Megyn Kelly was leaving her Manhattan apartment on a recent day when her doorman threw his arms around her. “Why is Peter hugging me?” the star anchor of Fox News remembers thinking. The embrace was meant as reassurance after yet another nasty tweet written by Donald Trump. Kelly had sworn off Twitter and Googling herself — “bus exhaust,” she calls it — once Trump started lashing out at her following August’s presidential debate, after she cornered him on his history of misogyny.
Many news personalities are already worn out covering this year’s election, but Kelly has become part of the story. She’s survived sustained attacks from Trump by buckling down and focusing on her job, and her primetime show “The Kelly File” has never done better, averaging 2.5 million nightly viewers. In a one-hour conversation, Kelly spoke to Variety for this week’s Power of Women issue about Trump, wanting to interview Hillary Clinton and whether she’ll remain at Fox News after her contract expires next year.
Do you think there’s a double standard in the news business when it comes to women?
Let me put it to you this way. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the past 10 months is we have a long way to go. We as women in the country—where we are, how we think of ourselves, what we’re willing to accept—we have a ton of work to do.
Do you think Trump’s attacks on you are different because you’re a woman?
I think the language is very different when he fights with women.
Has it been hard for you?
It has not been enjoyable. I wish it hadn’t happened. I hope it will stop — his focus on me. If he’s determined not to stop, there’s nothing I can do. I don’t like being the story. I think it raises real First Amendment issues. I’ve seen what’s happened with Michelle Fields [the former Breitbart News reporter allegedly grabbed by Trump’s campaign manager] and in my own world, there’s another side to this behavior. It poses real risks to the person under attack.
What did you think when you read his tweet that you owe him part of your salary?
Isn’t it sexist?
I’ll leave that to someone else to label. I’ll say this. I earn every dime of my salary. I won’t be giving it to anyone other than my three children. “The Kelly File” was the No. 1 show [in cable] in the time slot and No. 2 in all of cable news from the time I launched it. Trump called for people to boycott the show repeatedly. The numbers went up. When he realized the boycott had failed, he decided to take credit for the show’s success.
Has this made it harder to cover him?
I don’t want to be reporting the news in a way that’s fearful, or a way that seeks to curry favor or prove something. It is difficult, because Trump generates a lot of controversy, often intentionally. So you have to cover that as a reporter. I’ll channel surf. I’ll look at CNN, or I’ll look at my pals Bill [Hemmer] and Martha [MacCallum], who are co-hosting my old show. We’re the same. I give him no more coverage than the other journalists give him.
You asked a series of pointed questions about the lawsuit against Trump University at the last debate you moderated. Why do you think it took the media so long to report about that?
I think the media believed that Trump wasn’t a serious contender for a long time until it became obvious they were wrong. There is a lot to fact check Trump on that poses challenges. Reporters only have so much time and energy for one particular subject, and I also think with Trump, he’s a master strategist at distracting you. If he says something for which he’s gotten into real trouble, he’ll say something else and the media is quick to run to the next shiny thing.
He also doesn’t always answer the question he’s being asked.
It’s hard. You have to really stay on it. You need a situation where you pick one topic and you go 10 questions deep—I do that on my show. That’s how you’d have to handle Trump. Listen, it’s been a long time since I’ve interviewed him.
Do you think you’ll interview him again?
To be honest, every time I prepare an invitation to sit down with him, he attacks me on Twitter or elsewhere. I had always been hoping I could reach out to him at a time when he wasn’t angry. I don’t think it would be a good interview if he was angry at me—but then he never stops with the attacks. I was just about to ask him to sit down with me two weeks ago, but then he started up again out of the blue.
After he gave the response about the size of his hands, it was remarkable how you kept a poker face.
You know, I haven’t seen the debates. I haven’t seen the reaction shot. There was definitely a moment where Bret [Baier] and I looked to each other and laughed. Did that just happen?
Did you still use Twitter?
I barely go on Twitter anymore. I go on for the news. I don’t go to the mentions. Whenever I go to the mentions, I’m sorry I did.
Have you felt supported by Fox News?
I have. Fox News has been in a tough position. They care about me and they are not afraid of a fight, but we’re in unchartered territory.
Have you had many conversations about this with your boss Roger Ailes?
I’ve had many conversations with him about the situation. I think it’s been hard on him, too. I don’t think he’s enjoyed one piece of this. He can see what happens in my life when Trump starts off. He really wants him to stop, but on the other hand, he’s not going to run a news channel that doesn’t provide access to the Republican frontrunner for president.
Your contract is up after the election. Have you decided if you’re staying at Fox News?
You might not stay?
Never say never. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve had a great 12 years here, and I really like working for Roger Ailes. I really like my show, and I love my team. But you know, there’s a lot of brain damage that comes from the job. There was probably less brain damage when I worked in the afternoon. I was less well known. I had far less conflict in my life. I also have three kids who are soon going to be in school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. I come to work at 3:30. I like to see my children. Having said that, my boss has been good about working with me to make me happy–he knows I’m a hard worker. I’ve had few problems here where I couldn’t talk to him and say, “Can we work something out?,” and come away happy.
Would you consider your own talk show?
I’ve thought about that. I don’t know what the market looks like for that in 2016. Many people have tried and failed. I do love covering the news. I just don’t think that’s the perfect thing for me.
What about co-hosting a morning show like “Today”?
You have to wake up so early. The alarm goes off at 3:30 a.m. When I did “America’s Newsroom,” which started at 9 a.m., I remember saying to the makeup artist at the time, ‘If you could only know the afternoon me, you’d like me so much better.’ Listen, this is a fickle business. What if they called me and fired me tomorrow? I have to keep my options open.
Fox News won’t do that.
One never knows. Everything is rolling along fine, and then you call Huckabee “Fuckabee” and you’re gone. [Laughs.]
Tell me about the Fox primetime special you’re hosting on May 23.
It’s still a work in progress. We’re picking up the baton from someone I admire very much–Barbara Walters, who did these amazing specials for two decades with Bill Geddie. He’s my executive producer on this project, so he knows the drill. We’re doing more celebrity type interviews, human interest stuff and some politics but to a smaller degree.
Do you think there’s still interest in long-form TV journalism?
The Barbara Walters specials and Diane Sawyer sit-downs always get huge ratings. This is our first offering, so we’re not looking to hit a home run. We’re looking to hit a single. And just to establish ourselves as folks that know how to do this and would like to seize the mantle.
Are you prepared to cover a brokered Republican convention?
Hell yes. I think most reporters are rooting for that because it would be a great news story.
It’s very confusing. We’re going to have to spend weeks boning up on the weird rules and committees. I get the basics: if one candidate doesn’t get it on the first vote, it’s a free for all on the second vote, and you better have wined and dined a lot of delegates to get them on your side. I think the notion of them parachuting in some underdog candidate to save the day is a lot of nonsense—unless there are catastrophic wounds for the last man standing.
Do you think the general election will be Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump?
Certainly, the smart money is on Hillary right now, and I think the smart money is on Trump too. It’s going to take a lot to stop him. I don’t see a clear path for Kasich or Cruz. Something extraordinary would have to happen, but this whole year has been extraordinary.
Are you surprised by the meanness of the election so far?
I don’t really get surprised with politics. I think it’s sad. I feel sad because I’m raising three young children. I don’t want them to see it. I’m glad they are young. I’m glad they don’t fully appreciate what’s going on. I wish we were doing better as a culture. I don’t know how I can help that. I don’t mean as a journalist; I mean as a human being.
We’ve never seen a political candidate encourage violence against journalists.
I really think one of the biggest stories coming out of this election when the post-mortem is done will be the media–what role they played, how they treated the candidates and how they allowed themselves to be treated. I think we’re going to have to engage in a lot of soul searching about that.
Are you interested in interviewing Hillary?
Still working on it.
What’s the hold-up?
She is. Actually, I haven’t gotten close enough to find out how she feels. She’s surrounded by so many circles, it’s like you can’t get through. I hope she’s not going to govern like this. Am I really that scary? I’m a tough interviewer when it comes to these politicians, for sure. But how can she say she deserves George Washington’s job and not sit with me?
What would you like to ask her?
I have a lot I want to ask her about. I would like to hear her opinions about Trump. I think there’s a lot more to discuss in terms of the emails.
If I give you the exact question, you’re going to print it in Variety and she’s going to see it. Trust me, I have a good one ready to go. I think anyone who has watched these presidential debates knows I’m tough but fair. My goal will not be to destroy Hillary Clinton. Nor would it be to coronate Hillary Clinton.
Who else are your dream interviews?
I’d love to interview the pope. I’d love to interview Putin, Assad, Bill Clinton, Melania Trump.
Really? Do you think she’d do it?
It would be up to him. I’d say probably not. I think she’d be a fascinating interview. She’s beautiful. She’s an entrepreneur. She could have married this billionaire — I don’t know if he’s a billionaire — and taken it easy, but she was determined to create her own business. I’ve been impressed by her grace, her kindness. I think she speaks well for him. All this controversial stuff that he has said and done, how does she view it? I bet she doesn’t like it. I bet she tells him to stop.
Watch: Megyn Kelly dishes on Fox News, her new book and an obsession with Judge Judy: