EXCLUSIVE: “I think women everywhere, whether it’s the women of Hollywood or the women of Denny’s, understand what this is like,” says Megyn Kelly of the allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein, James Toback and others that have emerged since the New York Times‘ October 5 exposé on the now disgraced Weinstein. “That’s why it’s resonating, because it’s not just Angelina Jolie or Rose McGowan,” the Megyn Kelly Today host adds, noting the wide reaction her new show’s focus on the issue has received, along with double-digit viewership and ratings gains.
In one of her first extensive interviews since the September 25 debut of her 9 AM ET NBC show, Kelly spoke with me about why she decided to double down on the topics of sexual harassment and sexual assault and what she hopes will come of the effort.
Having detailed her own experiences being sexual harassed by then-Fox News Channel boss Roger Ailes while at the cabler newser in her memoir Settle For More, the forthright Kelly also discussed why she’s certain Oscar winner Weinstein is done like dinner as more and more women come forward. Talking about what she says occurred at Fox News and the culture there, the morning host additionally offered up solutions women and men can employ to combat such behavior and why she truly thinks change may be possible at last.
DEADLINE: Since October 9 when you interviewed Weinstein accuser Lauren Sivan, you’ve really doubled down on the topic of sexual harassment and sexual assault — exclusive sit down after sit down, calling out Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, and many more. Why was this topic of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the media industries so important to you?
KELLY: Well, I think for far too long we as women have just dealt with this as an unfortunate reality of our lives. Last summer when the Fox News scandal broke, I didn’t know whether it would be the beginning of some sort of a sea change and how men in the office setting treated women, but I certainly tried to make it one.
DEADLINE: With that, and your own experience at Fox News, how do you think it has impacted the media industry now that we’re several weeks in and seeing more people come forward with more allegations?
KELLY: I hope so because I speak to women, and I know very well that if you go into any room with 100 women and say how many women has this happened to, you’re going to have virtually all of the hands up, at least 70 percent. So, this is a pervasive issue and I wondered whether there could be change, or like the mass shootings we see, that’s just too lofty a goal and that real change is not possible.
What’s been amazing to me over the past month is for the first time in my almost 47 years, I’m starting to believe that change might be possible. Not just women but men actually really want to know the answers to these questions and possibly even change behaviors.
DEADLINE: Certainly your ratings have risen as you’ve focused on this issue. You’ve seen upticks of 10% in viewers, up 11% in the 25-54 demo over the week before, growth two weeks in a row. So, without wanting to be crass, why do you think it’s resonating?
KELLY: I’ll tell you, I think this is a national scandal. It’s not just Weinstein at all. We’re seeing that. I think women everywhere, whether it’s the women of Hollywood or the women of Denny’s, understand what this is like. That’s why it’s resonating because it’s not just Angelina Jolie or Rose McGowan. It’s women who work at the truck stop and women who work in the dentist office who are all nodding their head saying they, like yours truly felt, for most of their lives we just had to deal with it. It was taken as one of the costs of doing business, and we’re seeing a glimmer of hope that maybe that isn’t true. Maybe we can live better and maybe even if we can’t our daughters can.
So I think it’s connecting with women on a fundamental level. Not just women but men. Most men I know are good and honest and loving and supportive, irrespective of whether they have wives or daughters.
DEADLINE: What do you mean by that?
KELLY: I don’t like when people attribute it to you have a daughter. You don’t need to have a daughter to be an evolved man. I tend to give men the benefit of the doubt, and so I think they are with us. I think most men, the men I know, are horrified at most of these allegations. I think we tapped into the cultural zeitgeist at the moment and I’m honored that people would trust me with coverage of something of that magnitude. I hope I live up to the challenge.
DEADLINE: Do you worry that this will start to fade soon? Do you worry, as several women in the industry have said to me, that there will be a backlash down the line against those who spoke out or, perhaps more importantly, were supportive?
KELLY: I’m not actively worried about that I have to say. I think there is safety in numbers. The number of accusers against Harvey Weinstein right now is around 70. He’s done. He’s done. I must tell you, many of us were shocked to see an article written a few days ago talking about Mark Halperin’s comeback. He has just been outed as a serial sexual harasser and possibly assaulter. Let’s give the victims a moment to catch their breath before we start talking about his comeback, OK?
I do think there’s safety in numbers. I’m not concerned about a Harvey Weinstein comeback because I personally will make it my mission to shame anyone and everyone who tries to let that happen. I do think there’s more risk to the women who come out by themselves or with one or two others, which is why it’s so important to discuss. And, just blanket for the whole conversation, it’s not just women, as you know, like in the Kevin Spacey case. I’m speaking to the majority of cases involve women complaints.
DEADLINE: You have had a number of accusers or their representatives on your show in recent weeks. Certainly there is a connection there that they might not find elsewhere, but is there resistance?
KELLY: One of my old lamentations as a woman — not as a TV anchor, but as a woman — has been how many of these accusers and victims will not go on camera. They send out tweets, which is great, but my viewer is in Middle America. From the beginning of my television career in my mind her name has been Madge, she lives in Middle America. She doesn’t follow Twitter. She doesn’t read The New Yorker, but she does watch television so that is how she will see what is happening. I really find it so unfortunate, and I do understand why, that so few of these accusers will go on camera and talk about it because it’s incredibly powerful when they do.
DEADLINE: As allegations against Weinstein, Brett Ratner, Halprin and more continue to come out, what are the next steps? From your vantage point, what are some possible solutions?
KELLY: There’s a complicated answer to that question that doesn’t reduce to a user-friendly sound bite.
DEALDINE: Complicated is more than OK, especially in this case.
KELLY: Well, I think number one, Human Resources should be detached from corporate management. The people who run HR should not have to depend for their paychecks on the CEO of the company. They need to be transformed into a much more meaningful forum for reporting for women.
DEADLINE: How so?
KELLY: Let’s say she doesn’t want to make a federal case out of it. She just wants to make a record just in case there are 100 others, as we’ve seen in Weinstein’s case. That there could be a forum — and don’t give me any BS about some 1-800 line. No one calls the 1-800 line, nor do they trust it. If there could be a meaningful place that doesn’t answer to the boss where you can say “all I’m saying is look into Roger Ailes” or “all I’m saying is look into Harvey Weinstein.” That would be a start.
DEADLINE: That’s a start, certainly.
KELLY: I also think one of the main things is we need a greater and more robust partnership with men. Men, for better or for worse, will be our best advocates because they are there in the moments that count, in the moments where this stuff is happening to us or about us and we’re not present or even able to make a difference. A strong man who is respected at the office who stops another man and says, “Dude, no,” is worth so much more than a stern look from a woman in the moment. I don’t like that fact but it is a fact.
So our good, smart, evolved, ethical men need to be our partners in the effort. I also think that women haven’t figured out how to handle these situations in the moment. The thing I say to all the young women coming up behind me and even my peers is to remember first and foremost above everything that no is an available option. I think the outside world and maybe even you, Dominic, as a man, people are like “Well, duh, we know that.” But let me tell you, in the moment it’s not clear.
DEADLINE: To pivot to the moment, after the Sunday show and the start of the 9 AM show, that there’s a perception you have really found your voice on this topic. That this is a focus where all of your best talents as a personality, as an anchor, as a lawyer, that this is the Megyn Kelly we were expecting. She’s shown up now. What’s your take on that? Ring true?
KELLY: Well, I appreciate that. I understand what they mean but I also believe like any human being I’m not just one thing. I’m many things. I can be the hard-nosed former lawyer who doesn’t suffer fools and cuts through BS with a razor’s-edge knife. I can do that, no question. But I’m also someone who enjoys laughing and is a person of faith and enjoys connecting with my fellow human beings more than anything.
So what I love about the morning show or the reason I am here is because I wanted a forum that would let me be all of myself and not just that tough person. So I think to some extent the me people are seeing now is familiar to them. They say, “We know that person from Fox News,” and that’s good. That was me. That was the authentic me. There’s just more of me and so my experience and the reason I’m enjoying the new hour is I can do that in my A block or my B block and then I can go on to talk about things that are also me.
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) October 23, 2017
DEADLINE: One of the things that you have been open about is the harassment you encountered at Fox News from Roger Ailes. Ailes, Weinstein and many more seem cut from the same stained cloth, where power is the blunt object they wield to threaten to kill careers if they don’t get their way…
KELLY: It’s a male-dominated industry and it’s no accident that the areas in which we’ve started to see this issue bubbling up are extreme examples of that. News, entertainment, Silicon Valley. Male-dominated industries in which powerful men, who are considered “indispensable” and “untouchable,” take advantage of their position. Women have a very different label on them, i.e., dispensable. So the men get protected and the women don’t.
I also think that women, separate and apart from my career, feel that they are going to get killed if they go to HR. Picture this, I’ll give you my own scenario.
I started at Fox News and in television in 2004. I was thrilled. I had not even been doing part-time TV for a year. So I was nine months in doing two days a week, completely green, a cub reporter by any standard. I get hired at the national level and it’s thrilling. I work for Brit Hume in the DC bureau and the first year goes brilliantly. The second year is going brilliantly and I’m getting great assignments and I am making my bones. I’m doing it. I’m proving myself. I’m at the Supreme Court every day. I’m reporting on complex matters. I’m condensing them down to small, digestible bits. I’m doing it. And then you get a call to go meet with the big boss in New York and you think this is it. He’s noticed me. I’ve caught the attention of Mr. Ailes was the exact quote from Brit Hume to me.
DEADLINE: Which must have felt great at the time, no?
KELLY: Great. Just great. You go up there wide-eyed at the possibility of what your life might be thanks to your hard work. You’re in there and by nature you want to try and charm your boss. That is true of all of us male or female, and then there’s a moment in the meeting where it turned. Before you know it this person is talking to you in a way that is very familiar to you but shouldn’t be in the office setting. He’s lecturing you about how your very favorite anchor in the television industry slept her way to the top. She was smart, he says. Hopefully you’ll be smart too, he says.
Every instinct inside of you first says no, no, no this isn’t happening. Maybe I misinterpreted it. Maybe I’ve heard him wrong. Maybe it’s a joke and I could just laugh it off and pretend it never happened.
DEADLINE: Which is what happens…
KELLY: Yes, and the second thought is I’m such an idiot. I thought I was being called up here for opportunity. I thought my hard work had been recognized. I thought this was a career trajectory kind of moment. Instead I’m looking at a dirty old man who wants to get in my pants.
Nine times out of 10 you have been in this position before and it’s disgusting, it’s dejecting, it’s maddening and so now you have to ask yourself what you’re going to do about it. Are you going to reject this man, upon whom your very future at the company in my case depends, and in all likelihood in the industry?
In my case, and in the Harvey Weinstein victims’ cases, their influence is beyond the company. It’s industry-wide. If they want to sink you, you will be sunk.
DEADLINE: Those are the options you saw?
KELLY: Yeah. You’re dead, you know that. They don’t even have to go that far. It’s just to make a phone call saying “high maintenance,” “a problem”, “crazy,” or “difficult.” It doesn’t take much. Remember, it’s already controlled by a network of powerful men who have each other’s backs and not yours.
DEADLINE: Megyn, do you think one of the things — Fox being an example, but I think there are many others, and Rose McGowan has talked about this — you don’t know another woman’s story. Another woman doesn’t know your story and there’s isolation in the feeling, and that’s part of the powerlessness.
KELLY: What I see now in retrospect is there’s a reason you don’t know their stories. These men have actively worked to suppress them and scare the other women. I’ll give you an example of that. Early on in my tenure at Fox when I was being harassed by Ailes, I didn’t know a lot of people. I didn’t have a lot of female friends like I did 13 years later. I did have a couple and so I would sort of stick the toe in the water with the women I knew because he was the king. I mean it was like being in North Korea and trying to criticize Kim Jong Un.
So I’d carefully stick my toe in the water with other women like, “have you ever been in his office by yourself?” “Have you ever sensed an odd vibe?” There was one woman in particular, the one I knew best, who I asked that of. She said, “absolutely not, he’s only been completely professional with me.” You know what Dominic? She turned out to be one of his accusers.
Since then, every woman I’ve spoken to had the same rush of emotions, the same calculations. Sh*t, I’m embarrassed. I’m humiliated. How do I navigate this? I read something about the Ginger Rogers quote. She had to do everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in heels. I read something that said something like backwards and in heels and with him trying to shove his tongue down her throat and grab her ass.
DEADLINE: That is literally patriarchy in motion…
KELLY: Yes and women have had to learn to be extremely savvy because of that. Even now, women are afraid. They’re afraid, and I think at Fox and I’m sure now given what we just saw in the most recent New Yorker piece on Weinstein, women worry that other women coming to them might be, for lack of a better term…I was going to say an operative but that’s too strong, but loyal to the harasser.
They have to ask in what capacity is this person coming to me? If Fox and in the Weinstein case there were dark ops going on, black ops if you will. The women felt paranoid but it was real. People really were planning hit pieces on you if you did something bad against Ailes. The lawyers really would threaten you. What we saw in the Weinstein case is that times 100. I’d say at this point, the Weinstein case is the Fox case on crack.
DEADLINE: And perhaps a liability in the case of now ex-Weinstein lawyer David Boies?
KELLY: Actually, I think it’s a question of ethics. How on earth does Boies work to undermine and dig dirt on reporters at the New York Times doing honest journalism at the same time he purports to represent their newspaper in a separate matter without disclosing his conflict? It does not require any sort of legal sophistication to figure out you don’t do that.
Forget the New York Times. I mean that’s one issue and it’s a serious one. But engaging black ops firms to essentially blackmail, that’s what he was looking to do to victims of alleged rape. Running point on it so that you could protect it with attorney-client privilege while telling news organizations like NBC that you had nothing to do with it that you were not even a lawyer of record is deeply problematic. Now, even he has come out and said he should have raised more red flags on Weinstein. I found his “apology” wanting. He needs to do better. He needs a more full-throated explanation of how he found himself in that position.
DEADLINE: So, with the protection so far up the food chain, how does the harassment habit get broken?
KELLY: Well, it’s all fine and good with Rose out there and me now speaking about it, but for young women who feel they have nowhere to turn and with this is happening to them right now, they need support. Maybe they’re 22 and they have a great job and they don’t want to lose it but they know if they challenge this boss they’re going to lose because trust me, there are thousands of them out there right now. I say find your underground army. Find your fellow women to whom it’s also happened or who will support you if you come forward. Find your other men who are empathetic to what you’re going through. Talk about it even quietly. That’s better than not at all — and don’t forget that there are dozens and dozens of attorneys out there who’ve said publicly they will represent you for free in terms of giving you advice as to whether you have a claim. So money should not be an obstacle to you protecting yourself. Let’s build on that.