Multiple advertisers have told NBC that they don’t want to be anywhere near Megyn Kelly’s forthcoming interview with controversial media personality Alex Jones.
NBC expects the advertiser flight to be temporary, however.
“This comes with the territory,” NBC News chairman Andy Lack told CNN Tuesday. “We kind of know, when we’re doing controversial stories, that’s going to happen. It doesn’t stop us from doing controversial stories.”
NBC declined to say how many advertisers have distanced themselves from Kelly’s new show “Sunday Night.” Most of them are on the local level, meaning companies that bought ads on NBC-owned stations.
NBC expects there will be a full slate of nationally televised ads on Kelly’s show this Sunday, despite the controversy.
As for the companies that have withdrawn, “they’ll all be coming back, they’ve been clear about that,” Lack said Tuesday.
Only one of them, J.P. Morgan Chase, has been identified publicly. While the company has declined to comment, the Wall Street Journal reported that the bank asked for all of its ads to be removed from “all NBC news programming until after the show airs.”
The bank’s chief marketing officer Kristin Lemkau tweeted: “As an advertiser, I’m repulsed that @megynkelly would give a second of airtime to someone who says Sandy Hook and Aurora are hoaxes.”
Kelly interviewed Jones last week. Jones, the leader of Infowars, purports to have millions of listeners and readers. He presents an extreme right-wing view of the world and espouses baseless and offensive conspiracy theories. One of them is that the Sandy Hook massacre could have been a “false flag” operation to win support for new gun control measures.
NBC executives say Kelly repeatedly challenged Jones in the interview. The story about Jones is still set to air this weekend on “Sunday Night,” despite calls from some politicians, media critics and Sandy Hook families to scrap the segment.
Lack said “we’re listening very carefully to folks and we understand their deep feelings about it.”
But at the same time, Jones and what he represents is “an important story, he’s a serious story,” Lack added.
Lack and Kelly answered questions while attending the Mirror Awards in New York on Tuesday afternoon.
Kelly acknowledged that she was surprised by the severity of the backlash to the interview.
Odious figures like terrorists, serial killers and child molesters have been interviewed on television before, she said, “and there hasn’t been this kind of backlash.”
“What I think we’re doing is journalism,” she added. “While it’s not always popular, it’s important.”
Kelly made the case that she’s not elevating Jones — “he’s been elevated by five or six million viewers or listeners, and by the President of the United States. As you know, journalists don’t get the choice over who has power or influence in our country.”
President Trump was interviewed by Jones during the 2016 campaign, and he reportedly thanked Jones for his support after winning the election.
Kelly also released a statement on Tuesday defending the interview after the Sandy Hook Promise organization removed Kelly as the host of its gala in Washington, D.C. this week.
“Our goal in sitting down with him was to shine a light — as journalists are supposed to do — on this influential figure, and yes — to discuss the considerable falsehoods he has promoted with near impunity,” she said.
Speaking with CNN, Kelly did not seem concerned that high-profile guests might snub her show in the future as a result of the Jones controversy.
Lack, speaking separately, said other news outlets were also pursuing an interview with Jones at the time Kelly was.
“’60 Minutes’ was chasing it,” he said, referencing the CBS newsmagazine that “Sunday Night” goes head-to-head against.
The story that will air on Sunday is still in production, Lack said, and it will reflect critics’ concerns about giving Jones airtime.