Megyn Kelly and the Problem With Being Conservative Media’s Most Elegant Talking Head

Megyn Kelly Donald Trump
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The anchor is decamping to rival NBC after 12 years as the civilizing element on Fox News

For years, Megyn Kelly has been the one anchor at Fox News who is granted grudging respect. Partly this is because she is so different from her peers; where they are frequently graying or balding older men who seem to be frothing at the mouth, Kelly is a poised, still-young mother of three, sharply dressed, and strikingly beautiful. She deviates from mainstream assumptions about what a conservative is supposed to be like, which adds dimension to the network and to her own personal brand. Unlike her peers, she has crossover appeal — she is an all-American heroine, with a spotless, tranquil family life, roots in upstate New York, and a look that is always ruthlessly poised, as if a stray hair would signal the end of days. Her image projects an elegant refinement, a sense of class and poise, of traditional values. These are qualities Fox News hilariously lacks, when it comes to both the sometimes-seedy reputations of its anchors and the network’s splashy and outdated graphics and production.

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Mostly, though, this is because Kelly is usually a remarkably poised host and anchor. Her image is merely a tool; Kelly’s talent is in knowing how to wield it. Conservative media beyond Kelly often resorts to cartoonishly intolerant statements about immigrants, Muslims, and the environment; in the Obama years, Fox News has been constantly on the verge of dissolving entirely into conspiracy and aggrieved outrage. Kelly is not the first pretty blonde woman to become a conservative heroine, but unlike Ann Coulter, Tomi Lahren, and Kellyanne Conway, who are each outrageous and/or despicable in their own ways, Kelly maintains a kind of rigor and poise that is not just about style, but about character. Integrity is hard to find in media, and even when you disagree with her — and there are plenty of things to disagree with her about, from black Santa to Black Lives Matter — it’s difficult to deny that her statements come from some kind of principle.

This principle has been enough to spur her criticism of GOP’s statements and stances on women’s issues. Kelly would not call herself a feminist, but she was one of the few journalists to hold Donald Trump accountable for his statements about women; her opposition to him was not about belief as much as it was about the more ephemeral quality of dignity, and how obviously the then-candidate lacked it. Fox News can be a monolithic political entity, but Kelly’s broken from them both politically and personally on some of these topics, leading to awkward spats with Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. And in the biggest accidentally feminist news of all, Kelly’s statement that Fox News CEO Roger Ailes had sexually harassed her was the final straw for his employers, leading to Ailes’ ouster in July 2016. Her defensive stance against both Trump and Ailes endeared her to mainstream viewers, but alienated her from her own viewership; following the Trump debacle, Kelly received death threats and had to hire security. That was when she began to look for work at another network: Her particular brand of refined conservatism no longer seemed to have a place at Fox News.

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Megyn Kelly Will Leave Fox News Perch for NBC News

But it is unclear if Kelly’s shtick will have a place at NBC, either. Despite being a personality with mainstream appeal, Kelly’s brand is not a standalone one; her profile is contingent on being the sole sane person “over there.” She is to Fox News what Ivanka Trump is to her father’s political career — a sanitizing, legitimizing force, one that profits off of proximity while offering a veneer of respectability. It’s not a fantastic role to have, but it is a role, and one that has been very lucrative for her. But a persona developed entirely in the context of one of the most unusual media organizations in history doesn’t necessarily transplant well to new soil.

Especially because her move to NBC will be to two entirely new formats — a new daytime show to air on weekdays, as well as a new Sunday-night newsmagazine show. When Kelly was first trying to expand past Fox News, she wanted to emulate Barbara Walters; but the special she hosted for Fox primetime was a flop, both in terms of viewers and critical acclaim. This move to daytime resembles instead Katie Couric’s attempt to transition demographics — a transition which ultimately failed. Kelly is not a natural fit for daytime; her strengths are in being incisive, not welcoming, and she’s several degrees cooler than the warmth of hosts like Ellen DeGeneres. She might be a better fit for a Sunday newsmagazine, but Kelly’s not exactly a host, either; she’s at her best when she is drawing on her legal past to ask questions, engaging in conversations about the issues that matter to her. And though she probably could have been an excellent nightly news anchor, even she has been so partisan at Fox News that a more objective career might yet be out of reach.

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The bet, on NBC’s part, is that Kelly’s comfort with the mantle of traditional motherhood and her ability to parlay that into conservative political commentary would make her a palatable choice for the primarily female daytime TV audience. This is quite a bet. Not only does it put enormous stock in Kelly’s ability to pivot audiences, but instead of a more conservative landscape, it frames Kelly in opposition to a far more liberal one; Oprah Winfrey and DeGeneres are two examples of entertainers from marginalized groups finding mainstream, longstanding appeal, and “The View” and “The Talk” both field panels with a diverse range of experiences. Fox News is a lucrative but specific bubble; NBC, and daytime television, are quite another. It is difficult to anticipate how a woman whose defining feature is how coolly she can keep herself separate from the riffraff of her network will make a mark in a demographic that talks about celebrity gossip over coffee mugs.

Difficult, but not impossible. Kelly is nothing if not determined, and NBC has a lot sunk into making this deal work. Kelly might find being outside the constraints of Fox News to be a freeing experience, too; perhaps without fears of reprisal from viewers and bosses, she might finally publicly state what her stance is on abortion rights. The question is really how much Kelly liked being in her unique position at Fox News; will she miss the constant murmur of right-wing conspiracy that gave her the biggest lead-in in cable news, or will she breathe a sigh of relief to finally be able to hear the world outside of the bubble?

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  1. Drummer says:

    Ms Kelly,

    As a big fan of your show(s), I was totally surprised when I heard you were going to NBC. My GF and I watched you from when you were with Bill Hemmer.

    We had seen virtually every 1 of your shows either when they were 1st run or we had to tape them. In fact, your show was the last show we watched before she went into a coma and passed 5 days later. She always wanted to see your show (especially if you had Ann Coulter on).

    Anyway, I don’t know if this is a completely done deal or not. If not, get out of it and stay with Fox. I know that you have smart people around you, but, this is the biggest mistake you are ever going to make, and why they let you do it, talk you into it, whatever, they are as wrong as parka’s in the Bahamas.

    On a different front. Fox made you a cable superstar, paid you a lot of money, more in 1 year than the average middle class couple will make in a lifetime, so loyalty comes into play and that’s a door that swings both ways.

    I don’t know if there is some behind the scenes things that are taking place, but, I do know this, it’s better to deal with the devil you know that the devil you don’t. Think Katy Couric. If you don’t get the ratings they expect, you could wind up interviewing people on HSN selling their new vacuum cleaner.

    I wish you luck, but, I have a feeling that a year down the road, you are going to regret doing this.

  2. teeye says:

    Just another blonde bimbo who plays on her looks.

  3. Tom W says:

    Well, gee, that sure was a fair and unbiased article! I’m sure the regular viewers of NBC news enjoyed it. I see why Me Megyn will fit right in.

  4. Hollywood Idiot of the Day says:

    “the sometimes-seedy reputations of its anchors”
    As opposed to the sqeaky-clean reputations of third world dictator worshipping, radical politic pushing, drug loving, pedophile pushing Hollywood Idiots? Got It!

  5. John G. says:

    Sometimes I think that the critics of Fox News do not actually watch Fox News. Fox does not air Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity 24 hours a day. Granted, Sean Hannity’s program is one of the worst shows on television, but there is more to Fox than Hannity and his ilk. Megyn Kelly is far from the “sole sane voice” on the network; I would posit that Christopher Wallace and Bret Baier are actually quite a bit better than Kelly when it comes to the criteria by which you compliment her, and at least Wallace is probably more politically moderate.

    True news junkies watch Fox News Sunday weekly along with its competitors, NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face the Nation, and ABC’s This Week. The quality of the panel is much better than panel discussions on CNN, which does not have a program in this tier. Baier’s Special Report is also a very reliable source of news with well-respected regular panelists. Both shows are better than The Kelly File, which has fewer and lesser quality contributors and gets bogged in “war on Christmas” territory much more frequently.

    There is a problem with lumping all conservative-leaning media in the same category. If everyone reading Breitbart was watching Fox News Sunday or Special Report, or reading The Weekly Standard (which publishes actual book & arts reviews), Trump would probably not have won the primary or the general election. Fox News Channel does offer genuine news coverage and discussion, along with its trashier shows, and its editorial quality will be at least as good without Kelly (especially in the new post-Ailes position).

  6. Tracie Claiborne says:

    This article is hilarious in its bias. Good for a chuckle but not based entirely on reality. This is the exact type of hateful rhetoric that got Trump elected.

  7. scott berland says:

    I’ve watched virtually every episode of The Kelly File. I think I know what Megyn is about. Although this review is ostensibly favorable, I don’t think Megyn would deem it worthy of lining her bird cage with it- assuming she has a bird. This article is why the majority of Americans (that are to the right of Karl Marx) have a negative opinion of the media.

  8. dooby says:

    The only people who think conservatives are all bald old men are you idiotic leftists with your closed-minded prejudices. God, why do you always sound so blazingly ignorant and parochial on the Left?

    • Darr247 says:

      The article referred to her peers on faux newz as, “frequently graying or balding older men who seem to be frothing at the mouth”

      So, why did you take it so personally, doob… oh, wait – is that you, O’Reilly?

  9. lulu says:

    What a hateful article. I actually looked to see who the writer was. Ann Coulter and Kellyanne Conway are articulate and talented women. Just because they do not tow the liberal line on pro-abortion, they are ridiculed. Apart from that, I really do not think that she will be a success at NBC because Fox viewers are loyal to the brand. If Greta Van Susteran goes to MSNBC, the Fox viewers will not follow here there because MSNBC, NBC, and the mainstream press have give such viewers many reasons to think and know that their agenda is clearly biased and those stations despise millions of people who are not liberal.

  10. norman foley says:

    wow what a biased and hateful gutter article. liberals like you begrudge and hate anyone with good decent moral character . you paint the good as dark and hateful but it is you that has exposed the real bad guys i.e. gutter rats. this is why trump wins , because more good people than assholes like you and your hollgoon pimps.

  11. Sevano says:

    Sigh. Megyn Kelly will join the Katie Couric graveyard for has-been talking heads. It’s a shame. The media is full of over-confident, opportunistic personalities chasing the holy grail. She took a step down in networks for an increase in salary. That salary won’t be supported with a dwindling audience. I can’t believe someone so intelligent thinks that she can change audiences and be as successful as she was at Fox.

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