“I want to address just one” topic before taking questions, Lack told staff, diving into “the Megyn Kelly situation” right away, an attendee told Deadline.
“There is no other way to put this: I condemn those remarks; there is no place on our air or in this workplace for them,” Lack said, which will further fuel speculation that Kelly is not long for her Today show gig, despite her apology to staff last night and on-air this morning.
“Very unfortunate,” Lack said at the meeting of her blackface defense.
The town hall lasted about an hour and was held at Saturday Night Live’s Studio, 8H, which was filled with staffers, according to the attendee.
Lack commended NBC Nightly News’s coverage of the Kelly debacle on previous night’s broadcast, calling that coverage of their NBC News colleague and her headline-making remarks entirely “appropriate.”
That report had included a reminder that Kelly also made racially controversial comments while at Fox News, saying she wanted all the kids watching her primetime show to know “Santa is white” and her insistence Jesus was white too.
Lack also gave a nod to the Today mothership show’s coverage of Kelly’s blackface defense. Today tackled Kelly’s remarks hours before Lack’s meeting, and before Kelly returned to her third hour of the Today franchise to open with her on-air apology. She kicked off that mea culpa saying she had “learned” something in the widespread negative reaction to her remarks of previous day, in which she had said she thought blackface should be OK at Halloween, and that it had been okay when she was growing up.
“The team did an excellent job covering it properly,” Lack said of Today‘s Kelly scorching, singling out Craig Melvin and Al Roker for the “thoughtfulness” of their remarks, which Lack said put Kelly’s wildly controversial comments into a “context … that was sorely missing.”
That “context” included Roker insisting Kelly’s apology to staff wasn’t nearly enough, telling his viewers she “apologized to the staff, but she owes a bigger apology to folks of color around the country.”
Melvin, meanwhile, called Kelly’s remarks “ignorant and racist,” saying those on social media who criticized the uproar over her blackface defense as “political correctness run amok” were “silly … disingenuous” and “just as ignorant and racist as the statement itself.”
“She said something stupid, she said something indefensible,” Melvin blasted, reminding viewers that “Jim Crow” is shorthand for racist laws that existed for much of the last century and that the term comes from a minstrel show of the 1830s.
But, he added pointedly, “I think a lot of people knew about blackface before yesterday.”
At his town hall his afternoon, Lack conveyed a lot when he said both men “really did this company, and our audience, a real public service.”
He called the coverage of Kelly’s calamity, “Today show and Nightly at their very best.”
In a ringing non-endorsement of Kelly, Lack told his staff that, as they go forward and “sort through this with Megyn,” that his highest priority remains that there be “no doubt that this is a workplace in which you need to be proud, and in which we respect each other in all the ways we know is foundational to who we are.”
“Sorting through this,” according to some sources, is euphemism for “reassigning Kelly” to a less prominent role at the news division.
According to the town hall attendee, Kelly’s producers were “blindsided” by her remarks, thinking it was going to be a discussion about Halloween costumes – but most definitely not about blackface. Kelly went rogue on that, the source said.
No one thought she would go there with the conversation, as reflected by the fact that her panel for that talk was all white.
“Literally no one knew she was going to go there,” the source said.
At his town hall, Lack made no mention of the shellacking NBC late-night shows gave to Kelly. Amber Ruffin savaged the former Fox News host on Late Night with Seth Meyers, saying that when she heard what had happened, she began typing in “Megyn Kelly defends blackface” and “It auto-filled in ‘Megyn Kelly Defends Brett Kavanaugh.'”
Playing the moment when Kelly suggested, on her show, that it was not racist to don blackface on Halloween, Ruffin shot back, “It’s not racist on Halloween – it’s racist every day! There is no magical day where you can wear blackface with no repercussions. Unless all of your friends are white. And I’m guessing all of Megyn Kelly’s friends are white!”