Megyn Kelly’s recent NBC interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin was widely panned as too soft. (Sputnik/via Reuters)
Media Columnist

The signs about Megyn Kelly’s one-on-one NBC interview with the despicable conspiracy theorist Alex Jones have been bad from the start.

First, there was their flirtatious pre-interview banter when Kelly visited Jones’s studio in Austin recently. Jones, on camera, asks Kelly when she is going to interview President Trump, and when she answers that she would use her Jones interview “as a lure,” Jones asks whether she would sit in the president’s lap.

Then there was the teaser for Kelly’s Jones interview that aired Sunday in which Kelly mildly reproves Jones, saying “that’s a dodge” when he utterly avoids her question about calling the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre of six adults and 20 children schoolchildren a hoax orchestrated by gun-control advocates. Nothing about this suggests that she held his feet to the fire.

And then there’s Kelly’s unimpressive track record in interviewing hard-to-pin-down subjects — most recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who simply steamrollered her, and last year, when she was still at Fox News, her much-hyped “meh” of an interview with Trump, a broadcast that she concluded by promoting her autobiographical book. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised by the full Jones interview, but I doubt it.

The situation now is a mess. Advertisers reportedly are pulling out of the Sunday night broadcast. Sandy Hook parents are understandably furious, to the point of disinviting Kelly from a gala to raise money for gun-control causes.

(Erin Patrick O'Connor,Manuel Roig-Franzia/The Washington Post)

And NBC is in a seemingly no-win situation, not wanting to buckle under pressure and defending the story as a legitimate subject of journalistic inquiry — which it surely is.

Here’s the way out: Kill the planned segment as a one-on-one interview, and use the material as one piece of a no-holds-barred investigation of Alex Jones and others like him. Don’t leave it up to Kelly, but pull in one or more of NBC’s top reporters.

If it takes a month to do it, so be it.

The parents of the murdered Sandy Hook children want no attention paid to this man, who has managed to make the unspeakable tragedy they have suffered even worse. Their position is completely understandable — don’t give him a platform for even one moment. The fact that it is scheduled to air on Father’s Day gives it an extra element of tone-deafness.

And they’re right. Every indication is that Kelly’s interview would be just that — another way for Jones to promote what he does on Infowars radio and online, another way for him to legitimize his destructive and obscene lies.

Don’t forget for a moment that among them are the infamous “Pizzagate” theory that Hillary Clinton was involved in the sexual abuse of children at Washington’s Comet Ping Pong restaurant. That 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing were inside jobs by the U.S. government. And that a 28-year-old former Democratic National Committee employee, Seth Rich, was killed by the Clinton campaign for giving internal documents to WikiLeaks.

Trump has helped him immeasurably already by going on his show, complimenting him as “amazing” and raising no objection to Infowars’ temporary White House press credentials. And Jones has a huge and growing following of true believers, with Infowars.com getting nearly 500 million views last year.

Now, in another publicity stunt, Jones himself is asking NBC to pull the interview, saying he was misled about the subject matter.

But rather than abandoning this important — indeed crucial — subject, the network should use Kelly’s interview as a start, not an ending.

A serious investigation of Jones by America’s top news network would do the real work of journalism: spreading the truth and holding an influential figure accountable for his dangerous lies.

A soft one-on-one interview, by itself, is nothing more than entertainment.

For more by Margaret Sullivan visit wapo.st/sullivan