Megyn Kelly | Media Matters for America

Megyn Kelly

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  • The true cost of hiring Megyn Kelly

    NBC, what did you think would happen here?

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    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.

    Yet Kelly may walk away from the network with $69 million she didn’t earn, and NBC will be left to pay many more costs for its inexcusable decision to bring her on board in the first place.

    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.)

    It includes losing the faith of NBC employees, many of whom were embarrassed or alienated by their well-paid colleague’s right-wing antics on Today.

    And it includes losing public faith, because so many of us saw this coming from day one.

    Was it worth it?

  • NBC should just fire Megyn Kelly already

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Reports indicate that Megyn Kelly may be leaving NBC, and that Megyn Kelly Today may have been cancelled. NBC should just cut its losses entirely and move on.

    Statement from Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters:

    Before Megyn Kelly’s show on NBC even started, we had warned that Megyn Kelly’s record of perpetuating racism was well-established, ran deep and was unlikely to change. Given that record, it was a bad business decision for NBC to hire her to begin with, and throughout her time at NBC, it remained a bad business decision to continue employing her. Moving Kelly into a larger role in news would only compound those errors - undermining the quality of NBC’s news programming and running the risk of a business backlash.

    While it’s good to see that NBC rebuked Kelly’s recent comments defending blackface and allowed its other on-air talent to do the same, it’s time for some action. NBC knew full well what it was getting when the network hired Kelly.

    NBC should cut its losses and terminate Kelly’s contract.

    What we said when NBC hired her remains true today: You can take Kelly out of Fox News, but you can’t take the Fox News out of Kelly.

    In June 2017, ahead of Kelly’s debut on NBC, Media Matters published a report chronicling some of Kelly’s worst moments at Fox News, pointing out that she had:

    There is no reason for NBC to be surprised at what ensued.

  • Right-wing media are pushing Rachel Mitchell’s flawed memo about Christine Blasey Ford’s report of sexual assault by Kavanaugh 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT & BOBBY LEWIS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After professor Christine Blasey Ford testified on September 27 that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her in the 1980s, The Washington Post published a memo from Rachel Mitchell, the sex crimes prosecutor hired by Senate Republicans to interrogate Ford, explaining why she theoretically would not prosecute Kavanaugh.

    Multiple news outlets have noted that the conclusions in Mitchell’s memo -- among them that Ford’s claims are “even weaker” than a "'he said, she said’ case" -- cannot be seen as credible. The Washington Post pointed out that since there hasn’t been an actual investigation of the claims, Mitchell’s assertion of no corroborating evidence falls flat. Think Progress noted that while Mitchell questioned Ford extensively, she spoke to Kavanaugh, the alleged assailant, for just 15 minutes. Mother Jones reported that a former colleague of Mitchell’s, Matthew Long, dismissed her “willingness to author” the memo as “absolutely disingenuous,” and he asserted that the prosecutor “doesn’t have sufficient information to even draw these conclusions.” Long also criticized Mitchell for attacking Ford’s gaps in memory, noting that he was “trained by Ms. Mitchell about how trauma explicitly does prevent memory from happening” and concluding, “Ms. Mitchell knows better than that.”

    Additionally, as journalists and outlets have pointed out, a Supreme Court nomination is not a trial; it’s more akin to a job interview. The question of whether a prosecutor is willing to bring charges against Kavanaugh is not equivalent to that of whether he should serve on the highest court of the land.

    Desperate to undercut Ford, right-wing media figures have ignored the obvious problems in Mitchell’s memo and instead portrayed the document as credible evidence of Kavanaugh’s innocence:

    Fox & FriendsBrian Kilmeade: Mitchell “concluded that she would not -- this was a weak case and I never would recommend, wouldn’t think anyone would recommend, they prosecute this case.”

    Fox’s Laura Ingraham wrote, “Sex Crimes Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell’s report exhonerates (sic) Kavanaugh,” linking to a Gateway Pundit piece with a similar title. Radio host Bill Mitchell and Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton also shared the article.

    NBC’s Megyn Kelly: Mitchell “submitted a memo” saying that Ford’s case “doesn’t even satisfy by the preponderance of the evidence standard, … which is the lowest bar in any case. … And now we want the FBI to spend this week going back and scouring the Maryland neighborhood and … figuring out who renovated and when.”

    Fox contributor Lisa Boothe shared Mitchell’s report and wrote, “Can everyone please stop pretending like Dr. Ford is credible now? She is NOT credible. It’s painfully obvious. I feel like I’ve been living in the Twilight Zone.”

    NRA’s Dana Loesch quoted a Daily Mail article on Mitchell’s report, writing that “there is NOT enough evidence to back accuser's claims.”

    Former presidential candidate Herman Cain: “Even the lady that asked the questions during the judiciary committee [hearing], she wrote an eight-page report that said that there was no there there.”

    The Federalist’s Sean Davis: “This memorandum from Rachel Mitchell is a rather stunning indictment not of Kavanaugh, but of Ford and her story, which seems to change each time she tells it. The only consistent aspect of Ford’s story is how often it changes.”

    Townhall editor and Fox contributor Katie Pavlich: “I’d like to point out that nearly everyone in the media, minus a few (myself included), said Ford was ‘very credible.’ She wasn’t.”

    Gateway Pundit’s Jacob Wohl: “Sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell COMPLETELY EXONERATES Brett Kavanaugh,” and “finds Ford's allegations totally suspect, potentially fraudulent.”

    FoxNews.com’s Stephen Miller: “I believe Rachel Mitchell”

    Mark Levin: Mitchell, “a real sex crimes prosecutor,” did an “excellent job” of “exposing gaps & contradictions in Ford’s Senate testimony.”

    Townhall’s Guy Benson: Mitchell’s memo “is extremely compelling”

    Daily Wire’s Ashe Schow: “Mark my words, the media is currently looking for other sex crimes prosecutors to say they would absolutely take this case to court.”

    The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles: “I believe Rachel Mitchell. #IBelieveWomen”

    The Daily Caller’s Benny Johnson: “BELIEVE 👏 ALL 👏 WOMEN 👏”

    Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin’s site Twitchy: “RUH-ROH: Rachel Mitchell’s independent analysis spells even BIGGER trouble for Senate Dems and Ford’s attorneys.”

    Frequent Fox guest Morgan Ortagus: “A professional prosecutor is saying… there’s too many inconsistencies with the story. ... I know you’re shaking your head, but, I mean, she’s spent a lifetime as a career prosecutor working on this.”

  • The staggering corruption of Dinesh D’Souza’s pardon

    A conspiratorial, racist fraud gets a reprieve from the like-minded president

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Dinesh D’Souza got off easy. Back in 2014, the right-wing crank was indicted for committing campaign finance fraud, and he pleaded guilty to illegally reimbursing “straw donors” to the Senate campaign of Wendy Long, his friend from college. Prosecutors wanted to throw D’Souza in prison for 10 to 16 months, arguing that the contrition he claimed to feel for his crime was belied by his many cable news appearances in which he said he was a victim of political persecution by the Obama administration. At his sentencing, the judge told D’Souza that “it is still hard for me to discern any personal acceptance of responsibility in this case.”

    The judge nonetheless showed leniency and gave D’Souza five years of probation, eight months in a “community confinement center,” plus community service. At the time, D’Souza said he was “relieved” and thanked the judge “for imposing a fair sentence.”

    Since then, D’Souza has tried to turn himself into a martyr. With the eager assistance of his friends in conservative media, he’s spun his conviction (he pleaded guilty, remember) and light sentencing as proof that Barack Obama’s administration pursued a vendetta to silence one of its conservative critics. That theory is based on precisely zero evidence.

    But it was good enough for President Donald Trump, who announced earlier today via Twitter that D’Souza (a vocal supporter of the president) will be receiving a full pardon.

    This is an obvious abuse of the president’s pardoning power and it follows a pattern of corrupt pardons. Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff (and current Republican Senate candidate) Joe Arpaio last year after he was convicted of criminal contempt of court for refusing to obey judicial orders to halt his department’s racial profiling of Latinos. Former Dick Cheney aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of lying to federal prosecutors in the Valerie Plame affair, got a pardon after his Trump-loving attorney pleaded his case to the White House.

    In all these cases, there are two common and related themes: Trump using his pardoning power to bestow favors on his cronies, and the insistence that the pardoned person was “treated unfairly.” Trump said Arpaio was “treated unbelievably unfairly,” his statement on Libby’s pardon said that “for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly,” and his tweet announcing D’Souza’s pardon said he “was treated very unfairly by our government.” What’s clear in all these instances is that “treated unfairly” means that the convicted person did not receive the sort of preferential legal treatment that the president feels his allies should enjoy.

    D’Souza’s pardon is also an expression of the corruption rotting away at conservative politics and the right-wing media. A healthy political movement would have long ago ostracized a bigot and fraud like D’Souza. He is a racist troll and inveterate conspiracy theorist who spends his days mocking school shooting survivors on Twitter. Leading up to the 2012 election he wrote a lie-filled book and produced a howlingly mendacious “documentary” arguing that Obama inherited a “Third World, anti-American” ethos from his absentee father. He wrote a book arguing that the “cultural left” was to blame for the September 11 attacks, and another book insisting that “the American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well.”

    Rather than booting this extremist to the fringes, conservative media turned D’Souza into a cause célèbre. He was a fixture on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News program during his campaign finance fraud trial, where he was given an open platform to assert his persecution at the hands of Obama. His idiotic conspiracy theories about Obama’s father garnered an enthusiastic endorsement from Newt Gingrich, who argued that you can understand the first black U.S. president only “if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.” D’Souza is a regular guest on conservative talk radio and routinely hits the lecture circuit with the backing of right-wing activist groups.

    Now this racist, conspiratorial fraud has been pardoned by another racist, conspiratorial fraud, and this long-simmering corruption is being lauded within the Republican Party -- Trump’s pardon of D’Souza was quickly celebrated by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who called D’Souza a “powerful voice for freedom.”

  • Laura Ingraham’s attack on David Hogg is nothing new. Fox has been mocking students and children for years. 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On March 28, Fox News host Laura Ingraham tweeted a link to a Daily Wire article pointing out that Parkland survivor David Hogg was rejected by several colleges and accused him of whining about it. Ingraham’s attack on the teenage mass-shooting survivor is far from a shocking development given her and her Fox News colleagues' repeated slandering of the shooting victims. 

    In the month and a half since the shooting in Parkland, FL, Ingraham herself has said the Parkland students should not be given “special consideration” on gun policy; told her viewers that the March 14 student walkout wasn’t some sort of “organic outpouring of youthful rage,” but rather “nothing but a left-wing, anti-Trump diatribe”; and complained that anti-abortion protesters didn’t get the same attention. Two of Fox’s other primetime hosts, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, both dismissed the students as pawns being manipulated by gun control advocates. Carlson went a step further, calling the students “self-righteous kids” who “weren’t helping at all” and comparing them to Mao's Red Guards. The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, who is also a Fox News contributor, dismissed the students as just “children, not founts of wisdom,” and Fox & Friends Weekend host Pete Hegseth responded to the student-organized March For Our Lives by angrily commenting, “Spare me if I don't want to hear the sanctimoniousness of a 17-year-old.” Fox’s sustained and hostile attacks on students in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting fit right into the network’s years-long pattern of insulting and belittling students and children.

    Fox’s attacks on students and children go back years

    In 2017, two Fox employees attacked 8-year-olds in the course of five months. In May, after a young boy followed Vice President Mike Pence to ask for an apology for bumping into him, Tammy Bruce called the child a “snowflake” who “needed a safe space” and said he “pretty much stalked the vice president afterward.” Months later, Rachel Campos-Duffy smeared a football team of 8-year-olds as “shameful” for kneeling during the national anthem at a football game.

    Fox figures have consistently insulted college students and mocked them for attempting to make changes to their colleges and universities. A 2012 Fox panel dismissed students as “immature and irrational” after they attempted to persuade their school to divest from fossil fuels. In 2015, Fox contributor Judith Miller insulted student protesters, asking, “You want a safe space? Stay in your playpen,” and Fox anchor Martha MacCallum dismissed students’ push for safe spaces in response to racial injustice, suggesting that “if they want to see the violation of a safe space,” then they should “visit ground zero.” In 2016, then-Fox contributor George Will labeled students “snowflakes, these fragile little creatures who melt at the first sign of the heat of controversy.” Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle laughed at students’ activism on offensive terminology and mockingly asked if an injured horse should “get a lawyer because the horse is offended” by being called “lame.” In September 2017, a Fox contributor derided college students who sought mental health care and compared them to teenage soldiers in WWII. Just two months ago, Fox & Friends ran a selectively edited hit piece against college students created by the conservative activist group Campus Reform. The show further edited the video and showed students' responses without giving sufficient context to the nature of the questions posed to them, making the students look ill-informed.

    Fox personalities have targeted some of the most vulnerable students with vicious, racist, and anti-LGBT attacks

    In 2015, Fox personalities repeatedly besmirched 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, a Texas student arrested after bringing a homemade clock mistaken for a bomb to school. Then-Fox reporter Anna Kooiman claimed that Mohamed “might not be as innocent as he seems,” backing up her claim by noting that teen was once caught “blowing bubbles in the bathroom” at school. Fox contributor Mark Fuhrman, famous for committing perjury and spewing racial epithets during the OJ Simpson trial, assured viewers that he didn’t “feel sorry for Ahmed,” adding that the child seemed “passive aggressive” to him. Another contributor, Mike Gallagher, repeatedly compared Mohamed’s homemade clock to a bomb and suggested that the student should have been more "forthcoming" when he was interrogated by the police. And Brian Kilmeade asked whether Mohamed might be “extort[ing]” his former school district by suing.  

    Fox often attacks children who have immigrated to the United States or whose parents are immigrants. Fox personalities have repeatedly used the derogatory term “anchor baby” to belittle the children of immigrants. Tucker Carlson once responded to the notion that it is the United States' legal obligation to educate children who come into the country by saying, "But what about the rights of the kids who were born here?” Fox Business Networks’ Brenda Buttner questioned whether parents should be concerned with "a surge of up to 60,000 illegal kids in their classrooms." Buttner exclaimed, "Forget the Ebola scare. Is it really the back to school scare?" In 2016, Fox’s Heather Nauert and Brian Kilmeade slammed several refugee students who sued a school district in Pennsylvania after alleging their educational needs weren’t being met. Kilmeade smeared the students as “ungrateful,” and Nauert mocked their request, commenting that “going to our schools for free” was “apparently… not good enough for them.”

    Fox hosts have also used their shows to attack transgender students. In 2013, during a conversation about a California bill aimed at allowing transgender students to use facilities and play on sports teams that correspond to their gender identities, Fox host Greg Gutfeld mocked the “gender-confused students” that would benefit from the bill. Two years later, in 2015, then-Fox host Megyn Kelly asserted that accepting transgender students causes “confusion” for other students.

    Fox employees have also gone after other groups of students. In 2014, Fox News' "Medical A-Team" member Dr. Keith Ablow claimed that middle school girls can "certainly provoke" harassment by wearing leggings to school. In 2015, Megyn Kelly labeled a group of protesters in Missouri “angry black students.” That same year, the hosts of Fox News’ Outnumbered lamented that overweight children are allowed to feel confident in their bodies. Fox’s Sandra Smith bemoaned that kids “feel good about themselves when they shouldn’t.”

    As David Hogg demands accountability for Laura Ingraham’s bullying, it is clear that Ingraham’s behavior was not a mistake or an anomaly, but representative of her network at large.

  • The attacks on Jane Fonda show who Megyn Kelly really is

    Megyn “Santa just is white” Kelly called Fonda “a woman whose name is synonymous with outrage” 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Megyn Kelly may be an NBC host now, but her January 22 monologue about actress Jane Fonda reveals how little Kelly has deviated from her signature Fox News diatribes.

    This morning, Kelly devoted a three-minute monologue to attacking Fonda, a former guest on her show, and largely focused on the actress’ radical anti-Vietnam War activism in the 1970s. Kelly’s monologue exhibited classic Fox News feigned outrage about a guest Kelly seemed to originally have no problem booking. “This is a woman whose name is synonymous with outrage. ... She has no business lecturing anyone on what qualifies as offensive,” Kelly said.

    The attack on Fonda appeared to be in response to a comment Fonda made during an interview she and her Netflix costar Lily Tomlin did on Today last week. During the January 16 interview with anchors Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie, Fonda made a joking aside referencing her interview with Kelly last September in which Kelly had awkwardly asked Fonda about her past plastic surgery. At the time, Fonda had deflected the question and had instead discussed the film she was promoting. Fonda has since spoken about the embarrassing exchange several times, noting she would still return to the show if Kelly “comes around and learns her stuff.”

    NBC reportedly pays Kelly an annual salary of $18 million to host her hour of Today featuring interviews and monologues like the one this morning. She will be co-hosting the network’s State of the Union address coverage next week.

    During her time as a Fox News host, Kelly was known for delivering race-baiting and anti-feminist rants, including dismissing campus sexual assault, declaring a black teenage girl attacked by Texas police was “no saint,” and insisting that Santa Claus and Jesus Christ were both white. A former Fox colleague reportedly told Yashar Ali that her monologue this morning “just shows that [Fox News] never made her do anything… this is who she is.”

    From the January 22 edition of NBC’s Megyn Kelly Today:

    MEGYN KELLY (HOST): Look, I gave her the chance to empower other women, young and old, on a subject which she purports to know well. And she rejected it. That’s OK. But I have no regrets about that question. Nor am I on the market for a lesson from Jane Fonda on what is and is not appropriate. After all, this is a woman whose name is synonymous with outrage. Look at her treatment of our military during the Vietnam War. Many of our veterans still call her “Hanoi Jane” thanks to her radio broadcast which attempted to shame American troops. She posed on an anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down our American pilots. She called our POWs hypocrites and liars, and referred to their torture as understandable. Even she had to apologize years later for that gun picture, but not for the rest of it. By the way, she still says she is not proud of America. So the moral indignation is a little much. She put her plastic surgery out there. She said she wanted to discuss the plight of older women in America. And honestly, she has no business lecturing anyone on what qualifies as offensive.

  • Megyn Kelly Today needs you to forget how she built her career

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Megyn Kelly -- the former Fox News host who NBC hoped would become the latest star in the network’s firmament -- opened the premiere episode of her new morning talk show, Megyn Kelly Today, by laughing at the idea that she might devote time to her sometimes foe President Donald Trump’s latest remarks. “The truth is, I am kind of done with politics for now,” she told a live studio audience with a smile.

    During the hour that followed, Kelly offered up a panoply of typical morning show fare -- a synergistic but wooden sit-down with the stars of Will and Grace, returning to the network’s airwaves this week; a soft-focus piece on a Chicago nun who is “cleaning up her streets”; and Oprah-esque “surprises” for members of the audience, for her guests, and for Kelly herself. Along the way, Kelly sought to wash away her past work and rebrand herself as a joyful and upbeat bringer of hope.

    Kelly devoted much of her opening monologue to crafting an origin story, trying to connect with her morning show audience by describing her upbringing, her parents, the death of her father, and her career. “I went on to become a TV anchor. And that was good, until it wasn't,” she explained. “So much division. So much outrage. And I wasn't happy,” she said of the 2016 presidential election. “For years I had dreamed of hosting a more uplifting show,” Kelly added. She said the dream was answered by NBC, which allowed her to host the new morning show, “whose mission would be to deliver hope and optimism and inspiration and empowerment.”

    This isn’t the first time Kelly has castigated -- and sought to separate herself from -- the rancor of political discourse. But this rising wave of vitriol didn’t emerge fully formed in 2016, and Kelly was no mere onlooker to the trend -- she was one of its foremost beneficiaries. Kelly spent years at Fox News, a network built on the division and outrage she now decries. And her raw talent for playing on the racial anxieties and resentments of her audience helped make her a Fox star.

    Kelly has always been a savvy self-promoter, and during her time at Fox she drew fawning profiles from reporters who focused on her “Megyn moment” takedowns of right-wing guests and her sympathetic confrontation with a brutish, vulgar Trump rather than her larger body of work. If you push her, she’ll still defend the work she did at Fox, and she refuses to criticize her past employers. As her premiere shows, she’d rather not talk about it, and would rather you wouldn’t either. She is no doubt hoping that this latest effort at self-re-creation will produce more uncritical media coverage -- and an audience for her NBC show.

    But what may trip her up is that this rebranding requires us all to forget that this isn’t the first NBC program Kelly has debuted this year. “As you know, I am the new kid here on The Rock,” Kelly said at the top of a pre-taped segment in which she hung out with her “new Today family.” But while Kelly may not have previously had the opportunity to ride bicycles to work with Al Roker or make eggs with Matt Lauer, she’s been in the NBC studios for months, working on Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, a newsmagazine program the network had hoped would be its answer to CBS’ 60 Minutes.

    Kelly may now be promoting her morning show by saying she’s “kind of done with politics.” But just a few months ago, she was championing her journalistic bona fides on the Sunday Night press tour. “I've spent enough time staring at the refrigerator, it's time to do some news,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in April. The program launched with an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin and also featured a sit-down with the pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

    But Sunday Night was a flop -- a boring show that never found an audience, routinely losing its time slot not only to 60 Minutes, but also to reruns of America’s Funniest Home Videos, before NBC pulled the plug and put the show on hiatus two episodes early in July. The program exposed Kelly’s weaknesses when cut off from the outrage sensibility that made her reputation: She lacks creativity in putting together an interesting show and range in interviewing nonpolitical guests.

    Sunday Night’s failure was bad for NBC’s reputation, but as a relatively inexpensive show in a low-profile time slot, it was hardly cataclysmic for the network. Megyn Kelly Today, however, represents a sizable bet from NBC that Kelly will be able to bring credit and ratings to the network’s high-profile, moneymaking franchise. “If she doesn’t [succeed], it’ll be a disaster for NBC,” a news-industry veteran told Vanity Fair earlier this month.

    It was an ominous sign for the network that Kelly has already proved she lacks a built-in audience that will follow her from show to show. What’s worse for NBC is that the very skills Sunday Night exposed Kelly as lacking are crucial for daytime talk shows. And that competitive market has been the career graveyard of any number of previously successful TV hosts.

  • Megyn Kelly's new show is NBC's worst nightmare: It's boring

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 9, after a week in which President Donald Trump had unloaded on CNN, the Senate struggled to assemble legislation to repeal Obamacare, and The New York Times had revealed that the president’s son had met with Russian agents as part of their government’s pro-Trump election effort, Megyn Kelly -- NBC’s pricey new hire and the centerpiece of their revamped lineup -- sat down for an interview. Her subject wasn’t a politician or a business leader, a lawyer with insight into the Trump administration’s legal troubles or a wonk prepared to diagnose Congress’ flailing attempts at health care reform. Instead, Kelly’s guest on her struggling newsmagazine program, Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, was affable, red-headed English singer Ed Sheeran, who was about to make a cameo appearance on HBO’s Game of Thrones.

    They talked about Sheeran’s childhood shyness and why he thinks he became a success. At the end of it all, Kelly had elicited the revelation that Sheeran stopped carrying a cellphone last year, which he considers a “pretty amazing” development. And more than any hard-won insight into Sheeran’s stage fright, the audience was left with a pressing question: Megyn Kelly, arguably one of the buzziest cable stars of the 2016 election, a woman who prompted a bidding war when her contract was up, left Fox News to do this?

    Kelly was one of the undisputed media winners of the presidential election cycle, taking the industry by storm after her August 2015 primary debate question roasting Trump over his misogyny triggered a vicious response from the Republican front-runner. Always a savvy self-promoter, Kelly parlayed her turn in the spotlight into a series of incandescent profiles and a billing as her network’s biggest star. By luring her away from Fox, NBC’s executives surely thought they had acquired one of the biggest talents of her generation, someone who could help the network dominate the ratings for years to come.

    But as Kelly’s attempts to pivot have suggested, much of her appeal depended on her context. Her star power derived from her ability to play to Fox News’ penchant for racial grievance, while showily pushing back on especially retrograde displays of sexism. But that unmatched proficiency in projecting outrage covered over other significant deficiencies. On a larger stage, Kelly’s tried to be like many other anchors, seeking to become the “next Matt Lauer” or the “new Oprah.”  In the process, she’s shed what made her distinct, and turned in a show that ought to be NBC’s worst nightmare: It’s boring.

    Kelly signed on with NBC because the network offered her the most freedom to do the type of programming she wanted. "I'm thrilled now to be able to anchor the kinds of broadcasts that I'd always dreamed I'd be able to do, that I felt in my heart I was born to do," she said in May.

    The kinds of broadcasts Kelly wanted turned out to be the ones everyone else is already doing: three to five segments per show, each of which features Kelly or one of the rotating cast of NBC contributors doing reports NBC describes as “focused on in-depth investigations, newsmaker interviews and stories of adversity, accomplishment, inspiration and adventure.” She didn’t even bring on distinctive correspondents; instead the program relies on the network’s already-prominent talent. And the stuff of her dreams turns out to be Ambien for the rest of us.

    Her interview subjects are universally Good People and Bad People. The Good People are the ones Kelly wants to promote, like conservative author J.D. Vance, journalists Erin Andrews and Maria Menounos, several women in the tech industry who experienced sexual harassment, and the like. They receive softball questions that allow them to tell their personal stories of tragedy and triumph. The Bad People -- like Russian President Vladimir Putin or conspiracy theorist Alex Jones -- get significantly tougher questions, often built from deep research into their past statements, surrounded by interviews with their critics. Among Kelly’s carefully handpicked interview subjects, there is no complexity. There are no interviews with interesting but flawed individuals who are challenged to defend their opinions and ideas.

    By the time Kelly interviewed Vance for her June 26 broadcast, he had been in the spotlight for nearly a year. Vance’s memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, which describes the despairing hillbilly culture he grew up in as a form of social decay that does more to hold back the people of that community than economic insecurity, hit The New York Times bestseller list last August; he is an op-ed contributor at that paper, and has a talking head gig on CNN which he uses to tell his story and the lessons he believes it holds for contemporary politics. Journalists across the political spectrum have delved into his life and work with vigor.

    Faced with an interview subject whose harrowing childhood and effort to overcome those circumstances have been told over and over again by her colleagues, and with no real news hook, one might have expected Kelly to try to break new ground. Instead, her piece focused almost entirely on Vance’s biography, with Kelly asking him how he felt during particularly distressing moments and whether he is surprised by the book’s success (“When did it even occur to you that you could get into a place like Yale Law?”). Kelly’s other interviews for the segment -- with Vance’s wife, sister, and a college professor -- all served to flesh out aspects of that well-trod personal story. Vance’s work invokes ideas, but Kelly made no effort to interrogate them. She quoted a single line from an unnamed critic, allowed Vance to laugh it off, and moved on without the kind of follow-up question that any interviewer should have handy.

    When Kelly examines less familiar subject matter, her problem is not redundancy but a failure to contextualize. She introduced her viewers on July 9 to Princeton philosophy professor Sarah-Jane Leslie and New York University psychologist Andrei Cimpian, whose research finds that beginning at age six, girls become significantly more likely to identify males as smarter than females. This could have been the springboard for an in-depth discussion of the impact such gender biases may have, both for those children and in society at large. Instead, most of the segment was taken up by the NBC team recreating that study with a panel of children and showing the results to their shocked mothers, hitting the same beats over and over again, and leaving little time for the researchers to explain how this may limit girls’ choices or discuss their prior research showing that women are underrepresented in science and engineering.  

    As the show faltered, Kelly experimented with shorter interviews with celebrities, sitting down for "Q&As" with Sheeran, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, and comedian Ricky Gervais and turning out brief segments that aired in the last block of the run’s later episodes. These did not go well, and may indicate a real limit to Kelly’s range as a TV host.

    Kelly gives little indication that she has any but the most cursory understanding of who she’s interviewing. At times her questions are extremely generic -- she asked Sheeran to “complete this sentence: Success requires …” Others demonstrate a paper-thin knowledge of the subject’s background -- Kelly asked Smith about her occasionally troubled relationship with her husband, which Kelly acknowledged both have openly discussed at length; she quizzed Gervais about whether he gets “blowback” because he roasts attendees when he hosts the Golden Globes, a role he performed most recently 18 months before the interview.

    Then, inevitably, each interview ended with a lightning round of “quick hits,” a selection of the most banal questions imaginable, recycled from interview to interview, with the questions getting recycled from subject to subject. If you always wanted to hear each of the three artists divulge their favorite movie and the thing they’d most like to change about themselves, this show is for you. If you were interested in hearing them address their work in any real detail -- or if you’re even curious why Gervais’ favorite film is The Godfather -- go elsewhere, because Kelly lacks either the knowledge or the ability to draw any of them out.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Kelly didn’t become a cable news star with illuminating interviews of celebrities. She built her audience by following her network’s standard playbook, appealing to conservatives’ worst impulses and resentments, lashing out at liberals and drawing on racially-inflected rhetoric. At the same time, she was able to win plaudits from media elites with unexpected, viral “Megyn moment” takedowns of right-wing guests, positioning herself to move to a mainstream network.

    But Sunday Night is a deliberate move away from the type of show that made her a star. “One of the things I didn’t like about my old job was it was all politics,” Kelly said in a May interview with The Wall Street Journal. She promised her NBC show would have less “red meat” and “more balance.”

    Kelly may not have enjoyed doing these sorts of segments. But without them, Kelly had little to offer the fans that might have followed her to NBC.

    And whatever you thought of their content (and we at Media Matters have had plenty to say on that front), those segments were more engaging spectacles than the ones she’s putting on at NBC. Thanks to her years at Fox, Kelly is without peer at projecting outrage and generating sensational viral clips. But that talent covered up her lack of range; her weakness in showing empathy or drawing out interesting, newsy details from her interview subjects.

    There’s little to be said about Kelly’s show when she isn’t on screen. The segments from NBC’s correspondents have been workmanlike but undistinguished, and nothing about them stands out as somehow unique to the program or even influenced by Kelly’s presence -- with little change, they could have run on Dateline.

    Their subjects are standard human-interest stories, in turn heart-warming or horrifying -- the possible impacts of a scientist’s new technique, an orphan from Sierra Leone adopted by Americans who became a ballet dancer, a pharmaceutical company’s scam to get doctors to overprescribe their medication, the dangers of dental anaesthesia, one man’s effort to heal anti-immigrant divisions in his hometown. The reports lack any sense of innovation or verve beyond what one would expect from any other newsmagazine show.

    None of the stories featured on Kelly's program broke major news or had a significant impact on the news cycle; no one in journalism is talking about the great reporting coming out of Sunday Night. Kelly’s reports also made little news, and other media companies have made no significant efforts to follow up on her stories. Her only stories to garner attention were the Putin interview, which made a splash because of its subject but not Kelly’s effort, and the Jones interview, which caused a PR disaster for NBC. The program’s own segment providing “updates” on the stories that were previously covered represents an unsuccessful attempt to demonstrate a record of journalistic accomplishment.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Boring shows don’t win big audiences. Six million people tuned in for the show’s premiere, the highest viewership of the run, but still fewer than the show’s chief competitor, CBS’ venerable newsmagazine show 60 Minutes. Sunday Night never again pulled in an audience of more than 3.6 million viewers, regularly and embarrassingly losing not only to old episodes of 60 Minutes, but to reruns of America’s Funniest Home Videos.

    NBC reportedly originally planned for Kelly’s show to have a 10-episode run, then go on hiatus from the end of the summer until the spring to make way for Sunday Night Football and the network’s coverage of the Winter Olympics. While a network source denies that NBC cut the run short by airing only eight episodes, one segment teased in the program’s premiere -- an interview with MyPillow’s Mike Lindell -- never aired, and an episode of Dateline NBC, the network’s durable newsmagazine show, is scheduled to air this Sunday in Kelly’s timeslot. It would not be surprising if Sunday Night never returns.

    Sunday Night, with a limited run in a low-profile timeslot and staffed by existing NBC talent, was fundamentally a cheap, low-risk bet for the network. They tried it, it failed, and it’s already off the air.

    The real threat to NBC’s hopes for future network dominance may be realized next month, when Kelly’s NBC weekday morning show, Megyn Kelly Today, debuts. Immediately following the network’s moneymaking and ratings juggernaut, Today, and with name branding tied to that crown jewel of the NBC News family, NBC is counting on that show to succeed. NBC lost Tamron Hall, the former co-anchor of their 9 a.m. programming, after executives handed her timeslot to Kelly; she’s since become a competitor, pitching a network daytime talk show. NBC has taken heat for replacing a program hosted by two African-Americans with a white host famous for her declaration that Santa Claus and Jesus Christ were white. If Kelly’s morning show fails, it will be a disaster for the network.

    The results from Sunday Night should be an ominous sign for NBC. Kelly showed that she lacks a large audience of loyal fans willing to follow her from show to show. Kelly’s more aggressive interviews didn’t draw viewers -- the audience didn’t stick around after the Putin interview or show up in big numbers for the Jones one. But crucially for a weekday morning show, her softer interviews have been mediocre. The “Q&A” celebrity interview segments -- the sort of friendly back-and-forths that are the backbone of a morning show -- were some of the most rote and boring of the show’s run.

    NBC’s executives made a huge investment in Megyn Kelly’s career, betting on Fox News stardom that they hoped would translate to a network audience. So far that bet hasn’t panned out. NBC could afford for her to fail on Sunday nights. But a similar wipeout on weekday mornings, with Kelly nailed to one of the network’s most high-profile brands, could be a disaster.

     

    Additional research provided by Shelby Jamerson.

  • Bret Stephens and MSNBC’s hiring spree: The network keeps moving right

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update: MSNBC and Greta Van Susteren have agreed to part ways.

    MSNBC is now a pasture for pseudo-intellectual conservatives. Climate denier and Iraq War booster Bret Stephens is just the latest right-wing hire at the network.

    In recent months NBC News Chairman Andy Lack has overseen a hiring spree of right-wing pundits and former Fox News personalities. The stable includes Hugh Hewitt, Megyn Kelly, Charlie Sykes, Greta Van Susteren, and George Will. They join other conservatives at the network: Elise Jordan, Steve Schmidt, Michael Steele, Rick Tyler, Nicolle Wallace, and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough. This is to say nothing of NBC News contributor and Trump apologist Mark Halperin; and given their frequent appearances, it may be just a matter of time until David Frum, a speechwriter for then-President George W. Bush, former George W. Bush chief of staff Andy Card, and neocon Bill Kristol join the network as well.

    Compared to CNN’s boorish Trumpists or the state media apparatchiks at Fox News, the common thread among MSNBC conservatives is a certain pretentious shine. They’re frequently just arguing that President Donald Trump is the wrong type of conservative, when in fact Trump is the apotheosis of everything conservatism has been careening toward for some time. (The exception is Hugh Hewitt, who is now just a huge Trump booster after vacillating during the campaign.) 

    Many of these hires have direct, intimate connections to Bush, the most disastrous president in decades. Card, Frum, Jordan, and Wallace worked in the Bush administration, and Stephens, Kristol, Will, Scarborough, and Hewitt were all huge cheerleaders for the Iraq War. And that history matters. Two major media institutions, including a newspaper of record, are now paying Stephens essentially just to troll liberals with climate denial and to push America towards a war with Iran.

    You can separate Lack’s hiring spree into two buckets: pundits and brands. Neither offer much value in the long run. In this media environment, opinions are cheap (including mine!). Everyone has one and most of them stink. There’s no long-term return on opinions (and no lack of people wanting to get on TV to share theirs).

    Adding brands like Megyn Kelly or Greta Van Susteren is equally pointless. It’s no wonder that both of these shows have failed. There’s simply no audience for them outside the Fox News bubble. Particularly with Kelly, NBC News executives seem completely unaware that her entire show at Fox News was built around racial dog-whistling (with occasional moments of bucking the party line).

    Also, as Ryan Grim noted, it is the progressive shows that Lack hasn’t touched that are succeeding the most.

    Rather than spending all this money on right-wing pundits and big names, the true value-add for news networks now is reliable and aggressive journalism. That’s hard to do. It’s expensive. It’s time-consuming. But it’s ultimately what will define NBC News and MSNBC.

  • Megyn Kelly's Alex Jones segment shows how public pressure works

    It could have gone worse, but a competent report won't undo the damage done

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A well-deserved firestorm of denunciations from the families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting and other critics forced Megyn Kelly to turn a report that was originally billed as a self-promotional head-to-head showdown with Alex Jones into a well-edited investigation of the dangers posed by an unstable megalomaniac with millions of loyal fans, including one in the Oval Office.

    But Kelly deserves little credit -- she acted in response to overwhelming public pressure, and the network’s impotent reaction to Jones’ own grabs for media attention may allow the nation's biggest producer of conspiracy theory media to come out the winner of tonight’s program.

    At no point since Kelly teased her interview with Jones at the end of last week’s show has she or NBC been able to control the narrative spinning out of her own show. It’s a shocking failure for one of the media’s savviest manipulators of her own image, and the network that hired her.

    Immediately after last week’s Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, Sandy Hook family members began speaking out. They said they had suffered years of torment and harassment due to Jones’ claims that the shooting was a “hoax,” and denounced Kelly for granting him a platform. Desperate to salvage the situation as brutal headlines rolled in, NBC all but promised its critics that the segment would be edited to portray Jones as negatively as possible.

    That’s exactly what happened. The segment benefited from devoting very little time to Kelly’s interview with Jones, minimizing his opportunity to appeal to her audience. Instead, through strong voiceover, clips from Jones’ program featuring the host spouting conspiracies, and interviews with a conservative commentator who opposes Jones’ influence and the father of a child who died at Sandy Hook, Kelly explained how Jones operates, the harassment his targets experience, and his close ties to President Donald Trump.

    The segment reportedly went through drastic changes following the spate of condemnation, with NBC adding an interview with a Sandy Hook family member and slicing and dicing the footage of Kelly’s sit-down with Jones to make it more damaging to him. It’s not unusual for networks to edit stories right up until airtime. But last week’s public relations nightmare clearly played a role in the segment NBC ended up running.

    NBC deserved that nightmare. Kelly was hired to be a new face of the network and given a program aimed to challenge CBS’ 60 Minutes for newsmagazine primacy. But after the first episodes of her newsmagazine show suffered from poor ratings and reviews criticizing her interviewing skill, NBC took a chance with a Jones sit-down, which offered Kelly the opportunity to reset the show’s reputation with a viral moment.

    That the network’s executives apparently didn’t realize that news of the segment would trigger a backlash from Jones’ victims shows a tremendous lack of foresight and ignorance of the subject matter. NBC paid for that failure with a series of awful news cycles pitting their new star against traumatized families who had lost their children who castigated Kelly for giving Jones a platform.

    I believe Jones is a newsworthy subject for national news outlets. It is important for the American people to learn how the nation's most prominent conspiracy theorist has garnered a large audience and gained the ear of Trump (the circumstances were different earlier in the decade, when Media Matters criticized several networks for giving him a platform). But as I argued last week, interviewing Jones’ victims would be more likely to shed light on his character than Kelly’s initial approach of focusing on a head-to-head showdown. The week of controversy drastically changed NBC’s calculus, producing a significantly better segment than suggested by last Sunday’s preview.

    It’s too early to tell whether the Sandy Hook families who criticized the decision to interview Jones will be satisfied with the result, or if they will deal another blow to Kelly’s stature. But while Jones isn't having a meltdown, he can't feel good about the segment's clear implication that he is a dangerous extremist. And given how badly the radio host beat the network’s PR team this week, they may have something to fear from him as well.

    Kelly and her network were caught flat-footed, unable to either anticipate or successfully react as Jones repeatedly outmaneuvered them, taking control of the narrative and successfully framing the story for the national media through the propagandistic manipulations that make him such a dangerous force.

    Jones “has learned how to program the mainstream news by inciting outrage online that is then discussed and covered by mainstream media,” BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel reported after Jones released embarrassing audio of phone calls in which Kelly tries to talk him into doing the interview. “But Kelly and NBC were ill-equipped to deal with the pro-Trump media apparatus. Instead, they adhered to the traditional rules of a big television interview that assume a good-faith relationship between interviewer and interviewee.”

    Jones escalated his public relations offensive as the interview approached, releasing a Father’s Day video in which he offered “sincere condolences” to the Sandy Hook families, lied about his previous comments about the attack, and lashed out at NBC. Jones was live on the air before Kelly’s show aired, spreading rumors about Kelly and threatening to release his own recording of their interview if he was displeased with the result. After it aired, seeking to bolster the image that he won the night, he and his cronies drank a champagne toast on camera. As Jones again tried to take over the story online, the NBC News and Megyn Kelly twitter feeds went dark, ceding him the social space.

    The radio host wanted more attention, and he got it, seeking to build his audience by portraying himself as the mainstream media’s victim. Thanks to Kelly’s failure to control her own narrative, he may well succeed.

    Kelly’s segment demonstrates that, with enough pressure, broadcast outlets can produce adequate reports on the pro-Trump fringe. But the last week shows they still haven’t learned enough to effectively defend their work against an alternative media assault. And it remains to be seen whether NBC’s failure to control the narrative around Jones’ interview helped him more than an otherwise competent segment hurt him.