Megyn Kelly’s dazzling reality TV series of a career reached its zenith this week when she became the first-ever Fox News star to guest on not one but two CNN primetime programs. Kelly visited Anderson Cooper’s show Wednesday, and Don Lemon’s on Thursday, to promote her just-released celebrity memoir Settle For More. All week the stunningly-styled Kelly, whose contract is coming up in the summer, has been showcased across the TV landscape as news audiences wait to see whether she is going to accept a change of assignment.
“Love-fest” would not be overstating her two nights on CNN, whose chief Jeff Zucker recently described her as a “tremendous news anchor” for whom the news industry is now her oyster. Cooper seemed moved by her stories; Lemon told his viewers he and Kelly are BFFs.
In marked contrast, the same morning she was touting her tome on ABC’s Good Morning America, her Fox News colleague Bill O’Reilly was scolding her on CBS This Morning. In answer to a question from Norah O’Donnell, O’Reilly suggested Kelly is being disloyal and making Fox News look bad in writing about the sexual harassment allegations that led to the July exit of its chief Roger Ailes. “I’m not interested in basically litigating something that is finished that makes my network look bad, OK?” O’Reilly snarled, leaning in toward O’Donnell. “I’m not interested in making my network look bad, at all. That doesn’t interest me. One. Bit.”
(“I think Roger Ailes is making the company look bad,” Kelly said, flashing her million-dollar smile, when she stopped by the CBS show later in the week and was given the chance to respond.)
O’Reilly took another crack at Kelly that night on The O’Reilly Factor, aka Kelly’s lead-in show:
“If somebody is paying you a wage, you owe that person or company allegiance,” O’Reilly said. “You don’t like what’s happening in the workplace, go to human resources or leave,” he said, never using her name. “I’ve done that. And then take the action you need to take afterward if you feel aggrieved. There are labor laws in this country. But don’t run down the concern that supports you by trying to undermine it.”
BFF Lemon, on Thursday, set her up to respond, innocently asking Kelly how she’s getting along with “the guys over at Fox” and whether it’s hard for some of the network’s older guys to have a younger woman as its rising star.
“It’s like a family. You know, you’ve got your family members who you love, and then you have like the weird uncle who you just try to avoid at the Christmas dinner table,” Kelly responded pointedly. (Kelly’s book jacket describes her as host of the “top rated news show on cable.” But O’Reilly’s show averages more viewers and more viewers in the news demographic, 25-54, than does Kelly’s program. Kelly has said O’Reilly’s program is an “opinion” show.)
Kelly has been careful to say, in interviews about the book, that Rupert Murdoch, who stepped in as Fox News Executive Chairman when Ailes bowed out, urged her to add on the chapter about her experience with Ailes and his exit.
Kelly describes in the book how, earlier in her career, Ailes would call her into his office, shut the door and over the next hour or two “engage in a kind of cat-and-mouse game with me – veering between obviously inappropriate sexually charged comments (e.g. about the ‘very sexy bras’ I must have and how he’d like to see me in them) and legitimate professional advice.” This behavior, she claims, grew “more explicit and more disturbing.”
In the book, Kelly sheds light on her behavior after former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson filed her sex harassment lawsuit against Ailes. Several Fox show hosts, including Greta Van Susteren and O’Reilly, came out in support of Ailes, but Kelly’s silence raised eyebrows at that time. She wrote that she kept a record of Ailes’ past behavior and shared the facts with those investigating the case, adding, “I see no point in making all of the details public.” Ailes left not long after word of that conversation with investigators became public. Ailes continues to deny all of Kelly’s allegations, and all of Carlson’s.
In Settle For More (HarperCollins, 34o pages), Kelly writes about being a small-town girl from Upstate New York who struggled with middle-school bullying, the sudden death of her father at an early age, and why she traded her career as a hard-charging litigator for one as a hard-charging TV news star.
But it’s her dangerous encounter with the Celebrity Apprentice star-turned-45th President of the United States that’s getting all the attention. Donald Trump ran his campaign like a reality-TV show, in which he was cast as the hero, the media as the villain working in cahoots with Crooked Hillary Clinton, and middle-class white people were their victims. In Trump’s Kardashian-era campaign, Kelly carved out her own spinoff series.
Sitting with CNN’s Cooper, Kelly recounted dramatically how two of his own network’s Trump surrogates, Michael Cohen and Corey Lewandowski, had threatened her in the days after she asked Trump, at the first GOP debate, to defend his demeaning descriptions of Rosie O’Donnell and other women over the years. Though more than 24 million people watched Trump respond smoothly with an O’Donnell crack that played enormously well in the hall, the notoriously thin-skinned real-estate magnate unleashed what he calls his “beautiful Twitter account” in an attack of Kelly. He also took to CNN the next night, telling Lemon, whose show, not coincidentally competes for viewers in Kelly’s 9 PM time slot, that when she’d asked the question there was “blood coming out of her – wherever.”
In among harrowing details of calls to “gut her,” of body guards hired to protect her, and Fox News execs calls to Team Trump warning “If Megyn Kelly gets killed it’s not going to help your candidate,” Kelly competitively boasted to Cooper that when CNN put Trump on the air the next night “across from me, [CNN] let him go on, commercial-free for 30 minutes – and we still beat you!”
In her book, Kelly writes about “one of the untold stories of the 2016 campaign”: Trump having offered journalists “gifts clearly meant to shape coverage.”
“Many reporters have told me that Trump worked hard to offer them something fabulous – from hotel rooms to rides on his 757.” At length she writes of unnamed media figures who were “in the tank” for Trump, of “certain TV hosts who actually took to gaming out with Trump in advance the hits they’d have to do on him occasionally to make themselves appear unbiased,” and other egregious breaches of journalistic ethics.
Those passages pack a wallop and will play well with book-buying Fox News viewers. But Kelly has taken a lot of incoming in the press for holding this damning information until after the election, when it can’t inform voters – but can sell books.
Early in her TV tour, Kelly seemed to stumble when answering the charge but got better with subsequent interviews. And by the time she appeared on Cooper’s show, she answered smoothly, “journalistically, it wasn’t a hard call for me. We’re under no obligation to report our own personal experiences just because we also happen to be journalists.”
As Kelly makes her appearances across the TV landscape, some have noted how full her dance card has been with ABC/Disney shows. For those keeping score, they include Good Morning America, The View and, significantly, bestowing a guest booking on Disney’s Kelly Ripa talk show Live With Kelly the morning after Trump’s historic election. Not surprisingly, the latter guest-host gig churned up record ratings for that daytime talker, placing it in the No. 1 spot for syndicated programs, ahead of Dr. Phil and Ellen. Kelly brought Ripa her biggest crowd since her former co-host Michael Strahan absconded to Good Morning America.
That was a welcome ratings headline for Kelly, who had famously tried to cast herself as the Next Barbara Walters back in May, hosting a celebrity-interview sweep special, on Fox broadcast network, EP’d by Bill Geddie, who’d done same for years on all of Walters’ 10 Most Fascinating People celeb-fests. Kelly made a pilgrimage to Trump Tower to bury the hatchet and secured Trump for a kiss-and-make-up interview on the special. But the ratings were not that impressive – certainly not the kind of crowd Trump was used to getting – with 4.8 million viewers tuning in.
Additionally, on Friday, ABC’s 20/20 will air an entire hour on the subject of workplace sexual harassment, including the first TV interview with Kelly’s former colleague Gretchen Carlson.
On the same day Disney announced Kelly would co-host Ripa’s talk show, Murdoch gave an interview to his Wall Street Journal, to publicly proclaim Kelly’s importance to his news network and his hopes of getting her under contract “very soon.” The article included some flattering money-is-no-object language, and a “Megan Kelly Seeks Salary North Of $20 Million In Contract Talks With Fox News ” headline. In the biz, this is known as speaking out to hold back other prospective employers. Also in that article, Murdoch sent Kelly a message with the remark, “We have a deep bench of talent, many of whom would give their right arm for her” time slot.