Megyn Kelly is leaving her high-profile spot on Fox News for a daytime program and Sunday night news magazine show on NBC. Her move leaves a big programming hole in Fox’s primetime lineup. (Erin Patrick O’Connor,Nicki DeMarco/The Washington Post)

The Post reports on Megyn Kelly’s departure from Fox News:

Kelly will host a daytime news and discussion program, anchor a Sunday-night newsmagazine show and be featured in NBC’s political programming and other big-event coverage, NBC said Tuesday.

Kelly, 46, has been the host of Fox’s second-most-watched program, “The Kelly File,” and has been a breakout personality in the cable news landscape. . . .

“Kelly’s departure does change the tenor of the network a bit,” [Fairleigh Dickinson professor Dan] Cassino said. “She was the most visible Trump skeptic on the channel, and when she leaves, she leaves a lineup that’s much more pro-administration than it was when she was there. That’s a bit of a branding problem for Fox, which would like to be seen as being more balanced, but it’s not likely to hurt them in the ratings.”

Since taking over a prime-time slot in 2013, Kelly generally has hewed to Fox’s conservative format but has often been less ideological than O’Reilly and Hannity.

Put differently, with Kelly’s exit from Fox, NBC has won twice.

First, it recruited a respected, highly popular female journalist who appeals to Democrats and Republicans alike. With Kelly’s arrival, NBC News (with heavy hitters such as Chuck Todd, Peter Williams, Katy Tur and Richard Engel), along with its sister cable news network, MSNBC (which features “Meet the Press Daily” and a diet of straight news during the daytime), has gone a long way in beefing up its hard-news operation. And while hosts such as Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell lean left, their shows regularly invite conservatives and have reasoned, fact-based discussions. The notion that MSNBC is just “Fox on the left” is not accurate.

Second, without Kelly, any pretense that the Fox News prime-time lineup is news at all crumbles. Its evening programming features wall-to-wall right-wing lunacy with characters such as Tucker Carlson (who echoes Russian talking points with Glenn Greenwald) and Donald Trump mouthpieces Sean Hannity (who offers pro-Russian propagandist Julian Assange a comfortable forum) and Bill O’Reilly (complete with racist ramblings). Reducing one competitor to a freak show devoid of journalistic credibility, one could say, benefits MSNBC as well.

On Dec. 14, the Erik Wemple Blog conducted a phone interview with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. This is a part of their conversation. (Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Fox surely seems to have abandoned any effort to hold its programming to any journalistic standard or convey accurate information to its nighttime viewers. Its hosts’ anti-immigrant, nativist, pro-Trump programming now has an added feature: defending Russian propaganda and Russian collaborators such as Assange. During the Cold War, such figures were called “useful idiots” of the Soviet regime. (Perhaps Fox is making a play for the viewers of RT, Vladimir Putin’s propaganda outlet.) Put differently, Fox’s nighttime lineup is unwatchable except by Trump’s hard-core base.

Now, Kelly’s departure may not hurt Fox’s ratings all that much, but it does send those looking for actual news to other channels. (My colleague Erik Wemple writes: “Because Fox News is less a lineup of discrete programs and more a cable-news movement with a built-in audience that isn’t going away, no matter how many pundits whine about its old demographic. Plug in a new host at 9 p.m., flog the classic lineup of Fox News issues and watch the viewers tune in. Fox News will survive the departure of Kelly, especially by its own definition of success.”)

Sure, Fox’s ratings success last year may continue. Its effort to be seen as a legitimate news operation, however, suffers considerably. The evening lineup and “Fox & Friends” (another pro-Trump bastion) vastly overshadow the few remaining real news people (e.g. Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, James Rosen) who are given a fraction of the airtime afforded to the nighttime and early-morning hosts. Fox non-News evening programming and “Fox & Friends” actually diminish the real news people; when the former continually offer Trump a safe space to get his message out, it becomes that much harder for real news people to get access to him.

The right wing’s immersion in a Fox non-News cesspool of Russian propaganda, conspiracy theories and fake news is not healthy for the right or the country. It deepens our national polarization, leaving the two halves of the country operating with two completely different sets of facts (or non-facts). Fox’s constant drumbeat of woe-is-me conservatism (always being done wrong by the mainstream media, the “establishment” and “elites”) keeps the Trumpian anger brewing and stokes xenophobia, a mainstay of Fox’s programming.

What’s good for Fox is not good for the GOP or the country. Perhaps a credible center-right TV news operation is needed. Better yet, the country needs a news operation with a mix of perspectives and fidelity to facts, which might be where NBC and MSNBC are heading. If so, good luck to them.