumen, or what I thought was her business acumen, as she promoted her brand, that is, advancing her meretricious journalism as something to be respected.

  • Guy

    I can’t disagree more with this column. We are in serious trouble when the best one journalist representing a major journalism organization can say about another journalist’s high profile work is that “journalism that focuses on controversial topics and figures is not inherently unethical.”

    And then goes on to say that, in this case, because an interview with a controversial subject has itself become controversial, that a major news organization should back down in the face of “chaos” (aka “controversy”) and cancel its scheduled airing of the interview.

    Alex Jones, unlike most interview subjects, has his own personal internet and social media operation. He used it entrap and to try to discredit Megyn Kelly and NBC, at least among his millions of followers, and to draw attention to himself.. Is that a reason for Kelly and NBC to duck the fight? Should major media steer clear of controversial media figures who happen to have the means to defend themselves or use the situation to draw attention to themselves?

    Of course not. (Should journalists stop covering Donald Trump just because he can attack them with dubious or distracting tweets timed to take maximum advantage of the normal news cycle?)

    Obviously, we’re in new and challenging territory. Doing solid journalism about polarizing and controversial figures like Trump, Jones or others who can shoot back because they have their own platforms is not easy, as Kelly’s experience shows. Let’s learn from it, but giving ground is not the way to react, I’m glad Kelly and NBC showed they were up to the challenge and met it with ethics intact. It’s not going to get any easier going forward, but actually using the First Amendment as intended is never easy.


Twitter Facebook Google Plus RSS Instagram Pinterest Pinterest LinkedIn

© Society of Professional Journalists. All rights reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ