Fox News host Megyn Kelly has spoken in general terms about the misery that has come her way since she became the target of Donald Trump last August. She asked him a tough question about his misogynistic past at a Fox News debate, prompting a months-long procession of dismissive, derisive and obsessive tweets about what a “lightweight” she is, how she’s a “third-rate talent” and how her career has skyrocketed thanks to his attentions.
A plume of sexist insults on social media followed Trump’s cue. Kelly remarked that she had to stop looking at her Twitter mentions. The language often exceeded the limits of what the Erik Wemple Blog’s copy desk will allow in this space. “We have to ask the tough questions. In my own view, that doesn’t make us fair game for a year of personal insults,” said Kelly in a recent TV appearance. Death threats have been part of the torment. “There’s no question it’s been a dark year in many ways,” she said.
Well, give Kelly this much credit: She sure lightened the mood tonight with Trump in the debut of “Megyn Kelly Presents,” her feature vehicle on Fox broadcast network. This was the much-anticipated one-on-one between Kelly and Trump for which all the months of one-sided discord built quite an audience.
In her chat with Trump, Kelly verily joked around with Trump about this darkness. One representative moment came when discussing the atmospherics of a Trump tweet. “Set the scene for me, because I know where I was when I was on the receiving end of a lot of those tweets. But I’ve always wondered where you were. I’m picturing a crushed velvet smoking jacket, chaise lounge, slippers.” Hahahaha: Let’s now make light of Trump goading his millions of followers into sexist harassment. Later Kelly asked him about retweeting the word “bimbo.” Confronted, Trump said “Excuse me.”
In a coda interviewette, Kelly started out with this invitation: “Let’s have some fun.” What followed were questions about his favorite movie, favorite book, and whether he ever really boycotted Fox News (not so much).
Recent days have seen an all-out promotional blitz by Kelly & Co. setting the stage for this kickoff. Given that it was a feature show on Fox broadcast, the idea was to present a holistic look at Trump. Wrote Fox News media correspondent Howard Kurtz: “What’s more, we’re not talking about a presidential debate here. It’s not a segment on ‘The Kelly File.’ It’s for a broadcast network hour in the vein of the old Barbara Walters specials, taped well in advance and designed to focus in part on personality.”
“Megyn Kelly Presents” has promise, as the host made clear in her other interviews. The segment with O.J. Simpson lawyer Robert Shapiro was excellent, for example.
But Trump was the wrong choice for this format, especially after this “dark” year. The two spent quite a few of their minutes in pleasant banter. Kelly’s attempts to plumb Trump’s psyche were an exercise in drive-by futility. “Has anyone ever hurt you emotionally?” And the host really appeared to be struggling with her non-“Kelly File” persona when she asked Trump about one of his outrages: “But it was a mistake, wasn’t it? You shouldn’t have done that, right?”
What was missing from this interview was Kelly getting personal about what Trump had done to her. She came close with this question: “Have you given any thought in this position to the power that your messaging has on the lives of the people you target and the millions of people who take their cue from you?” Trump responded that he was indeed cognizant of his power.
Deference is generally appropriate in these situations — Kelly’s ordeal at the hands of Trump’s Twitter offensive is still pretty fresh, so she’s entitled to deal with it on her own schedule. Unless that schedule…is dictated by a book launch. At the end of “Megyn Kelly Presents,” the host said this: “In addition to the ‘Kelly File,’ I’ve been working on a project: A book which I’m unveiling right now. It’s called ‘Settle for More,’” said Kelly. In the book, continued Kelly, “For the first time, I’ll speak openly about my year with Donald Trump. You can pre-order it now wherever books are sold.”
No problem, right? If the book comes out in a couple of months, readers can get the full story detailing the impact of Trump’s sexism on the life of one of American journalism’s biggest names. They can then use the information to assist them at the voting booth! Oh, wait: The election is Nov. 8, and the publication date is Nov. 15.
It’s unfortunate enough that Kelly apparently withheld details of her ordeal in a performance that assisted Trump with his general-election pivot. It’s downright scandalous that Kelly, Fox News and the publishing company that gave her the multimillion dollar contract — HarperCollins, a unit of News Corp., part of the Fox News extended corporate family — appear poised to postpone the whole Kelly-Trump story until after the election.