The critical stink-bombs leveled at Megyn Kelly Today, including by The Daily Beast, have been relentless. Today, NBC insiders revealed they were “alarmed” at the effect their tanking 9 a.m. show is having on the falling ratings of their much-prized 10 a.m. partnering of Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford. But the ever-unfolding scandal of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse and harassment has offered Kelly, finally, some on-screen territory in which to shine, or at least sound like her old self.
NBC may have been criticized for sitting on the scandal, leading Ronan Farrow to take his reporting to The New Yorker, but on her 9 a.m. show, with every juicy new detail, the much-lambasted Kelly has finally found a more authentic voice than the one which professed that her show would be no politics and celebrating the best of ourselves.
Unsurprisingly, Kelly’s “Weinstein voice” sounds fierce and genuine, and rather like Kelly’s Fox News voice of old: strident, opinionated, take-no-prisoners, and completely at odds with the softer, gentler timbre she employs while talking about such subjects as—on Wednesday—your choice of coffee, why female deodorants and dry-cleaned shirts are more expensive than male ones, and her relentless attempt to synergize her Settle For More book sales with her “Settle For More” segments of human fortitude.
When it comes to Weinstein, Kelly has been stirring her audience to booing, cheering, and unpredictable rounds of applause, and sometimes no applause when she was clearly expecting it.
The tonal transitions on the show are truly startling. The 9 a.m. show is now a slightly surreal emotional rollercoaster. Is Kelly going to be nice or mean, quiet or loud, ask the audience what it thinks, or tell it what to think?
On Friday, just after The New York Times allegations broke and the scale of the scandal had yet to become gargantuan, Kelly noted that it was the latest sexual harassment scandal to dominate the headlines. Unmentioned, and still-unmentioned, was her own alleged sexual harassment at the hands of Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
Kelly gave cautious credit to Weinstein for apologizing, then set herself up as an expert to women in the audience asking questions (surely pre-planned) about sexual harassment.
How should women stand up for themselves when faced with sexism and sexual harassment, she was asked.
“It’s such a dicey issue because there is a power imbalance,” said Kelly. “Every woman I know has been there. The number one thing for women to know, as I wrote in my book Settle For More [Editor’s Note: Just put a damn chyron pleading “Buy Me!!!!” on the screen], is that ‘no’ is an available option to you.”
Is it, this viewer thought? Is “no” always an option, especially if a man is forcing himself upon you as Weinstein is alleged to have done to some women? No may mean no, but men may not take any notice of that.
Kelly said, “In the moment you’re feeling scared about losing your job and paycheck… you have to remember in that moment when feeling you’re most vulnerable that ‘no’ is an available option.”
Well, sure it is or may be, but that doesn’t mean that saying it will stop whatever from happening—and surely if “no” fails to stop it, that is not the woman’s fault in any way.
Kelly said that the woman should “get the word out and [get] removed from the situation,” as if one would follow the other. Ideally it should; it may not. “Then you can strategize,” she said. “Remember that ‘no’ is OK.”
Yes, “no” is OK. Women and men know that, it’s their abusers who need the education and primer in the importance of when “no” is said, and what it means.
How can we educate men to understand that their behavior is totally inappropriate, another woman asked.
Here Kelly responded that she “appreciated” the part of Weinstein’s apology where he mentioned that such behavior occurred in times past. This is nonsense. As I have written, bad behavior is bad behavior and abuse is abuse, whatever the era.
Kelly said she would like to see men “own up” to their behavior, rather than telling women “it’s in our heads, and that we’re crazy.”
Women can harass too, Kelly added.
Then, it was on with that booming voice: “If you are in a position of power over someone in your organization, do not hit on them.”
Men perceive laughter as “yes” Kelly added. She had used humor to get out of awkward situations, which did not “serve well in those circumstances.”
‘Do you understand the realities of the power imbalance in any given workplace?’
On Monday, the show took on an impassioned, pro-woman edge it has so far retained the whole week. There have been no fluffy bunnies and self-improvement and brave humanity in the opening segment, but Weinstein and more Weinstein.
It began with Kelly’s first TV interview with Lauren Sivan, the TV reporter who claimed Weinstein had masturbated in front of her. Kelly not only confessed she knew Sivan, but also Weinstein, although the nature and depth of their friendship is unknown.
Kelly focused on getting the scoop, and her audience booed and gasped when Sivan recalled Weinstein phoning her the next day to tell her he’d had a great time that night.
The camera lingered on stunned audience faces, again relaying what a bizarre mix Kelly’s show is: part news show, part confessional, part chat show, part circus with ringmaster and obediently responsive animals. It’s kind of Wendy meets Meet The Press.
“I find it very irritating,” Kelly told two sexual harassment ‘experts’ that came on later, “when you get the ‘Why didn't you go to HR?’” Boom voice: “Do you live in this world? Do you understand the realities of the power imbalance in any given workplace?”
When the issue was raised of NDAs being used to clamp down on women coming forward to report harassment, Kelly said, “We saw that at Fox News and by the way Fox News has its own problems, but it’s not the only place. There are lots of places that need to do self-examination.”
While some women had started to violate their NDAs, many felt powerless “to do anything but accept the check,” Kelly added.
‘How about we not pile on, Donna?’
It was on Tuesday that Kelly really got the flame-thrower out.
Fashion designer Donna Karan, who had opined that women were “asking for it” in how they dressed, was the focus of Kelly’s ire.
Her approach to the studio audience setting the segment up was telling in itself. Had they seen Karan’s words?
“Only a few people,” she noted quietly of the scattering of raised hands. “Pay attention.”
You feel less like you’re in a sitting room with Kelly every morning, and more like a classroom where the fear is you may displease the teacher if you give a wrong answer.
“Donna Karan used the power of her voice,” she said, to ask “are we asking for it. What are they asking for? Trouble.”
A golden-timed pause perfectly filled with boos followed.
Kelly played the tape of Sivan the day before wondering aloud if she had given Weinstein the wrong impression, and that is why he behaved in the way he allegedly did.
“Weirdly I never thought to ask Lauren whether her skirt brought on that vestibule incident because her outfit is totally irrelevant,” Kelly said. “And most rational people know that.”
Kelly noted Karan had apologized, and that her comments had been taken out of context. Kelly replayed Karan saying her comments to cast doubt on that.
“Unfortunately, she is not the only one who apparently thinks this… and its wrong,” Kelly said. “It’s seriously wrong. Let’s be perfectly clear right now: women sometimes make bad fashion choices including at the office. This does not invite their own harassment. Period. End of report.”
“There are laws in this country. Laws. I don’t give a damn if a woman shows up in a bikini to the office. It does not make it ok for her superior to harass her, it makes it OK for boss to tell her to go home and change, that’s it.
“Sexual harassment has nothing to do with wardrobe. It has to do with power and control and sexual proclivities a superior chooses not to rein in.”
Karan’s comments were insulting to men too, Kelly added, to suggest that they are turned into animals by the sight of a woman’s thigh.
“This pattern of blaming women for their own harassment” influences women not to come forward to report harassment, Kelly said. “The fear of victim shaming… they fear it. They know it’s going to happen.”
Addressing Karan directly, Kelly said, “How about we not pile on, Donna? How about we use this moment to encourage women to find their own voices and despite the risks to stand up for themselves—which is hard enough without rich, powerful, well-connected fashion moguls lecturing them on their clothing choices.”
The applause rained down.
“And speaking of fashion choices, here’s one for you: I’m done with Donna Karan.”
Oh dear, this payoff was received with rather a stiff silence, and sporadic appreciation.
Kelly decided to turn it around. “I want her to come on right here and have an honest discussion on how she really feels.”
Yes, the viewer may have thought, I bet Donna Karan would love to give Kelly her next 9 a.m. scoop, after Kelly just roasted her so resoundingly.
“Because the messaging to women is all wrong,” Kelly concluded.
‘This is a clarion call for their industry’
By Wednesday, Kelly was doing a pacy tick-tock of the last 24 hours of Weinstein developments. Reporter Stephanie Goss had done something similar on the main Today show the day before, but Kelly was playing that killer combo of tabloid journalist and shocked best friend dishing over coffee.
“The story is getting worse by the minute. His wife (Georgina Chapman) left him.”
The audience reacted with a mixture of claps, low booing, and sighs.
“Most American women think, ‘Who can blame her?’” Kelly said.
She went through the summary of the latest stars alleging Weinstein harassed them, plus his denial. Then she played the audio of Weinstein trying to coerce Ambra Battilana Gutierrez into coming into his hotel room.
“It’s chilling, right?” Kelly said.
As the segment with NBC legal expert Ari Melber continued, Kelly said, “This is a clarion call for their industry, these other movie shops and companies, that they need to be introspective. Now is the time to clean shop and get honest about what has been going in there as documented by these actresses who have come out and said that many have experienced a climate like this; where they thought they had to shut up and do what was asked of them in order to get parts or continue working. It isn’t right.”
Her ratings may be falling, but the real Megyn Kelly seems finally to be in the building.