Keeping Megyn Kelly at Fox News is a top priority for Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of the cable-news outlet’s parent company, 21st Century Fox – but he’d like her to express a similar sentiment.
Speaking to The Wall Street Journal in an interview, the media mogul said he is eager to keep Kelly at the network, but noted “we have a deep bench of talent, many of whom would give their right arm for her spot.” Kelly, the Journal said, is seeking a salary of more than $20 million a year, compared with what is said to be $15 million in the last year of a contract slated to expire in July of 2017. That amount would put her salary on par with that of Bill O’Reilly, who Murdoch said he also wanted to keep. O’Reilly’s contract is believed to last through next year. The executive said money was not an issue in the company’s talks with Kelly and her representatives at Creative Artists Agency.
A spokeswoman for the anchor could not be reached for comment. A Fox News spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.
Murdoch’s comments are the strongest signal yet that his company does not intend to make significant programming changes at Fox News Channel despite the recent departure of the network’s architect Roger Ailes. Ailes, the former chairman and CEO of Fox News, left the company in July after multiple women made allegations that he harassed them sexually. Ailes denied the charges, but the parent company ousted him after an internal probe drew accusations from female Fox News employees.
“We’re not changing direction,” Murdoch said in the interview. Doing so, he added, “would be business suicide.” The Fox News unit accounts for approximately 20% of the parent company’s operating income.
Fox News does have one looming challenge on its schedule: What to do with its 7 p.m. hour, which veteran anchor Brit Hume is filling temporarily until Election Day. Hume returned to a regular slot at the network in September after Greta Van Susteren opted to leave after trying to negotiate a new contract with Fox News spurred by the presence of a clause in her pact that allowed her to leave if Ailes were to depart.
Keeping O’Reilly and Kelly, however, is the more urgent matter. The two anchors outdraw their competitors significantly in viewership. Kelly, a former attorney who has a widely anticipated book set to come out on November 15, is of particular interest because she views herself as more of a journalist than a pundit and has proven herself willing to question Republican policies and lawmakers. Sean Hannity, who anchors Fox News’ 10 p.m. slot, has supported Republican candidate Donald Trump through his many travails in the election cycle. Kelly is viewed as a someone who might help Fox News maintain its appeal to a younger generation of Republican viewers that has different views on matter of gender, race and class. O’Reilly, meanwhile is one of cable’s most durable draws of audience, even with 20 years on the air under his belt.
Murdoch said he hopes to work out a new agreement with Kelly “very soon,” but said, “it’s up to her.” There has been much speculation in recent months that Kelly might fit in well at Time Warner’s CNN or even at Walt Disney’s ABC News, where she might prove an interesting presence on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Whether the nation’s news aficionados might welcome her in those roles remains to be seen. A recent celebrity-interview special that aired on the Fox broadcast network underwhelmed, and there has not been new word from Fox News whether Kelly would continue to produce those programs. Under a plan unveiled in 2015, Kelly was to have done a series of specials in which she would interview newsmakers and celebrities. She suggested she hoped to emulate Barbara Walters.
But Kelly continues to make a splash. Earlier this week, an interview she conducted with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich lit up social media and morning talk shows. The two sparred over whether or not Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is a sexual predator. Even CNN ran with that story – but referred to Kelly only as a “Fox News anchor” in on-screen graphics.