Commentary

The Mysterious World Of Megyn Kelly

At an otherwise fractious and unpredictable time in American politics and media culture, former Fox anchor Megyn Kelly might be the only person around whose career planets are all aligned brilliantly, at this very moment.

The 45-year-old-host of the “Kelly File,” whose new deal with NBC was announced this week, streaked onto the mainstream stage like a comet last August during the first Republican debate, when she had the (big league!) cojones to ask the now President-elect about his references to women as “pigs” and “dogs.”

“I don’t respect her as a journalist. I don’t think she’s very good,” Trump said, keeping the fight alive for days. He even turned it into a literal below-the-belt blood feud later on, telling an interviewer it was as if the red stuff were coming out of Kelly’s eyes and out of her “wherever” on debate night.

Some took that term to mean her hoo-ha, which was a strange way of countering her original question about his treatment of women.   

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Still, the continuing counter-punching with the president-to-be provided felicitous timing for the November publication of Kelly’s book, “Settle for More.” More great timing: Trump friend and Fox head Roger Ailes had been suddenly sacked in early fall after Gretchen Carlson sued him for sexual harassment. This allowed Kelly to tack on a chapter in the book about her own skirmishes with the serial groper, while never getting too specific.

This appears to be Kelly’s greatest talent — she seems to be tackling issues when she's really not. She and Trump made up later — and her follow-up on-air interview with him came off as dull and bloodless.

Yet all the attention to her unstoppable toughness added polish to the general Megyn Kelly brand, capped by the announcement that NBC hired her this week.

For the (younger) population living in the alternative digital universe, however, this mega-part Megyn announcement might be met quizzically. Some of their questions could include: “What’s a book?” “What’s a brand?” “What’s a network?” And most crucially, “What is news?

Those are obviously complicated, cosmic questions.

(Can we go with “When a rich and powerful old male media titan loves a creative female publishing entity very much, and they want to make a baby, but then there’s no ad money because of the infinite space on the Internet…) Well, I hope great minds somewhere are working on redefining (or giving new meaning to) all these ancient terms.

For now, most pundits agree that while the jury may be out about whether Kelly will be a good fit for NBC, the loss to Fox is more immediately measurable. (The network reportedly offered her a four-year, $20 million-a-year deal to stay.)

This week, the liberal media universe was also thrown off its axis by the announcement that Greta Van Susteren would join MSNBC. That night, lefty goddess Rachel Maddow welcomed Greta aboard with a lengthy, gushy, compliment-filled on-air interview and said jollily they were “old friends.” 

It looks like ideas about media and identity will be malleable in the new age of Trump.

The earliest word about Kelly’s hire: She would host a daily daytime show and a Sunday newsmagazine program. Both descriptors seem odd.

Afternoon talk shows are where former anchors go to die — Katie Couric and Meredith Vieira both had that experience. (And so did Anderson Cooper, but he kept his night job.) These shows start out smart and edgy, but by the time the second or third executive producer is brought in, they end up doing desperate segments on “Fashion tips for looking thinner.”  

The idea that Kelly would take over the 9 a.m. hour of “The Today Show,” however, makes much more sense, now that it has been hollowed out by the Billy Bush fiasco, again, involving female harassment and Trump.  

Isn’t it ironic that Kelly would take Bush's place?

Certainly, NBC has been through numerous scandals and upsets — think about the way the network handled Ann Curry’s exit. But if NBC allows Kelly to bring on the people she wants to interview (and she gets the “gets” and stays tough), she might reinvent the hour.

Women seem as ambivalent about Kelly as they are about Trump. She’s hard to categorize: a fearless interviewer of older white men, she also defended “white Santa” and rejects the term “feminist.”

Sheila Weller, author of "The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News," says of Kelly: "She’s a complete new thing. She’s a mixed bag, and she keeps it that way. She wears those silly cocktail dresses on TV, and keeps her views on choice private. She’s mysterious. She played the Fox game until she didn’t.

"She has found her own way, some faster way, to do this, that the women I wrote about didn’t. They had to pay their dues. This seems to be similar to the way that Jennifer Lawrence as an actress found a way to vault past the crap every other woman in the category takes. She has some secret sauce that enables her to cut through. There are just certain people who make their own rules."

Clearly, Kelly played the gorgeous-prom-queen-broadcaster game at Fox well, but after a dramatic photo shoot with Vanity Fair, chopped the “Real Housewife”-style hair extensions and went with a sleeker, tougher, Hitchcock-blonde look. Added to the mystery of how this post-Fox incarnation will work, consider this anomaly: NBC is paying her megabucks, while willingly acknowledging she’s looking for more scheduling flexibility and time with her three small children.

Emmy–award-winning producer Kim Kennedy, who has worked at CNN and CBS, says Kelly has some of the same qualities on television that other blonde, Trump, has — she’s “provocative and buzzy.”

Kelly’s contract with Fox News runs through July, though, so she may not be able to join NBC News officially for months.

Until then, she’ll play it close to the vest. My money is on her morphing into a more conventional liberal type on NBC, just as sister network MSNBC goes less left.

That’s because one way or the other, Kelly knows it’s about building her own brand, her own way of remaining a star. Never mind identity politics, feminism, conservatism or leaning in. She’s finding a way to dance around it that seems oddly gender-free.

I don't know if that's progress. But for now, she is sui generis — and in her own orbit. 

11 comments about "The Mysterious World Of Megyn Kelly".
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  1. brad berger from aim high tips, January 6, 2017 at 8:11 p.m.

    She is anything but Gender-free 

  2. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, January 6, 2017 at 8:18 p.m.

    Barbara, you don't get it.  NBC and MSNBC are doing so poor in the ratings for news that "liberal" news doesn't sell and does even worse in viewership.  They might be going "conservative" now because it does work.  Megyn is a conserative but also a very good entertainer of news. She is fun to watch.  Not like the rest of the deadbeats on NBC and MSNBC.

  3. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network replied, January 6, 2017 at 9:30 p.m.


    No, Craig, you clearly are the one who doesn't get it. Just because you don't happen to agree with the political lean of a news or commentary outlet is not a valid reason to judge it simply by the numbers.

    If you think they don't get their facts straight, just say so, maybe with a few well-sourced and legitimate examples. But dismissing an outlet simply because their viewership isn't up to your standards is like claiming Big Macs are the best source of nutrition, simply because a lot of people swallow them without asking any pertinent questions about what's really in them.

    ...You know; ... sort of like everything Fox News broadcasts.

  4. Tom Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, January 6, 2017 at 9:59 p.m.

    "[Kelly] streaked onto the mainstream stage like a comet last August..." 

    Nope. Very much nope. Kelly hit the mainstream November, 2012, when she took on the delusional Karl Rove on Election Night, as the porcine political prig insisted Ohio was still winnable for poor ol' Mitt, and the re-election of Barack Obama was not a done deal. 

    Kelly not only took creepy Karl head-on, as his denialism became increasingly delusional, she finally got up from the anchor desk and walked her watchable legs all the way down to FOX's number crunching analytics guys, who assure her Ohio was indeed a done deal for the president. 

    It was an amazing television moment, even without the delicious schadenfreude at the repulsive, repugnant, reptilian Rove's expense. The video was shared widely across Drudge, HuffPo and elsewhere the day after, and it was the instant Kelly's career leapt from just another blond Fox-bot to a television journalism force--for better and worse, love her or hate her--that deserves professional consideration.    

  5. Dyann Espinosa from IntraStasis, January 7, 2017 at 3:47 a.m.

    It seems we're all speculating about Ms. Kelly as she has not yet declared herself to anyone. Does she hold the same beliefs as in the past, or new, changed beliefs that would explain her actions. Nor does she otherwise share the deep, passionate drive that has brought her to the public's attention (if there is a deep, passionate drive).
    Hopefully she has a mentor, not just droopy, old white men with enough money to get their way. I think if she gets a focus and bends her resources in that direction, she could really excel.
    I like the public-facing persona that now puts her in a league with other sexy villains in video games and blockbuster movies. Long legs, a toned body and a hint of gender-agnostic "Are you talking to me? attitude makes her acceptable to guys who will always be susceptable to that sexual allure.
    And her RBF (Resting Bitch Face) conveys confidence, toughness and willingness to jump into the fray and break a fingernail if necessary. But is she a journalist? I guess we'll have to wait and see. 

  6. Neilan Tyree from The Propeller Group, January 7, 2017 at 10:48 a.m.

    Wow. That's one helluva rundown on Ms. Kelly, whose broadcast experience I've only seen during the aforementioned contretemps (since I wouldn't turn on Fox News if it was the only channel on TV -- if it was, I'd simply throw my TV out the window).

    Best takeaway from the column is that I think you've beautifully marked this moment in time in regard to the cable and broadcast brands. Things are definitely going to be much different at all of them VERY shortly. Good to know that this IS that moment of defining change -- for better or ill.

  7. Frank Newcomer from Dystopian Empire, January 7, 2017 at 11:07 a.m.

    NBC did this thirty years ago when they mined the then new CNN of its on air talent, and then promptly suffered buyer's remorse.  The upside to all this, Ms. Kelly shifts to the intellectual/liberal side. (Redundant, I know), which I think will be the case. We've seen glimpses of that, the confrontation with Rove Mr. Siebert mentioned above. (A particular Youtube favorite of mine). 

    But on the downside, she becomes the new Deborah Norville. (And that's not to disparage Ms. Norville.) 

  8. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, January 7, 2017 at 2:10 p.m.

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. I didn't get a chance to include what really bothered me about the timing of her book: she included the fact that Trump often offered gifts and stays to journalists (she turned them down and he got angry.) And also that he knew about her question in advance and tried, via Roger Ailes, to put the kibosh on it. And also, not incidentally, that she woke up the morning of hte debate feeling fine, and then had a weird driver who kept insisting on getting her coffee. She drank a bit of it and then got violently sick. Not enough to keep her off the moderation panel that night, but enough to keep a vomit bucket underneath the desk!
    Obviously, revealing any of this pre-election might have had an effect, especially when Trump made such a big deal about Donna Brazile letting Hillary know the topic of a question ahead of time.  
    She saved the info for a time when it would help her book sales. 

  9. Chris Swan from Datastream Media replied, January 7, 2017 at 2:27 p.m.

    The poisioning story would be a good one, if true.  

    www.ctvnews.ca/world/megyn-kelly-i-was-sick-not-poisoned-before-trump-debate-1.3156703

    It is going to be long four / eight years, that's for sure.  


  10. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, January 7, 2017 at 3:25 p.m.

    She told the poisoning story in her book. She also mentioned it could have been a stomach flu, but that was less likely. 

  11. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network, January 13, 2017 at 1:22 a.m.


    I'm not sure which is worse; ... the possibility that Kelly may have been poisoned, or the fact that, in our current political situation, that possibility is far from being totally unbelieveable. 

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