Frustration and anger within Fox News are building over primetime star Megyn Kelly’s apparent unwillingness to take sides on behalf of her embattled boss, Roger Ailes, in his publicly damaging legal battle against fired Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson.
“Megyn is being selfish,” a Fox News insider told The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized by the network to speak about the subject, on or off the record. “It’s pretty shocking actually.”
The 45-year-old Kelly—a former corporate litigator whose television career has been carefully nurtured by Ailes since he hired her 12 years ago from the local Washington, D.C., ABC affiliate—is a conspicuous outlier among more than a dozen Fox News personalities, mostly women, who in press interviews and other forums have faithfully defended the 76-year-old Ailes against the 50-year-old Carlson’s allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination.
Kelly, who, like Fox News, didn’t respond to requests for comment, is paid an estimated $15 million annually under her current deal as Ailes's protégé-turned-star anchor. She has her defenders, of course. They argue that she is simply being prudent and smart—and preserving her credibility and independence to field potentially handsome offers from broadcast networks when her Fox News contract is up next summer—by not weighing in on the controversy without knowing the facts.
That’s especially true, Kelly’s defenders say, as the powerhouse white shoe law firm Paul Weiss launches an internal review of Carlson’s claims ordered up by Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox.
The internal review, along with the lawsuit—in which Kelly and other Fox News employees are potential witnesses—could create possible legal issues for those who have gone on the record defending Ailes in the controversy.
21st Century Fox’s top executives are 85-year-old Rupert Murdoch, a diehard Ailes fan, and his forty-something sons, Lachlan and James, who have clashed with Ailes in the past; they are already considering a post-Ailes future at Fox News, especially the question of who might be in a position to succeed him at the immensely profitable media powerhouse that Ailes created from scratch.
“Sometimes keeping your own counsel is the right thing to do, as long as you’re not being pressured to jump on the boss’s bandwagon and be rah-rah,” said a longtime friend of Kelly’s who asked not to be named. “Just go about your work, maintain your equilibrium, and be quiet. Megyn is the most visible star on the network, so keeping her head down is probably just fine.”
On the other hand, Kelly’s apparent disinclination to pledge allegiance to her boss and mentor—who has given her one plum assignment after another, and repeatedly defended her against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s nasty broadsides after the infamous Aug. 6 Fox News debate—might not go over well with executives in an industry where loyalty is a rare but prized commodity.
“No one’s expecting her to come out and defend him like some of these other people have,” said a television industry insider who is not involved in the controversy, “but just some sign of appreciation for the man who gave her the opportunity would suggest that she’s not just out for herself.”
Indeed, when Trump threatened to skip a scheduled Fox News-sponsored debate in January if Kelly was among the questioners, Ailes refused to blink and take her off the panel; Trump opted out, and a potential ratings bonanza for Fox was scuttled.
“Here you have a leading presidential candidate getting into a fight with her, and the network stands up for her, cancels a debate, and sticks by her with a whole bunch of drama on her behalf,” the Fox News insider said. “Now Roger’s got a problem, and every other woman in the entire place stands up for him except her. What’s that about?”
Until now, by most accounts, Kelly has craftily navigated the perilous broadcast news waters since her often one-sided dustups with a Twitter-obsessed Trump, parlaying the candidate’s ongoing complaints about her—in which he demeaningly referred to her menstrual cycle—into securing top billing on the Fox news marquee with a Vanity Fair cover story and feminist-icon status. Her reputation for tough journalism, however, took a hit when she finally made up with Trump in what many perceived a softball interview on her first Fox Television primetime special, Megyn Kelly Presents—a meeting said to have been arranged by Ailes.
In late June, Kelly participated in a promotional video, along with Kerry Washington and Lena Dunham among other celebs, for Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In Together” campaign, encouraging women to support women in the workplace.
However, in what some saw as a departure from journalistic concerns, when Sandberg appeared on The Kelly File to promote the “Lean In Together” campaign, Kelly orchestrated a lovefest and didn’t ask Sandberg about the still-hot controversy surrounding claims that the social media juggernaut had been quashing conservative news stories on its list of trending topics.
Unlike such prominent Fox News women as Greta Van Susteren, Maria Bartiromo, Ainsley Earhardt and Harris Faulkner—and men such as Bret Baier, Neil Cavuto and Bill O’Reilly (who has been privately supportive of Ailes and offered a rousing defense of his boss during a post-midnight appearance Thursday on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers—Kelly has kept her powder dry publicly and, sources say, privately, in the week since Carlson filed her sensational lawsuit.
“I think it’s a very sad situation, number one,” O’Reilly, the top-rated anchor on basic cable, told Meyers in his first public comment on the lawsuit, “and I’m just gonna say this about it: I worked for Roger Ailes for 20 years. Best boss I ever had. Straight shooter. Always honest with me. And I believe that over the years he’s been in the business—for 50 years—95 percent of the people that worked for Roger Ailes would say exactly the same thing that I just told you…I stand behind Roger 100 percent.”
Ailes famously helped the 66-year-old O’Reilly get out of trouble in 2004, when the host of The O’Reilly Factor was sued for alleged sexual harassment by a former producer, Andrea Mackris, and Fox News reportedly underwrote a multi-million-dollar confidential settlement even as O’Reilly denied her complaints.
“In this country,” he told Meyers, “a very famous, powerful or wealthy person is a target. You’re a target. I’m a target. Anytime, someone could come out and sue us, attack us, and go to the press or anything else. That’s a deplorable situation.”
Seemingly speaking about himself as much as about Ailes, O’Reilly urged that the United States adopt the British civil legal system “whereby if you file a frivolous lawsuit and you lose, the judges are right to make you pay all court costs…[Otherwise] we’re gonna have this out-of-control tabloid society that is tremendously destructive.”
Gretchen Carlson claims—and the cable channel’s founder and chairman vigorously denies—that Ailes continually harassed her with sexually charged comments, fostered a hostile workplace environment, and abruptly ended her 11-year-old Fox News career on June 23 in retaliation for rebuffing his alleged sexual overture in a September 2015 meeting, quoted in Carlson’s lawsuit as: “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.”
In the ensuing public relations war between Team Carlson and Team Ailes—in which current Fox News employees have been championing their leader, and several other women have come forward to allege instances of sexually abusive behavior dating back to Ailes’s days as executive producer of the Mike Douglas Show in the 1960s—Kelly’s above-the-fray stance has looked to some like personal brand-protection.
“I can only guess that she wishes to be a feminist icon and doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of it,” said the Fox News insider. “My impression is she doesn’t want to be on the opposite side of a woman, period. She really believes that she’s plowing new ground for girls and women. It’s ‘I am cable-show host, hear me roar.’”