This Sunday, NBC is scheduled to air an interview of the highly political, self-described “performance artist” Alex Jones by former Fox anchor Megyn Kelly. Alex Jones, if you’re not aware, has built an empire using fear to sell dietary supplements, all the while “playing a character”, according to his lawyer.
The interview had already received quite a lot of news coverage, even before airing, because some – particularly Sandy Hook Elementary parents who lost children in the shooting there – have criticized NBC for granting a platform to as incendiary and controversial a figure as Jones, whose livelihood rests on making outlandish claims as part of a snake oil selling act.
Now, it seems Mr. Jones recorded pre-interview phone calls and, ultimately, the entire interview with Ms. Kelly. He has started selectively releasing audio from those encounters as part of his InfoWars program, applying his own spin, and if he’s telling the truth about having all that audio, this will undoubtedly serve as cannon fodder for his bombastic rants for quite some time.
NBC finds itself in a bit of a minefield here, particularly since mainstream media are already under fire for shaping, as much as reporting, the news. Jones will be able to endlessly claim that his words were twisted, through editing, and NBC will be on the defensive, because some of what he says will undoubtedly be true. Perhaps they gambled that this would be Jones’ strategy, and feel that it will boost their brand awareness. Time will tell if it’s a net loss or gain, from their perspective.
Editing is a necessary part of the process of tailoring news for particular media, in order to fit content into the allotted length (for example, to be within an hour long show), and also as a way for journalists to distill the complex into bite-sized chunks for easy digestion. Editorial selection is necessary in order to highlight which aspects of a story are important, separating the wheat from the chaff. Any way you slice it, though, editing is necessarily an objective process, one fraught with difficulty when it comes to maintaining neutrality.
The thing is, through mobile and online channels, NBC has endless space and time, so there’s not really a reason anymore to hold back the raw data. Jones says he will use his recordings of the interview to illustrate where NBC made cuts to further an agenda, but my question is: in this day and age, why doesn’t NBC just release the whole interview itself? It goes for this interview, but for all interviews, news organizations like NBC could simply stream an edited version alongside the uncut interview, on their websites and mobile channels, so that interested parties could decide for themselves which points raised (or behavior shown) during the discussion are important to them.