With its obsessive and uncritical coverage of Donald Trump, the news media, and especially television, has been sacrificing journalism on the altar of ratings.
That was the grim diagnosis offered Wednesday by Fox News star Megyn Kelly in a lively conversation with Katie Couric at the opening night session of the Women in the World Summit, produced by Tina Brown Live Media in association with The New York Times. (Brown founded The Daily Beast in 2008.)
Trump—who boycotted the next Fox debate with Kelly as moderator, which she told Couric she would forever be thankful to the network for doing—has lately taken to mocking her as “Crazy Megyn.” Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes has consistently defended her, calling Trump “vicious” and claiming he has a “sick obsession” with Kelly.
Interviewed by Couric, the star of prime time’s The Kelly File discussed how she has fared under what has frequently become an ugly circumstance, and recounted a conversation with her producers when other Fox programs and cable news competitors were taking the reality show billionaire’s campaign events live on the air.
“This isn’t right,” she said she told her colleagues, adding that it is tantamount to “putting our thumb on the scale” in Trump’s favor and disadvantaging all the other candidates who don’t receive such coverage. “Our show hasn’t taken his campaign events wall to wall…We also have to worry about our souls and journalism.”
Kelly also was critical of certain unnamed news outlets that, in her view, didn’t stand up to Trump’s bullying tactics, letting him phone in interviews and asking him softball questions.
“If everyone had stood up from the beginning and asked very tough questions, we wouldn’t be in this situation,” she told Couric.
“Our job is to press. We’re supposed to press,” she said, adding that Trump “had cowed other journalists…What if everybody had gotten really tough? It could have been a moment of solidarity among the press that I think we missed.”
Kelly said that once the 2016 election is over, the media should subject itself to “an honest self-assessment.”
The discussion began with Kelly’s upbringing, which she said included less praise than criticism from her parents. “They showed me that they believed in me,” she told Couric, “and they also insulted me.”
When the conversation inevitably turned to Trump, the Fox host noted that Couric, too, knows what it’s like to become part of the story during a presidential campaign. After all, it was Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin on CBS in 2008—in which she asked such “gotcha” questions as “What newspapers do you read?”—that gave America its first glimpse at the former Alaska governor’s political limitations.
Kelly said that when Trump’s supporters have attacked her in personal and ugly terms over the past 10 months, she tried to take solace in her family life, but sometimes that became impossible.
“I stay off Twitter,” said, noting that she frequently blocks antagonists on the social media platform.
On the other hand, “adversity is an opportunity,” she said. “It shows you who your friends are.”