NBC News Tears Into Megyn Kelly After Blackface Fury
Her co-stars are torching her on air for her comments about blackface. The network’s news chief blasted her in front of the whole company. Can Kelly survive a civil war?
Megyn Kelly is under siege at 30 Rock.
Her comments about wearing blackface for Halloween have been denounced by her colleagues on air. And now the man who lured her to NBC News with a $69 million deal has slammed her to company employees amid new reports that her daily daytime show is likely to end soon.
“There is no other way to put this, but I condemn those remarks,” NBC News Chairman Andy Lack said at a town hall meeting on Wednesday, according to a transcript provided to The Daily Beast by a source.
“There is no place on our air or in this workplace for them. Very unfortunate.”
Lack went on to praise NBC stars Al Roker and Craig Melvin, who had called Kelly’s comments “ignorant” and “racist,” and demanded a “bigger apology” on the Today show.
“The team did an excellent job covering it properly,” Lack said. “I thought Craig and Al brought a thoughtfulness and a context to it that was sorely missing, and they really did this company and our audience a real public service.”
The backlash was spreading well beyond the executive suite. Two sources told The Daily Beast that guests had canceled appearances on Megyn Kelly Today in the wake of the uproar. And Kelly was left without a talent agent, at least temporarily, as the focus on her comments intensified.
A source with knowledge of the situation told The Daily Beast that Kelly, who was repped by CAA, had been in talks with rival UTA about switching representation. Jay Sures, the co-president of UTA, contacted CAA on Wednesday “to alert them that Megyn Kelly was leaving CAA due to CAA’s conflicts of interest with NBC News.” (The source did not elaborate on the conflict, but CAA also represents NBC News President Noah Oppenheim.)
But within hours of Sures’ call, as Kelly’s future at NBC grew ever cloudier, UTA decided against taking her on as a client, the source said.
A UTA spokesperson disputed parts of The Daily Beast's account, saying that no call had taken place.
CAA could not be immediately reached for comment, and NBC News did not respond to a request for comment.
The latest flare-up unfolded Tuesday morning after Kelly said on her show—while discussing Real Housewife of New York Luann de Lesseps bronzing her face to look like Diana Ross—that she didn’t understand why wearing blackface was wrong.
“People said that was racist… and I felt like who doesn’t like Diana Ross? She wants to look like Diana Ross for one day? I don’t know how that got racist on Halloween,” Kelly said.
“Isn’t the whole purpose of Halloween to dress up and pretend you are something other than yourself?” she also said.
“You do get in trouble if a white person puts on blackface at Halloween or a black person puts on whiteface at Halloween… like when I was a kid that was OK if you were dressing up as, like, a character.”
Public criticism was instantaneous, and Kelly apologized in an email to NBC staff on Tuesday afternoon, writing, “I realize now that such behavior is indeed wrong and I am sorry.” She also apologized on air on Wednesday.
One NBCUniversal insider said executives were “furious” about Kelly’s comments. And since Kelly has covered sexual misconduct allegations against NBC personalities like Matt Lauer and Tom Brokaw on her show, executives weren’t about to stop staff from criticizing her, another network source said.
Still, the public thrashing she received on Today the next morning was extraordinary, and there was little question that it had it the approval of network brass.
That became even clearer at the town hall meeting, where Lack indicated that NBC has not put the matter behind it.
“As we sort through this with Megyn,” he said, “let there be no doubt that this is a workplace in which you need to be proud and in which we respect each other in all the ways we know is foundational to who we are.”
Kelly, who is midway through a three-year contract, did not respond to a request for comment. A source close to her told The Daily Beast that Lack took advantage of the blackface gaffe to punish her.
“This was Andy taking revenge on Megyn,” the source said. “It was payback.”
A former NBC staffer who worked with Kelly told The Daily Beast that NBC is angry that Kelly called for an independent investigation into the network’s handling of Ronan Farrow’s reporting on Harvey Weinstein, which never aired.
“They are trying to use this as a platform to restore their credibility,” the staffer said. “They have never before come out as strongly as this.
“For them to have had it on Nightly and the TODAY show, it would have been discussed by Andy and Noah. She was going very hard on the #MeToo stuff and they didn’t like that, and they couldn’t stop her, and now this is payback.”
Lack’s blunt comments put distance between the network and Kelly. The town hall also allowed Lack—who has come under fire for sexual misconduct incidents within the network and NBC’s handling of the Weinstein story—to reassert his journalistic bona fides.
Lack's comments also signaled that he is souring on the very expensive gamble he and NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke made on Kelly when they poached her from Fox News. Hours later, multiple outlets reported almost simultaneously that Kelly's 9 a.m. show was likely on the chopping block.
Disenchantment with Kelly predated this week's crisis.
Asked if she thought Lauer could make a comeback after being fired over sexual misconduct allegations, she said, “I know too much that others don’t know.” Soon after, sources described as NBC veterans were quoted in the New York Post’s Page Six column accusing Kelly of “milking the #MeToo movement.”
Kelly’s relationship with NBC has been rocky almost from the get-go. While she has gotten praise and attention for her aggressive #MeToo coverage, a number of missteps had many questioning whether Lack’s very expensive gamble on the former Fox News host was a bad bet.
She vanished from a Sunday evening magazine-style show after interviews with Russian president Vladimir Putin and right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones were widely panned.
There was a cringe-worthy interview with Jane Fonda in which she asked about the actress’ plastic surgery. After Fonda publicly lambasted her, Kelly responded with an on-air clapback in which she brought up Fonda’s Vietnam-era nickname, Hanoi Jane.