In these final weeks of 2019, on the same day Charlize Theron hits theaters as Megyn Kelly in the Fox News film Bombshell, PBS has released a new interview with the real former Fox News and NBC host. At 43 minutes, it’s by far the longest and most in-depth public conversation Kelly has had since she was fired by NBC at the beginning of the year.
And while she does not address the blackface comments that prompted her demise at that network, Kelly does have some harsh words for her former NBC News colleagues.
About midway through the interview, parts of which will be featured in next month’s two-part documentary America’s Great Divide: From Obama to Trump, the interviewer brings up how much of a ratings boon Trump was for cable news both before and after he was elected president. He cites CNN showing the “empty podium” before his rallies begin, but Kelly makes a point to include MSNBC as well.
“And not just CNN, MSNBC, the morning show over there now hates Trump’s guts and every day they’re out there attacking him,” Kelly says, at first seeming as though she may leave names out of her attack. “But they were part of the reason he became the Republican nominee. Joe Scarborough and Mika [Brzezinski], they loved Trump, they promoted Trump every day.” She says she remembers watching it and thinking, “Wow, what is it about Trump that got them on board so early?”
Noting that Scarborough and Brzezinski would spend time with Trump socially at his Mar-a-Lago resort, Kelly adds, “Trump was very good at cultivating relationships. And trust me, he tried to cultivate a relationship with me too, but I was a journalist and I understood that I needed to keep him at arm’s length.”
The obvious implication is that the Morning Joe hosts were not acting as “journalists” when they cozied up to the candidate during the primary.
“He boosted their ratings, he boosted CNN’s ratings,” Kelly says, before going after the Today show for doing phone interviews with Trump on a regular basis. “It wasn’t just Fox & Friends,” she says. “The Today show was allowing a presidential candidate to do a phoner once a week. Because he rates. It’s mercenary.”
Much of the Frontline interview concerns Kelly’s “adversarial” relationship with Trump, stemming from their confrontation at the first GOP debate in the summer of 2015. But elsewhere, Kelly seems to go out of her way to defend Trump, especially in comparison to both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
“Look, Trump does not have an adult relationship with the truth,” she says at one point. But she categorizes Trump’s “lies” as “puffery about himself” whereas she views Obama’s “lie” about the Affordable Care Act—“If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor”—as fundamentally more dangerous. “It’s as if he said, ‘You’re not going to get cancer’ and then they did!” she says.
Later, Kelly says that as “jarring” as Trump’s Access Hollywood tape was, she thinks he deserves credit for cleaning it up by bringing Bill Clinton’s accusers to the debate that followed.
“It reminded all of us that the woman who would go into office if he lost was no saint either,” she says. “Not Hillary herself, necessarily, but her husband. And with her enabling.” Kelly claims that Trump “made a very powerful case” before essentially dismissing the president’s “colorful history with women” compared to Bill Clinton’s “dangerous history with women.”
Finally, Kelly ends the interview by openly mocking those who view Trump’s presidency as an “existential” threat to American democracy. “I just don’t buy into this catastrophic, ‘the nation will never be the same!’” she says, pretending to cry and then rolling her eyes. “We’ll be fine.”
“I’m a little tired of the vapors everyone tries to give us over everything Trump does,” Kelly continues. “The media, it’s sickening what they’ve done. We’ll be fine.” She adds, “Anybody that tells you it’s an existential moment for America is full of it.”