This much can be said of Megyn Kelly: she knows how to attract attention. When she lamented how white people could not longer dress in blackface for Halloween it generated a firestorm. Critics lambasted Kelly. Within days, NBC announced she was off the TODAY show.
Last week, the split became official along with her rumored multi-million dollar severance package.
When the controversy arose, Kelly said she wanted to leave the show because it didn’t let her cover politics. Kelly’s timing made the assertion seem dubious—and so did the falsehood of the claim. She performed high profile political stories at NBC with Vladimir Putin and Alex Jones. Kelly’s ratings at NBC were lackluster overall but they spiked during those controversial segments. People would tune in for controversy but otherwise check out, a damning indictment about Kelly’s appeal.
With her time at NBC over it’s puzzling why it began in the first place. Perhaps NBC thought she was reasonable for a Fox host or that she could represent sought after political center during the Trump era. Maybe they thought the hard-edged and resentful Kelly featured on FOX was an act.
Kelly undeniably deserves credit for grilling Donald Trump about his misogyny while moderating the Fox News Republican primary debate. Her questions prompted Trump’s anatomically-obsessed sexist ire. Then came the infamous “blood coming out of her whatever” comment. Conduct between Kelly and Trump grew tense. She called his fitness for office into doubt and reportedly dubbed him “Voldemort.” Never-Trump conservatives and liberals alike praised her for refusing to back down.
She suddenly seemed like a hard-hitting journalist—perhaps even a member of The Resistance. NBC must have viewed her as a fair-minded conservative who could broaden the network’s appeal.
But Kelly’s angry response at Trump’s personal attacks doesn’t erase her years as Fox News’ golden girl. She didn’t just echo racist right wing talking points, she wrote new ones. Most famously, in 2013 she passionately argued that Santa and Jesus are white for the sake of “the kids.” Which kids are you talking about, Kelly?
Her white Santa comments and her blackface outburst suggest that Kelly has a real problem about race. After all, there has to be a reason she spent years on Fox. Yes, she was handsomely paid but as NBC demonstrated, many news outlets were eager to pay exorbitantly for her. Perhaps these were two moments of sincere confusion or misrepresentation of Kelly’s beliefs. They don’t detract from an otherwise sterling record as a journalist. But these are just two of many relatively recent controversies.
She suggested that Michael Brown and Philando Castile might be to blame for their police shooting deaths. Her comments on the Obamas border on dog whistling. She endorsed fat-shaming as a weight loss practice, grilled Jane Fonda about plastic surgery and snidely told a Will and Grace fan that “the gay thing is going to work out great” for him.
Many of her NBC colleagues were reportedly disgusted with her and that disgust may have been present during her entire tenure. Her treatment of colleagues and underlings was allegedly often hostile and dismissive. This makes her crocodile tears-laden apology even harder to take.
The blackface comment came out of nowhere. Why did NBC support her in the first place? Being critical of Trump and a tough interviewer doesn’t make her impartial. It certainly doesn’t make her a champion of progressive causes. One strong debate performance does not a respectable career make. She’s arguably more sensible and hard-hitting than most Fox hosts but that’s a low bar to clear.
Maybe Kelly’s racial animus and homophobia are calculated to provoke liberal backlash and drive ratings and media interest. But given the off-the-cuff nature of many of these incidents, that seems unlikely. It seems like casual chit-chat for her.
We don’t know what NBC thought they were paying for. But what they got was Megyn Kelly.