This week, Megyn Kelly, formerly of Fox News, made her debut on NBC by sitting down for a one-on-one interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After several years at Fox, where she rose up the ranks to become the network’s most prized public face and semblance of journalistic integrity during the Trump-Clinton campaign, she took a pay cut and moved to pastures of more legitimate stature. The deal gives Kelly, as noted by the Hollywood Reporter, “her own daytime weekday news vehicle, a Sunday night news magazine and a key role in breaking news coverage.” In order to accommodate their new star, the Today show cancelled the 9am hour helmed by Tamron Hall and Al Roker, the former of whom then quit the network. To crown their new investment, one that could be considered a risk in these post-truth times, Kelly was given the kind of assignment usually reserved for Barbara Walters or Christiane Amanpour. The results were not impressive.
Kelly’s interview skills left much to be desired, as Putin easily out-maneuvered her attempts to catch him in a lie. Mostly, the interview is pretty dull, and certainly not a moment for NBC to add to the vaults. After all that hype and glut of glowing media coverage, most people were left wondering what all the fuss was about. Ratings weren’t great either, something that must have been new to Kelly, who consistently drew some of the highest viewership numbers on Fox News. Now, NBC must strive to make their investment worthwhile, but they do so under an inescapable shadow of hypocrisy. How do you turn the problem into the solution?
Megyn Kelly entered the spotlight during the 2016 Presidential race after Trump focused on her following a tougher than expected line of questioning during a Republican party candidate debate moderated by Kelly. After a period of praise from the general media, along with “liberal” favourites like Bill Maher, Trump began his tirades against Kelly, including the now-infamous “blood was coming out of her wherever” line. This was blatant misogyny, of course, and dishearteningly common from a man whose primary language is offence. Kelly had every right to be defended by her colleagues - and it was a topic of contention at Fox News that Bill O’Reilly never did so - but following that, and the myriad women who fell victim to Trump’s sexism, including Hillary Clinton herself, one couldn’t help but notice the way in which Kelly leveraged that moment to impeccable public grace.
Kelly had always been the trade media’s Fox News anchor of choice - photogenic, charming, a much easier sell than the disgruntled bulldogs who headlined the network - but now, she had feminine clout. Variety crowned her one of the top women in their “2016 Power of Women New York” issue, giving her a front cover alongside Misty Copeland and Lupita Nyong’o.
After working as an associate at a number of Chicago law firms, Kelly moved to DC and worked as a reporter for the local ABC affiliate. She moved to Fox News in 2004, where she started out hosting legal segments on Brit Hume’s show and filling in for Greta Van Susteren (who herself recently moved to NBC). In 2010, she began hosting her own show, America Live, where she increased ratings by around 20%, and in 2012 she led the network’s election night coverage, including one admittedly hilarious moment where she belittled Karl Rove for refusing to accept the Obama victory. By 2013, Kelly had moved to the nightly bracket at the network with The Kelly File, where she often overtook both Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity in terms of ratings. It was on this show that Kelly made her most infamous, pre-Trump comments.
In an argument over the race of Santa Claus, both in fiction like picture books and in-person seasonal appearances, Kelly put her foot down, saying, “Jesus was a white man, too. It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black?” Obviously, everyone from Jon Stewart to Rachel Maddow had a field day with this moment of commentary from the woman who insists she’s the “straight news anchor” at Fox. Eventually, she back-pedaled somewhat and said her comments were tongue-in-cheek, and that Jesus’s race was “far from settled” (Middle Eastern Jew? I’d say that element of truth is pretty decided).
That’s probably the peek behind the veil of respectability casual viewers are most familiar with, but it was hardly the only instance. Let’s not forget Kelly’s ongoing obsession with the New Black Panther Party, which included positing that their presence at polling stations was to intimidate white voters; Or how about her defence of a policemen wrestling Black teens to the ground in an obvious incident of brutality because the victim “was no saint either”; Perhaps you forgot about her Reddit-style declaration that a commencement speech given by Michelle Obama was exacerbating a “culture of victimization”, or what she so creatively called a “Cupcake Nation”.
This is the “straight news anchor” who had anti-LGBTQ hate group leader Tony Perkins on her Fox News show no fewer than 34 times; the one who invited Ann Coulter on at least 13 times; the woman replacing two Black hosts on NBC who, on a topic of the Black community’s fears of the police, invited on Mark fucking Fuhrmann; The glorious beacon of NBC’s new Trump-era journalism who repeatedly mocked transgender people, including young children and claimed acceptance of them offered “no consideration given to what this would put the other children through”; This is the supposedly opinion-free news-woman who called Muslim civil liberty organization CAIR “an un-indicted co-conspirator in a terrorist trial”; Who mocked campaigns to tackle sexual assault on college campuses by saying, they would “almost entirely eliminate the rights of men”.
This is the woman who said that Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server issue was as much “a character issue” for voters as Donald Trump’s assault accusations. This is NBC’s news hero.
Make no mistake, Megyn Kelly has been part of the problem with politics and journalism for a long time now. For 13 years, Kelly proudly took part in the propaganda wing of the Fox News channel. The evidence is staggering yet, infuriatingly, she is seldom billed as such. There aren’t many people on that channel who we can deem worthy enough to be called proper journalists. Shepard Smith is probably the closest we have to that, yet he was given a fraction of the publicity and fawning headlines Kelly was (Smith recently came out as gay, which may have something to do with it). It was easy to take Kelly, who in most ways resembled every other woman at the network, and modify that image for the wider crowd. As Sonia Saraiya of Variety noted, “Her image projects an elegant refinement, a sense of class and poise, of traditional values. These are qualities Fox News hilariously lacks, when it comes to both the sometimes-seedy reputations of its anchors and the network’s splashy and outdated graphics and production.” Of course, Kelly was never above working with that seediness. Like almost every woman on the network, she still donned the low-cut dresses and played along with the “jokes” of the male hosts, which often reveled in rape-culture (no surprise given the man in charge). She even did a sexy GQ photo-shoot, something entirely within her right to do so, but like Ivanka Trump, it is striking how quickly she threw off that persona in favour of a more palatable brand that would appeal to women.
That package worked well at Fox News, but so did everything they sold there. After all, the people who watch Fox News, the brainwashed children of Roger Ailes who sleep with ceaseless fear, keep the channel on 24/7 in preparation for whatever vague rebellion they have been told is coming will finally arrive. Outside of that bubble, audiences are more cynical, and that crucial young demographic NBC believe Kelly will bring to the network don’t view her façade without years of knowledge behind it. Anyone can Google Kelly and see her history of fostering hatred under the guise of news. She may have helped to legitimize Fox News on some level, but, so far, that carefully tuned force is on shaky ground at NBC News. When you have aided in the normalizing of hate, how do you U-turn to easy-going frivolities and authentic integrity?
Next for NBC’s Megyn Kelly, the “straight news anchor”, is an interview with Alex Jones.