Media Figures Roundly Criticize Megyn Kelly’s "Fluff" Interview With Trump

Media Figures Roundly Criticize Megyn Kelly’s "Fluff" Interview With Trump

››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH

Media figures criticized Fox News host Megyn Kelly for her “fluff” interview with Donald Trump during her Fox Broadcasting special, Megyn Kelly Presents.

Fox’s Megyn Kelly Interviewed Trump On A Fox Special

Fox News: “Megyn Kelly Special: Trump Defends Tone, Says Bid Will Be 'Complete Waste' If He Doesn't Win." On May 17, Megyn Kelly interviewed presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in a Fox Broadcast Network TV special called Megyn Kelly Presents. During the interview, Kelly asked Trump about his tone and and when he first thought he could actually become president:

Speaking with Kelly, Trump suggested the August debate actually helped prepare him for the battle ahead.

“In a certain way, what you did might have been a favor, because I felt so good about having gotten through -- I said, ‘If I could get through this debate, with those questions, you can get through anything,’” he said.

Trump pointed to that debate when asked at what moment he realized he might actually win the race. “I think that first debate meant something,” Trump said, adding that he felt comfortable with the subject matter and the people he was competing against. [FoxNews.com, 5/17/16]

Media Figures Criticized The Interview As “Useless Fluff”

CNN’s Bill Carter: “If It Had Been Any Softer, It Would Come On A Cone W[ith] A Swirl.”

[Twitter, 5/17/16]

NY Times’ James Poniewozik: All Megyn Kelly “Threw Were Airballs.”

[Twitter, 5/17/16]

New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait: “As A Journalist, You Know You Nailed Your Live Interview When The Subject Gives You A Head Pat Afterward.”

[Twitter, 5/17/16]

NPR’s Jessica Taylor: “Megyn Kelly Asking Donald Trump About His Twitter Habits As He Live Tweets This Pre-Recorded Interview. This. Election.”

[Twitter, 5/17/16]

The Washington Free Beacon's David Rutz: "This Interview Is Useless Fluff. The Word 'Tweet' Has Been Uttered About 50 Times."

[Twitter, 5/17/16]

Erik Wemple: “So Now Kelly Is Yukking It Up With Trump About His Hate-Tweeting? Am I Really Seeing This?” And “So This Is What Megyn Kelly Went To Trump Tower To Set Up?”

[Twitter, 5/17/16, 5/17/16]

Washington Examiner’s Jim Antle: “Pretty Cool To Be Able To Get Donald Trump … To Star In A Commercial For Your Book.”

[Twitter, 5/17/16]

Washington Examiner’s T. Beckett Adams: “That Was It? This Was What They Hyped For Weeks?” And “Hard-Hitting Stuff, Guys.”

[Twitter, 5/17/16, 5/17/16]

Allahpundit: “It Was Nice Of Trump To Help Kelly Monetize Those Months Of Nasty Attacks On Her.”

[Twitter, 5/17/16]

Slate's Isaac Chotiner: “This Megyn Kelly Interview Of Trump Is So Bad And So Soft That If I Were Fox News I Would Worry About CNN Trying To Poach Her."

[Twitter, 5/17/16]

New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman: “Media Coverage Of Kelly’s Primetime Special Sort Of Unanimous That It Was A Nothingburger” And “By Caving To Trump She’s Ceding Her Feminists Mainstream Cred.” 

[Twitter, 5/18/16, 5/18/16, 5/18/16]

Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik: Kelly’s “Show-Biz Kabuki Dancing” Interview “Wasn’t Journalism.” Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik wrote that Kelly’s “semi-schmoozy, smiley-face” and “show-biz kabuki dancing” interview “wasn’t journalism,” but rather “a game that Trump controlled.” Zurawik added that the interview was so soft that “I’m surprised [Trump and Kelly] didn’t exchange air kisses.” From Zurawik’s May 17 article:

By sitting down with him and having this semi-schmoozy, smiley-face, Barbara Walters-like, show-biz interview, Kelly provided Trump a kind of sanction with some women that he could never buy. And that’s going to go a long way in countering what those super-PACs spending tens of millions of dollars to attack him day and night as a misogynist monster are saying.

[...]

I’m surprised they didn’t exchange air kisses.

As someone who has long championed Kelly and made 2,000 new enemies at Fox News since August for repeatedly saying her managers and colleagues didn’t do enough to defend her against Trump, I watched her interview Tuesday with a certain rueful bemusement.

She did something journalistically important in August calling out Trump for his despicable comments about women. But Tuesday night wasn’t about journalism, was it? It was about show business.

[…]

For the record, she got nothing special or even mildly exciting of him, and I thought the did-somebody-hurt-you-in-your-life line of questioning was naïve and maybe even a little silly with someone as skilled at this game as Trump.

The extent to which the interview was a game that Trump controlled was made apparent when Trump talked about alcoholism in his family and why he doesn’t drink.

[...]

I wish I could end this by saying all the show-biz kabuki dancing going on between them didn’t really matter. But even though it wasn’t journalism, the sanction of a professional woman who’s become an icon of assertiveness and success as Kelly has is a very big victory for a candidate like Trump. [The Baltimore Sun, 5/17/16]

NPR’s Sam Sanders: Interview Was “A Bit Of A Letdown,” “Kelly Didn’t Push [Trump] Too Hard On Anything.” NPR reporter Sam Sanders pointed out that “Kelly didn’t push [Trump] too hard on anything” and wrote that “the true point of the exercise became clear” when Kelly “plugged her new book.” From Sanders’ May 17 article:

Tuesday night, when Fox broadcast Kelly's interview with Trump, there seemed to be a truce, but no new information. Trump didn't actually apologize for anything he's done or said, and Kelly didn't push him too hard on anything. You could view it as a bit of a letdown after all the drama between the two.

[...]

This dance, back and forth between the two, was a special kind of awkward — Trump and Kelly both trying to smile, while not giving anything away, each seeming to need the other for a bit of a transformation.

Trump needs to soften his image, particularly with women voters. And Kelly wants to become something bigger than she already is: an Oprah Winfrey or Barbara Walters for this decade. But the best part of the best Winfrey or Walters interviews are the long, pregnant pauses, full of facial expressions and silences that say what words can't. The choked-back tears, the hesitation. Walking the line between exploitation and intimacy, interrogation and affirmation. Those are the kind of interviews that make an Oprah, or even a president.

Tuesday's Megyn Kelly special was not that.

[...]

But at the end of the hour-long special, the true point of the exercise became clear. Kelly plugged her new book, telling viewers it'd soon be on sale wherever books are sold. If this special couldn't take Kelly or Trump to the next level, at least it could make one of them some profit. [NPR, 5/17/16]

Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara: Interview Was Part Of “Hourlong Infomercial For [Kelly’s] New Book.” Los Angeles Times TV critic Mary McNamara wrote that Trump was a “costar in an hourlong infomercial for [Kelly’s] new book.” McNamara added that Kelly failed to “hold [Trump’s] question-dodging feet to some sort of fire” and was “clearly prepped to avoid anything that might smack of hostility.” From McNamara’s May 17 article:

Megyn Kelly didn’t ask Donald Trump to headline her Fox special “Megyn Kelly Presents” so she could pin him down on foreign and domestic policy issues, or even confront him about the months-long troll attack he launched after she dared question him during the first Republican debate about his penchant for misogynistic language.

No, she invited him to costar in an hourlong infomercial for her new book.

[...]

We watched because we wanted to see Kelly, tempered by the Trump’s bitter attack and buoyed by near-national support, hold his question-dodging feet to some sort of fire.

Instead, we got a rehash of all that Kelly endured followed by a battle of the low-talkers in which Kelly, clearly prepped to avoid anything that might smack of hostility, searched for the source of Trump’s rage while she gently suggested that perhaps presidents should not be so mean, and Trump tried to appear as if he were answering her questions when indeed he was not.

Fun times.

Opening with the softest ball imaginable — When did it occur to you that you could be president? — Kelly initially pursued a theme of regret: Did Trump feel he had made any mistakes in the campaign? How did the death of his brother affect him? Had he learned anything from his divorces? Then she took things to a near-psychoanalytic place: Has Trump ever been wounded, or bullied? [Los Angeles Times, 5/17/16]

Entertainment Weekly’s Melissa Maerz: “Disappointing,” “Bad” Interview Was “A Total And Complete Waste Of Time.” Entertainment Weekly TV critic Melissa Maerz called  the interview “overhyped,” “disappointing,” and “a lot of waste of potential,” adding that Kelly’s “questions were shockingly bland.” Maerz noted that “Trump insisted that if he doesn’t win, he’ll consider his run ‘a total and complete waste of time, energy, and money,’” and concluded, “You might describe his appearance on Kelly’s special the same way.” From Maerz’s May 17 article:

“Be so good, they can’t ignore you.” Megyn Kelly claims that’s her motto, cribbed from Steve Martin. But on Tuesday night, as the Fox News anchor and host of The Kelly File took her first shot at a prime-time special, Megyn Kelly Presents, complete with a much-talked-about sit-down with Donald Trump, among others, the rest of us learned something about Kelly: Sometimes when people can’t ignore you, it’s because you’re bad.

Granted, Kelly could have been worse. But the special was so overhyped, the end result was particularly disappointing. Her fans have been anticipating this showdown since last August, when she brought up Trump’s history of misogynistic comments as a co-moderator of the first GOP debate. They bristled when Trump retweeted a comment calling her a “bimbo” and suggested that she had “blood coming out of her wherever.” They devoured the Vanity Fair cover where she refused to apologize to Trump for “doing good journalism,” and they followed the salacious reports of phone calls between Kelly’s boss, Roger Ailes, and the presumptive Republican presidential candidate. Mostly, they waited patiently for Kelly to attack. (She’d remained silent on Twitter.) But when she finally got her chance, opening Megyn Kelly Presents with a promise that “nothing is off limits,” her questions were shockingly bland.

[...]

In the most talked-about quote of the night, Trump insisted that if he doesn’t win, he’ll consider his run “a total and complete waste of time, energy, and money.” You might describe his appearance on Kelly’s special the same way. [Entertainment Weekly, 5/17/16]

Wash. Post’s Hank Stuever: Kelly’s Primetime Special Was “Neither Groundbreaking Nor Especially Informative.” Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever wrote that the special was an “awkward and unimpressive landing” for Kelly that was “[n]either groundbreaking nor especially informative.” From Stuever’s May 17 article:

Greeting her viewers from what appeared to be the bridge of a spaceship made of nutrition-free marshmallow, Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly made an awkward and unimpressive landing with her first hour-long interview special Tuesday night on the Fox network. “Let’s just dive right in,” she said, and then proceeded to never dive into much of anything, even during her ultra-hyped interview with Donald Trump, the presumed Republican presidential nominee.

Neither groundbreaking nor especially informative, “Megyn Kelly Presents” hoped to fill the void left behind by decades of similar newsmaker-interview shows from ABC’s Barbara Walters. Perhaps someday it might, but to get there, Kelly is going to have to learn about listening, and, wherever possible, resist the urge to bring attention to herself. But I don’t think that’s really her thing. [The Washington Post, 5/17/16]

Fusion’s Katie McDonough: Interview Was “A Fawning Exchange” Between Kelly And Trump. Fusion writer Katie McDonough wrote the interview was “a fawning exchange,with Kelly laughing at Trump’s habit of hurling misogynistic bile” and ignoring Trump’s policies and rhetoric “in favor of questions about whether anyone has ever hurt his feelings.” McDonough added that the interview seemed “designed to promote Kelly’s just-announced book, Settle for More.” From McDonough’s May 17 article:

It was a fawning exchange, with Kelly laughing at Trump’s habit of hurling misogynistic bile her way and ignoring the last 10 months of his campaign—violence at rallies, pledges to ban Muslims from entering the country, bizarre and unnecessary lies about the provenance of steaks—in favor of questions about whether anyone has ever hurt his feelings.

It was an interview designed to give the impression that Trump has an inner life. It was also designed to promote Kelly’s just-announced book, Settle for More—which, she promised at the end of the show, was full of more details about her fight with Trump. [Fusion, 5/17/16]

The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson: Interview Was “A Useless Exercise” And Showed Republicans “How To Surrender To Donald Trump.” New Yorker writer Amy Davidson wrote that the interview “was a useless exercise” except for “Republicans looking for a script for how to surrender to Donald Trump.” From Davidson’s May 18 article:  

It was a useless exercise, except, perhaps, for those watching from one group: Republicans looking for a script for how to surrender to Donald Trump. “Crazy Megyn” was his nickname for Kelly, around the time that he suggested that “blood coming out of her wherever” had something to do with her debate questions, and when he refused to attend a debate she moderated and was accused by her employer of having a “sick obsession” with her. If Kelly could brush aside such behavior, with a bright “let’s talk about us,” then anyone could. There were a few easy steps, beginning with being the one to make the first move. She had approached him for a meeting in April. Trump told Kelly, “I have great respect for you that you were able to call me and say let’s get together and let’s talk. For me, I would not have done that.” Trump, in other words, will publicly scorn your resistance, but he might, if you are “nice,” promote the fiction that your capitulation is a sign of good character.

Next, emphasize that, before politics muddled things, you were a fan, and remain one. (Kelly: “We were always friendly!”) Then, if possible, pay tribute to the Tower. Trump praised Kelly for going there for their first meeting in April, rather than trying for “a neutral site.” (Kelly: “I think the doormen are still recovering!”) Mar-a-Lago or any of various Trump International Hotels or golf courses can be substituted in this step. Next, suggest that you never really meant to do him harm, sounding wounded that he would think so. (Kelly: “I thought it was a fair question. Why didn’t you?”) Don’t flinch when he tells you that you are on probation (Trump: “This could happen again with us”) or makes intrusive comments about your personal life (Trump noted that Kelly would not cut back on her work “even if they said you’d have an even better relationship with your husband—I hear it’s just great”). Be in open awe of his ability to win. (This characterized Kelly’s whole interview and, for that matter, Paul Ryan’s speech last week). If thoughts about the good of the country cross your mind, don’t let them show. [The New Yorker, 5/18/16]

This post has been updated with additional examples.

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