Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
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?
KellyÂ beganÂ her national news career at Fox in 2004, making appearances on Fox News shows includingÂ The OâReilly FactorÂ before trying her hand at weekday and weekend programs on the network. SheÂ landedÂ her own prime-time show there,Â The Kelly File, in 2013.
In the years she worked at Fox News, KellyÂ engagedÂ in the networkâs signature race-baiting, xenophobic rhetoric, anti-LGBTQ attacks, rape apologia, and climate denial like the rest of her colleagues. We know becauseÂ we watched her do it.
- Kelly made race-baiting and outright racist comments a cornerstone of her Fox News show. OnÂ several occasions, her coverage of Black victims of police-perpetrated violence essentially blamed the victims by insisting they didnât respect the police officers or focusing on their previous criminal records. SheÂ saidÂ of a 14-year-old Black girl violently manhandled by a police officer at a Texas pool party: âShe was no saint either.â
- Kelly infamouslyÂ insistedÂ in a 2013 Fox appearance that both Santa Claus, a fictional character, and Jesus, who was Middle Eastern, were white. She added, âJust because it makes you uncomfortableÂ doesnât mean it has to change.â
- KellyÂ regularly fearmongeredÂ and pushed conservative lies to attack the Muslim community, including advocating for Muslim profiling.
- Kelly used her Fox platform to fearmonger about immigration,Â defendingÂ Trumpâs campaign comments calling Mexican immigrants criminals and ârapists,â and allowing Trump to call them âkillers”Â without any pushback in a later appearance on her show.
- KellyÂ regularly hostedÂ anti-LGBTQ extremists andÂ other hate group leadersÂ on her Fox show — includingÂ Family Research Councilâs Tony Perkins, a figure on the evangelical right who endorsed a Ugandan bill that would have imposed the death penalty for homosexuality.
- KellyÂ repeatedly mocked and dismissedÂ transgender people, including misgendering transgender inmates multiple times.
- KellyÂ criticizedÂ sexual assault prevention measures and minimized survivors, particularly in discussions of campus sexual assault.
- KellyÂ employedÂ Fox Newsâ 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, NBCÂ pursued and hired herÂ anyway.
And then, unsurprisingly for no one besides apparently the executives who hired her, she did it all again:Â hosted a dangerous conspiracy theorist,Â defended an alleged sexual assailant,Â delivered a petty, Fox-like monologue attacking one of her previous guests, and now hasÂ defended blackface.
The true cost of NBCâs decision to hire Kelly is far greater than that astronomical $69 million, or even the showâsÂ high-budgetÂ 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 sheÂ replacedÂ when she joined theÂ TodayÂ show, Tamron Hall and Al Roker. Hall and Roker had been hosting the 9 a.m. hour ofÂ TodayÂ and were bringing inÂ higher ratingsÂ than she ever managed to do while earning significantly smaller paychecks.Â Reportedly, the two hosts together were earning less than half of Kellyâs annual $23 million. Hallâs departure from NBC was swift and mishandled by the network; sheÂ apparently found outÂ she was being replaced just minutes before going on air and did not get to say goodbye to her viewers. And Roker, along withÂ TodayÂ anchor Craig Melvin, who is also Black, wasÂ put in the positionÂ of having toÂ commentÂ on their colleagueâs casual racism this week.
The immeasurable costs of NBC choosing to ink a massive deal with Kelly also include the missed opportunities of the networkÂ supportingÂ manyÂ 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 theÂ lost loyalty of morning show viewers, who haveÂ increasingly flockedÂ to her ABC competitors instead since Kelly joinedÂ Today. Kellyâs schtick of parroting classic conservative rhetoric and coupling it with the occasionalÂ tough questionÂ never translated to mainstream broadcasting. NBC never saw the ratings it had likely anticipated for KellyâsÂ TodayÂ hour, or for the hour after, or for her scuttled Sunday show — and the effects extended beyond NBCâs national platform toÂ harm local NBC affiliate stationsÂ too. (Itâs 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?
Header image byÂ Sarah Wasko / Media Matters