November 2018, Week 1


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 		 [ It would take just over a year, it would turn out, for the
absurdity of Megyn Kelly Today’s founding proposition to come to
its full fruition.] [https://portside.org/] 




 Megan Garber 
 October 26, 2018
The Atlantic

	* [https://portside.org/node/18554/printable/print]

 _ It would take just over a year, it would turn out, for the
absurdity of Megyn Kelly Today’s founding proposition to come to
its full fruition. _ 



When Megyn Kelly launched _Megyn Kelly Today_, in late September
2017, the host made a great show of how apolitical NBC’s new show
would be. “The truth is, I am kind of done with politics for now,”
Kelly informed the audience
at home and in her soft-lit, blond-wooded, fresh-flowered studio, her
tone managing to be confessional and conspiratorial at the same time.
The assembled crowd roared with approval. “Right? I _know_!”
Kelly said, gaining buoyancy as, line by line, she discarded the heavy
mantle of political responsibility. Kelly shifted, first person to
second. “_You_ know why!” she continued. She shifted again,
first-person plural: “We _all_ feel it. It’s _eeeverywhere_.
It’s everywhere.”

Kelly, in that introductory episode, wasn’t merely professing her
new apolitical agenda, shedding Fox’s bulky stole in favor of a new
and more modern wardrobe. She was also cleaning house. She was
undergoing a willful and cheerful conversion ritual, on national
television. In her laughter at the notion of “politics” as a
practice was distilled a broader effort—made by Kelly
[https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/03/can-megyn-kelly-escape-her-past/513842/] herself,
and by the network
[https://www.vogue.com/article/megyn-kelly-vogue-interview-fox-news] that
had brought her on as part of its brand—to absolve Kelly of certain
elements of her own extremely political past: all those Fox-friendly
arguments she’d made about white Jesus, about white Santa
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XYlJqf4dLI], about Michael Brown
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhcZXYlWrzY], about Sandra Bland
about Mark Fuhrman
about the “thug mentality
about the black teen girl who had been manhandled by police
[https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/troubled-waters-in-mckinney-texas/395150/] at
a swimming pool in McKinney, Texas, being “no saint either
Her long history
[https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/10/25/megyn-kelly-nbc-blackface-racist-comments-white-supremacy-column/1760679002/] of _I’m
just asking questions here_ provocations related to race:
That’s _politics_, Kelly suggested last year as the crowd cheered
and the flowers bloomed and that which was old was made new again.
Megyn Kelly, erstwhile prosecutor, had professed her innocence.

Life, like a soft-focused morning show, often operates on a tape
delay. It would take just over a year, it would turn out, for the
absurdity of _Megyn Kelly Today_’s founding proposition to come to
its full fruition. Earlier this week, Kelly, leading what was meant,
apparently, to be a timely and lighthearted segment about Halloween
costumes, wondered aloud, to a panel of fellow white people, what was
so wrong, really, with white people incorporating into those costumes
… blackface. “But what is racist?” Kelly mused
just asking questions, claiming that when she had been growing up,
such a thing was, “as long as you were dressing like a character,”
perfectly “okay.” (Megyn Kelly, for the record, is not 150 years
old.) Kelly went on to mention the Diana Ross costume
[https://www.eonline.com/news/925418/luann-de-lesseps-addresses-controversial-diana-ross-halloween-costume-i-in-no-way-altered-my-skin-color] that
had been donned last year by Luann de Lesseps, one of the Real
Housewives of New York. (De Lesseps, Kelly perhaps had not realized,
later apologized
[https://people.com/tv/luann-de-lesseps-apologizes-diana-ross-costume/] for
the costume.) “I don’t see how that is racist on Halloween,”
Kelly said. “Who doesn’t love Diana Ross?”

For this, Kelly was swiftly condemned. (Not, however, by her fellow
panelists, white people all, who, while apparently taken aback by the
turn the conversation took, proved themselves either unwilling or
unable to explain the cruel history of blackface
[https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/10/blackface-halloween-a-toxic-cultural-tradition/413323/] to
Kelly or her audience.) Things moved rapidly from there. On Wednesday,
members of the cast of _House of Cards_ announced
[https://deadline.com/2018/10/megyn-kelly-house-of-cards-cast-cancels-today-appearance-blackface-scandal-1202489099/] that
they would be canceling a scheduled appearance on _Megyn Kelly
Today_. The same day, news reports
[https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/megyn-kelly-expected-end-nbc-morning-show-1154877] began
claiming that NBC would be ending Kelly’s show—a cancellation that
had been in the works, apparently, before the blackface
conversation—and transferring the host to a more news-oriented role
at NBC. Later that day, news broke
[http://www.vulture.com/2018/10/megyn-kelly-changes-agents-amid-turmoil.html] that
Kelly and her agent had parted ways. On Thursday, reports leaked
[https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6316973/Megyn-Kelly-NBC-just-48-hours-blackface-scandal-paid-69-million.html?ito=social-twitter_dailymailus] that
NBC, rather than reassigning Kelly within its news division, had in
fact severed all ties with her. Another bit of reporting
[https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/megyn-kelly-out-at-today-will-still-collect-69-million] came
with the rest of it: Megyn Kelly, despite and to some extent because
of the casual racism she had aired to a national audience, may be
receiving a $69 million payout.

None of it, from the shrugging racism to the golden parachute, comes
as a surprise. Nor does the fact of the ways-parting itself. Yes,
Andrew Lack, the chairman of NBC News, went out of his way this week
to talk about
[https://deadline.com/2018/10/nandy-lack-condemns-megyn-kelly-blackface-remarks-at-nbc-news-town-hall-1202488957/] how
inappropriate Kelly’s comments were (“I condemn those remarks”;
“very unfortunate”); yes, _NBC Nightly News _featured
[https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/24/media/megyn-kelly-blackface-al-roker/index.html] a
discussion of the comments on its evening air; yes, the _Today_ show
featured an even more extensive one
[https://www.today.com/video/amy-holmes-roland-martin-sit-down-with-megyn-kelly-to-talk-about-race-and-history-of-blackface-1351812675628?v=raila&] on
Wednesday morning; yes, NBC employees gave interviews to media
outlets expressing their own disdain
[https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/megyn-kelly-is-out-at-today-after-her-blackface-comments-but-the-nbc-family-rejected-her-long-ago/2018/10/25/ebd39cd0-d7ac-11e8-aeb7-ddcad4a0a54e_story.html] for
Kelly’s comments.

These, too, for NBC as a network, are performances of innocence. The
overriding fact of the matter, after all, is that Kelly’s tenure at
NBC has been a failure, by pretty much any measure but especially the
one that network executives have been conditioned to care about: the
commercial. Kelly’s first venture at NBC, the prime-time interview
show during which she gave airtime
[https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/06/the-normalization-of-conspiracy-culture/530688/] to
Vladimir Putin and Alex Jones, faded, quietly, into television
oblivion. The ratings for _Megyn Kelly Today _have been
notoriously lackluster
the show never found its footing. That’s in part because the Megyn
Kelly of _Today_ never seemed to figure out how to be friendly to
audiences without seeming, at the same time, faintly condescending to
them. It’s also because politics exist even in spaces that have been
insistently deemed “politics-free.”

And yet NBC—there is a creaking inevitability to every element of
this—is now trying to get ahead of the story that happens to be,
once again, about itself. It is attempting to frame Kelly’s
departure as a matter of morality rather than a matter of money. (_I
condemn those remarks. Very unfortunate_.) And, thus, the
network—the one that reportedly restrained
[https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/10/will-harvey-weinstein-finally-kill-the-old-boys-network/542805/] Ronan
Farrow’s reporting about Harvey Weinstein; the one that reportedly
[https://www.tmz.com/2016/10/12/nbc-trump-tape-billy-bush-plan-election-debate/] held
onto the _Access Hollywood_
[https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/10/the-trump-tapes/503417/] tapes
of Donald Trump until they were leaked to _The Washington Post_; the
one that protected Matt Lauer
the one at which, per one recent report
many more sexual harassers “thrived”; the one that hired Megyn
Kelly, knowing very well what it was buying—has this week gone
through its own ritual of attempted public conversion. NBC, too, is
apolitical, the network is suggesting on its own behalf, as it
reportedly prepares to pay Kelly a massive sum to take her act
elsewhere. It, too, is innocent. After all, couldn’t the newscaster
who insisted that “Santa just _is_ white
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XYlJqf4dLI]” have changed her
attitude, under NBC’s warm influence? Can’t a tiger change its
stripes? NBC, too, was just asking questions.

Here is another question, though: What if, when Megyn Kelly wondered
aloud why blackface is bad, her ratings had been high? What if she had
been a darling of advertisers? What if she had proved better able to
return on the massive investment NBC had made in her, and for her?
Here is the answer: NBC would very likely, right now, be selling a
line about the relatability of Megyn Kelly’s confusion—about how
so many Americans have more to understand about their shared history
and shared culture, about the ways Kelly’s questions, innocent if
ignorant, represent, in the end, a learning opportunity for all. Megyn
Kelly, right now, would very likely be undergoing another time-honored
American ritual, this one anchored in the sweeping demands of
celebrity: the solemn ceremonies of “moving on.” Apology,
forgiveness, forgetfulness—the prodigal daughter, returned to 30
Rock once more.

In an essay
[https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/03/can-megyn-kelly-escape-her-past/513842/] considering
Kelly’s tenure at Fox published shortly before the debut of _Megyn
Kelly Today_, my colleague Caitlin Flanagan observed one of Kelly’s
signature rhetorical moves, as she played the role of a no-nonsense TV
prosecutor. In her more hostile interviews, Flanagan observed, Kelly
would repeatedly provoke her guests, steadily escalating, poking and
prodding, until, sometimes, the guests would break, losing their
temper and/or their ability to keep a straight face on national
television. Kelly, meanwhile, would present herself, in the exchange,
as the calm one, the cool one, the collected one, the correct
one—the one who had enough distance from the topic at hand to be
rational about the whole thing. The one who, uniquely—within the
particular confines Kelly herself had created—held claim to

This strategy was another way to manufacture innocence. It was another
way, as well, to impersonate the apolitical: It’s easy, after all,
to stay calm about a conversation when you’re not personally
invested in its outcome. It’s easy to stay cool when it’s all just
a performance. But news, whether it’s airing in the evening or the
softly lit morning, is more than a mere show. And American life,
whether in Congress or on Facebook or in the stadium
[https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/09/football-is-the-culture-war/541464/] or
in the restaurant
[https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/20/politics/mitch-mcconnell-restaurant-protestors/index.html] or
on TV talk shows that chat about Halloween costumes, is inherently
political. It is deeply and stubbornly and constitutionally political.
To deny that is to confuse innocence with ignorance. Politics, as
Megyn Kelly cheerfully declared in her _Today_ debut, is
“_eeeverywhere_. It’s everywhere.” The problem, now as always,
is when it’s more “everywhere” for some people than others.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter
[https://www.theatlantic.com/contact/letters/] to the editor or write
to [log in to unmask]


MEGAN GARBER [https://www.theatlantic.com/author/megan-garber/] is a
staff writer at _The Atlantic_, covering culture.

Twitter [https://twitter.com/megangarber] Email

	* [https://portside.org/node/18554/printable/print]







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