Add CNN President Jeff Zucker, along with the cable network’s morning anchors Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota, to the growing chorus of kibitzers who are criticizing NBC over Megyn Kelly’s upcoming interview with pernicious, Trump-backing conspiracy monger Alex Jones.
“I think the issue here,” Zucker said Thursday about his NBC counterparts, “is the way they have thus far promoted it has not given much to lend to the belief that he’s held to account as much as somebody who spews such hatred and nonsense needs to be.”
Zucker cited convivial-seeming photographs of the former Fox News anchor and Jones together that NBC News has released in recent days to tease the controversial segment on the June 18 installment of Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly, along with a 90-second video clip in which her demeanor seemed less than outraged as the Infowars huckster spun his ugly “false flag” theory about how the December 2012 mass shootings of first-graders and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School might have been faked.
“You can’t put out pictures of yourselves driving in cars together and wearing sunglasses, and tease it they way they did,” Zucker said during a press breakfast held to tout Cuomo and Camerota’s four-year-old New Day program. “If you’re going to do this story, the tease needs to be you holding up a picture of the dead kids at Sandy Hook and saying, ‘How dare you?’ And that’s what you need to do. I think their marketing of this has thus far been unfortunate.”
Camerota also questioned the seemingly non-confrontational way NBC has flogged the Alex Jones segment, which has prompted widespread denunciations, the very public exodus of at least one major advertiser, JP Morgan Chase, and the abrupt cancelation of Kelly’s emceeing gig of an anti-gun violence fundraising dinner held Wednesday night and sponsored by parents and relatives of the 26 Sandy Hook victims in Newtown, Connecticut.
“I’m interested in how Alex Jones can justify his sickening philosophy and positions he barfs out,” said Camerota, a former Fox News colleague of Kelly’s, adding that “it’s completely the responsibility of the interviewer to be prosecutorial and to really, really hold his feet to the fire. If you can do that…then I think it actually has some news merit.”
However, Camerota said that from watching the promotional clip, during which Kelly quietly told Jones he was dodging her question when he pivoted from Sandy Hook to children killed in the Iraq war, “it was hard to tell if she was being prosecutorial—so I’m reserving judgment.”
Cuomo, meanwhile, said Jones is clearly a worthy subject for a profile given his access to the White House, and President Donald Trump’s apparent admiration for him—but that NBC has badly mishandled the framing of Kelly’s sit-down.
“You bring people on who are controversial—that’s not a new concept,” Cuomo said. “It’s always been about how do you do it, how you position them, how much of a platform you give them…The tease got them into trouble…I think that’s objectively stated.”
Cuomo said that NBC News erred further by not being sufficiently transparent as the controversy exploded.
“If I were in that situation and we got that kind of heat, the first thing you would have seen would have been a transcript of the interview. ‘Read this, and then tell me that I deserve criticism for what I did with Alex Jones.’ I haven’t seen that proof of product from NBC. We’ll see what it is when it comes out on TV.”
Cuomo, a former anchor for ABC News, added: “Coming from that world [of broadcast television], I do not envy the job of those producers, of those editors right now. They must be re-cutting their asses off with some bunch of brass poring through the transcript trying to milk it for all it’s worth. So I’m happy I’m not in that situation.”
Asked if he would do an interview with Jones, Cuomo parried, “If the boss said to, I would have to.” Pointing to Zucker, he added: “Those decisions come from the top.”
Zucker, a former chief executive of NBC Universal before it became a wholly-owned Comcast subsidiary, was careful not to slam Kelly, whom he repeatedly called “a talented” and “very good journalist.”
Zucker, who reportedly courted Kelly for CNN before NBC News Chairman Andy Lack landed her for a rumored $17 million a year, demurred when asked to put himself in Lack’s shoes.
“I don’t think it is my place to talk about what NBC is going through with regard to how they recoup their investment. That’s for NBC to figure out,” he said, adding that it’s “unfair” to judge Kelly’s economic potential for the network based on a few episodes of a magazine show.
As for the searing scrutiny of which Kelly has been the recipient since candidate Trump began regularly attacking her on Twitter and elsewhere—and Kelly jumped from Fox News to NBC—“She’s a very talented journalist with a lot of credibility and a very big, thick skin,” Zucker said. “She knows the game that she signed up for. That scrutiny is to be expected.”