It turns out there may actually be a limit to failing upward in the media business, and Megyn Kelly may have finally reached it. But at what cost?
Kelly began her national news career at Fox in 2004, making appearances on Fox News shows including The O’Reilly Factor before trying her hand at weekday and weekend programs on the network. She landed her own prime-time show there, The Kelly File, in 2013.
In the years she worked at Fox News, Kelly engaged in the network’s signature race-baiting, xenophobic rhetoric, anti-LGBTQ attacks, rape apologia, and climate denial like the rest of her colleagues. We know because we watched her do it.
- Kelly made race-baiting and outright racist comments a cornerstone of her Fox News show. On several occasions, her coverage of Black victims of police-perpetrated violence essentially blamed the victims by insisting they didn’t respect the police officers or focusing on their previous criminal records. She said of a 14-year-old Black girl violently manhandled by a police officer at a Texas pool party: “She was no saint either.”
- Kelly infamously insisted in a 2013 Fox appearance that both Santa Claus, a fictional character, and Jesus, who was Middle Eastern, were white. She added, “Just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change.”
- Kelly regularly fearmongered and pushed conservative lies to attack the Muslim community, including advocating for Muslim profiling.
- Kelly used her Fox platform to fearmonger about immigration, defending Trump’s campaign comments calling Mexican immigrants criminals and “rapists,” and allowing Trump to call them “killers" without any pushback in a later appearance on her show.
- Kelly regularly hosted anti-LGBTQ extremists and other hate group leaders on her Fox show -- including Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, a figure on the evangelical right who endorsed a Ugandan bill that would have imposed the death penalty for homosexuality.
- Kelly repeatedly mocked and dismissed transgender people, including misgendering transgender inmates multiple times.
- Kelly criticized sexual assault prevention measures and minimized survivors, particularly in discussions of campus sexual assault.
- Kelly employed Fox News’ signature climate science denial tactics, from hosting questionable figures to pushing fringe beliefs about climate change and making jokes that cold weather disproves global warming.
But when Kelly signaled she was ready to leave Fox behind, NBC pursued and hired her anyway.
And then, unsurprisingly for no one besides apparently the executives who hired her, she did it all again: hosted a dangerous conspiracy theorist, defended an alleged sexual assailant, delivered a petty, Fox-like monologue attacking one of her previous guests, and now has defended blackface.
The true cost of NBC’s decision to hire Kelly is far greater than that astronomical $69 million, or even the show’s high-budget staff, or the $10 million NBC spent redesigning her studio space.
It includes the career costs and emotional costs for the two talented Black TV personalities she replaced when she joined the Today show, Tamron Hall and Al Roker. Hall and Roker had been hosting the 9 a.m. hour of Today and were bringing in higher ratings than she ever managed to do while earning significantly smaller paychecks. Reportedly, the two hosts together were earning less than half of Kelly’s annual $23 million. Hall’s departure from NBC was swift and mishandled by the network; she apparently found out she was being replaced just minutes before going on air and did not get to say goodbye to her viewers. And Roker, along with Today anchor Craig Melvin, who is also Black, was put in the position of having to comment on their colleague’s casual racism this week.
The immeasurable costs of NBC choosing to ink a massive deal with Kelly also include the missed opportunities of the network supporting many other journalists who could have focused on covering and representing communities of color or the LGBTQ community. Instead, NBC gambled its profits on a woman with a well-documented history of further marginalizing the marginalized.
It includes the lost loyalty of morning show viewers, who have increasingly flocked to her ABC competitors instead since Kelly joined Today. Kelly’s schtick of parroting classic conservative rhetoric and coupling it with the occasional tough question never translated to mainstream broadcasting. NBC never saw the ratings it had likely anticipated for Kelly’s Today hour, or for the hour after, or for her scuttled Sunday show -- and the effects extended beyond NBC’s national platform to harm local NBC affiliate stations too. (It’s more than likely this consistent stagnation in viewership is what actually did her in at NBC, rather than some sudden moral reaction to a race-baiting comment the network executives should have seen coming.)
And it includes losing public faith, because so many of us saw this coming from day one.
Was it worth it?