By Alex Altman, contributing writer
Alex Jones. The name alone evokes strong feelings on both ends of the political spectrum.
Supporters say he’s a beacon of truth in an era of political correctness. Denouncers say he’s a dangerous conspiracy theorist.
No matter how you feel about Jones personally, there’s no denying his considerable influence.
As host of the Internet radio show InfoWars, Jones’ conspiracy theories have earned him a robust following. His millions of fans include President Donald Trump, who’s praised Jones and even asked him for advice since taking office.
New NBC journalist Megyn Kelly thought Jones’ political clout made him a fascinating subject. That was her basis for arranging a primetime interview with him.
“How does Jones, who traffics in these outrageous conspiracy theories, have the respect of the president of the United States and a growing audience of millions?” Kelly asked.
NBC likely anticipated some backlash when the interview was announced, but nothing like the PR storm that ensued. Thousands of people urged the network not to air the interview, which they said would give credibility to Jones. Many used the hashtag #ShameOnNBC.
While social media protests have been going on for years, brands getting involved in the finger-wagging is a new phenomenon.
And yet, when JPMorgan Chase temporarily pulled its ads from NBC, it marked at least the fourth time since April that a sponsor attempted to assert editorial or programming influence over a news organization. The decision came after Kristin Lemkau, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, tweeted she was “repulsed” by the idea of giving Jones airtime.
Kelly’s former employer, Fox News, can relate to being strong-armed by sponsors. In April, the network was forced to sever ties with Bill O’Reilly after his show lost more than half of its advertisers in a week in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal. In May, companies pulled ads from Sean Hannity’s show after he wouldn’t stop promoting a debunked conspiracy theory about the death of former DNC staffer Seth Rich.
And later in May, CNN reportedly lost an advertiser after comedian and network contributor Kathy Griffin depicted herself beheading President Trump in a macabre photo shoot. CNN later terminated its relationship with Griffin.
A new and potentially dangerous precedent is unfolding. While NBC stood up to JPMorgan Chase by airing the Kelly-Jones interview (which ended up being a total flop), it will be interesting to see how networks handle being pressured by their sponsors in the future.