Donald Trump is no stranger to hyperbole. But when he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer regarding his ongoing animosity directed at Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, “I might be the best thing that ever happened to her,” he wasn’t entirely wrong.
Kelly, obviously, was already an unqualified star in the Fox News universe, having slid into the slot between Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity and more than held her own ratings-wise. Yet Trump’s criticism of Kelly – which can be traced back to her tough questioning of him during the network’s first Republican presidential debate – has helped burnish her credentials as an impartial journalist who takes on all sides.
Kelly has benefited from largely favorable press coverage since becoming the centerpiece of Fox’s primetime lineup, most recently in a Vanity Fair profile. Yet while she clearly exhibits a more independent streak than Hannity – a self-described “rock-ribbed” conservative – her choice of topics and preferred targets don’t veer very far from her peers, disproportionately tilting against the political left.
While there’s obviously no love lost between Fox News and the liberal site Media Matters, the latter has documented pretty persuasively how Kelly has recently gotten behind Michael Bay’s Benghazi movie “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” (to the point of being quoted in its ads) and criticized the Black Lives Matter movement, having previously devoted considerable coverage to the New Black Panthers. Then there was her mostly kid-gloves interview with the Duggars, stars of TLC’s reality show “19 Kids and Counting,” who have become darlings of the evangelical right.
For Fox, there’s considerable irony in Trump turning on the network – or at least, one of its signature stars – given the role it played in building him up as a political figure, including his regular appearances on “Fox & Friends.” As for Trump, he has once again shrewdly performed an act of media jujitsu, not only working the referees for the upcoming debate, and promoting a juicy story line, but bolstering his credibility as a foe of the GOP establishment by taking on one of its favorite news organs.
Fox regularly bashes other media outlets for their perceived bias. Trump turned that charge around by accusing Kelly of the same, although frankly, he appears to be confusing what he sees as personal animus with some sort of ideological rift. (Calling it a “feud” is certainly inaccurate, since all the punches are coming from one side.)
What does seem clear is that Trump’s sniping has prompted other media figures to defend Kelly – journalists tend to circle the wagons in such cases – which buttresses her claim to be an independent voice. Fox has even retaliated by suggesting that Trump is afraid of Kelly. At the same time, Trump has shifted the focus, at least partially, from how well he fares against his debate rivals to the nature of his exchanges with the moderators.
Granted, this Trump-Kelly sparring match has dragged on long enough as to have grown a trifle tiresome. But for the candidate and Fox News, the net effect feels like a win-win in terms of how it plays to different key constituencies. And if that leaves behind some hurt feelings or a bloody nose in the short term, from an image perspective, it couldn’t work out better for both sides if the whole thing was as choreographed as a “Rocky” movie.