Megyn Kelly Bails on Fox News After Helping Take Down Roger Ailes
Months after helping take down Fox News’s sexual-harassing founder and chairman, Megyn Kelly is bolting the network.
The primetime cable star announced on Tuesday that she is leaving Fox for a broad role with NBC News. With her departure, so goes Fox’s most promising cable-news star and any semblance of objectivity about Donald Trump during its primetime hours.
As The New York Times first reported on Monday, with NBC confirming shortly thereafter, Kelly’s multi-year deal includes a massive triple role: she will host a new one-hour daytime program that will air Monday through Friday; anchor a new Sunday evening newsmagazine-style show, a la 60 Minutes; and play a prominent role in the network’s breaking-news coverage as well as its coverage of major political and special events.
“While I will greatly miss my colleagues at Fox, I am delighted to be joining the NBC News family and taking on a new challenge,” Kelly wrote on Facebook. “I remain deeply grateful to Fox News, to Rupert, Lachlan and James Murdoch, and especially to all of the FNC viewers, who have taught me so much about what really matters.”
Noticeably absent from her statement: any mention of Roger Ailes, her former mentor and boss of 12 years, who she ultimately helped take down this past summer.
It was reportedly Kelly’s allegations of sexual harassment that forced 21st Century Fox to take seriously the initial claims put forth by ex-anchor Gretchen Carlson in her lawsuit.
In her recent book, Settle for More, Kelly recalled finding out that Ailes had attempted to limit the internal investigation to just Carlson’s staff. “The choice became clear: honor my ethical code, or abide by my loyalty to Roger,” she recounted. “There was no way to do both.” And so she told independent investigators of how Ailes repeatedly offered to promote her through the ranks in exchange for sexual favors.
At one point, he was “trying to grab me repeatedly and kiss me on the lips,” she wrote in the book of the harassment she experienced, beginning in 2005 when she worked out of Fox’s D.C. bureau. Upon her rebuffing his advances, she said, “he asked me an ominous question: ‘When is your contract up?’ And then, for the third time, he tried to kiss me.”
The Ailes ordeal put a finer point on rising tensions between the TV superstar and her own network.
Before Ailes was officially fired, Fox News’ notoriously heavy-handed PR team trotted out a bevy of on-air talent—from Bret Baier to Kimberly Guilfoyle to Bill O’Reilly—to defend the chairman’s honor and besmirch Carlson’s credibility as an accuser.
Kelly remained conspicuously silent.
“Megyn is being selfish,” one Fox News insider told The Daily Beast at the time. “It’s pretty shocking actually.” Another insider noted that Kelly’s silence stood in contrast to Ailes’s long history of standing by her throughout her drama with Trump.
“I was approached several times, and several times I refused,” Kelly wrote of Fox’s “intense campaign” to get her to fall in line. “There was no way I was going to lie to protect him.”
At the same time, internal tensions with Fox’s primetime king Bill O’Reilly came to a head. Ever since her 9 p.m. program’s ratings began to threaten his top-dog status, O’Reilly has taken passive-aggressive jabs at Kelly. But this past fall, as both stars embarked on their respective book tours, O’Reilly coldly suggested Kelly made Fox News “look bad” by daring to so publicly discuss and write about her experience with sexual harassment at the network.
And just one month before the election, the internal struggle between Kelly’s brand of relative Trump skepticism at 9 p.m. and colleague Sean Hannity’s nightly pro-Trump agitprop at 10 p.m. spilled over into the public when the talk-radio titan lashed out at Kelly: “u should be mad at @HillaryClinton Clearly you support her. And @realDonaldTrump did talk to u.”
The comment came after Kelly lamented on her show how then-candidate Trump seemingly only appeared in “safe spaces”—meaning “[he] will go on Hannity and pretty much only Hannity.”
The pair made up the following day in a cringingly staged PR reconciliation that included matching on-set photographs of the two colleagues, with the hashtag “#friends.” But the bitter taste in viewers’ mouths remained.
As such, it became clear over the past year that Kelly was no longer built for right-wing media.
Despite her own early history of pandering to conservative media excess and stoking racial tensions, Kelly was officially ready to fulfill the role Fox PR so long attempted to paint for her: the serious, neutral news journalist who could cut through the partisan spin.
She’ll just have to do it at NBC instead.