After the first episode of Megyn Kelly Today, it’s still hard to tell what NBC’s new morning show is supposed to be. But less than a minute into Kelly’s debut this morning, she made clear what the program is not: “The truth is, I am kinda done with politics for now. You know why. We all feel it. It’s everywhere.”
It echoed Kelly’s wide-ranging media tour over the past week to rebrand herself as platitudinous and apolitical enough for the new job she already got. That attempt, however, took a bit of a disastrous turn on Monday, when Kelly sat down with Elle and showed just how little she’s changed from her Fox News days.
In the interview, Kelly tries to explain how her new show will talk about issues like discrimination and domestic violence and women in the workplace, while somehow keeping all of these things away from the “vitriolic stew” of politics that she herself helped create at Fox News.
Here’s how Elle’s Mattie Kahn describes the thinking:
It seems impossible that these stories will remain “apolitical,” a dubious standard but the one to which Kelly has now decided to hitch her star. And yet perhaps Kelly—savvy, skillful, the requisite blonde—will achieve at least that aim. Because if anyone can divorce anti-LGBT bias, insidious racism, and lethal sexism from their social, economic, and cultural contexts, it’s Megyn Kelly.
Let’s put aside the insinuation here that divorcing racism and sexism from their broader sociocultural contexts is in any way something to which high-paid media figures should aspire. Kelly’s Hail Mary rebrand is part of a transparent and cynical calculation. On her new NBC show, she can’t douse lighter fluid on the fires of the culture war; she’s aiming for a far more moderate and far less angry audience than she had at Fox News. (About a third of morning TV’s female viewers are women of color.)
But the interview shows just how hollow Kelly’s attempt to “achieve at least that aim” is—and just how little she’s learned about racial politics.
She has no apologies for her time at Fox News, where she forcefully claimed Santa Claus is white and produced demagogic coverage of the New Black Panther Party, among other racially tinged classics:
I’ll defend what I did at Fox News...As far as content and substance, I stand behind what we did at The Kelly File. I think it was a product that I can be proud of to this day.
Kelly goes on to say that Jemele Hill, the ESPN anchor reprimanded by her network and publicly rebuked by the Trump administration for calling the president a white supremacist, stepped out of line—which seems like a pretty political thing for a supposedly apolitical person to say:
Elle: But tuning out seems incredibly difficult right now. I’m thinking of people like Jemele Hill on ESPN. There’s a way that politics seeps into so much–
Kelly: She got political.
Elle: She did.
Kelly: She didn’t have to.
Elle: Do you think she shouldn’t have?
Kelly: I think there’s definitely a question about whether anybody working in a news organization should take an open political position. Do you disagree with that?
Hill’s response to this was perfectly pitched.
When Kahn asks Kelly about Trump’s comments that neo-Nazi rioters in Charlottesville included “very fine people,” Kelly dodges entirely, while also completely rewriting history:
I’m not going to get into defending the President. You should go back and quote him directly if you’re going to do that. I’m not going to defend him or not defend him, but that quote you just gave me was wrong.
(The quote was not “wrong.”)
She goes on to preview one of her upcoming segments, which is where things really get bad (emphasis mine):
The first week we’re on, we’re going to air a story about four African-American female police chiefs. Guess what percentage of police chiefs in the country are women? Two percent, never mind African-American women. These women have a very interesting perspective...about the role of police and how we get out of this mess we’re in. What’s interesting...is they’re very open about their own struggles as African-American women and as women in law enforcement. They don’t complain. They’re not looking for anybody’s sympathy. Their story makes you want to stand up and cheer.
Kelly’s obvious message: these women are model citizens stoically working within the system, not troublemakers who are so ungrateful that they’d rather “complain” than thank America for the opportunity it’s given them. The dog whistle is not all that different from some of the conservative pushback to black NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.
Kelly then adds that she wants her show to be some kind of vague daily refuge (emphasis mine):
I feel like maybe I can offer this product that just gives them an alternative that is smart and issues-driven, but also entertaining and light-hearted and doesn’t punch you in the face. It makes you feel like, “Yeah. Yes. Awesome. All right!”
I can’t begin to imagine what any of that means.
We should give Kelly some time, I guess. For now, she’s pushing an amorphous philosophy that resembles a general-interest, morning-show adaptation of the “stick to sports” mindset. When you scratch the surface, though, it’s the same old Megyn. Yes. Awesome. All right!