Editor’s Note: Months before she tussled with Donald Trump, Megyn Kelly was being lauded by some on the left as the “good” Fox News anchor.
“Kelly’s career is red hot right now, and she’s achieved an unusual status for a host in the middle of the often-ideological cable new wars: Kelly’s earning respect across the political divide,” Politico wrote in an August profile explaining the “secret” to the Fox News host’s success. “Queen of [television],” The Washington Post raved, in a 2013 lifestyle piece that highlights how good-looking and decent she is. “Kelly…is the brains of the Fox News operation,” The New Yorker gushed. “Megyn Kelly can save Fox News,” The New Republic declared the same year. My own Daily Beast praised her in 2010 as “a whip-smart blonde with made-for-TV looks” while suggesting she could be the “Barbara Walters of Fox.”
Now The New York Times magazine is getting in on the lovefest with a big piece on the “Megyn Kelly Moment.” Reporter Jim Rutenberg argues that Kelly is the future of the conservative news network (one essentially born out of the Nixon White House), whose old, right-leaning audience is approaching mortality. “Attractive-looking blond anchorwomen are not rare,” Fox political analyst Brit Hume told the Times. “Attractive-looking blond anchorwomen who speak with a fierce authority are rare.”
Fox News has done a fine job of branding Kelly as a serious, tough journalist amid its herd of thunderously partisan commentators. When you measure her work alongside that of such Fox ideological horror shows as Andrea Tantaros (who said living on food stamps would make for a fantastic diet), Sean Hannity (who spent months treating George Zimmerman like a victimized folk hero), and Brian Kilmeade (who credulously praised fascist street thugs in England), it’s true Kelly can achieve a simulacrum of competence.
Much of the praise for her in mainstream or left-leaning outlets hinges on her supposed fearlessness in taking on Republicans and traditional conservative thought. “Megyn Kelly totally owns Dick Cheney over his terrible Iraq track record,” The Huffington Post cheered. And when she tore into jarringly chauvinist male guests over women in the workplace and paid maternity leave, she earned golf claps from progressives. Even Gawker, which has close to zero love for Kelly, Roger Ailes, and Fox, called the latter moment a “feminist triumph.”
To this day, Fox hosts are still worried about the destructive, far-reaching influence of the New Black Panther Party and their alleged allies in government. Their campaign against the group started as a widely disseminated right-wing, race-baiting meme that the New Black Panthers were destroying American democracy through voter intimidation during the 2008 election. The Justice Department declined to file criminal charges—and thus became an accessory to black, anti-democratic crime in the minds of many conservatives.
Fox News and Megyn Kelly were the biggest cheerleaders of this absurd, racially problematic non-story.
“One of the more jarring passages in Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland is his recounting of a popular myth that went around Iowa in 1966, the year of the conservative backlash against the Great Society,” Dave Weigel blogged in 2010, reacting to Kelly’s coverage. “The myth was that black gang members on motorcycles were going to head from Chicago to ransack Des Moines. Reading this in 2008, it sounded preposterous, the kind of thing that no one could believe in the country that was about to elect Barack Obama. But Kelly, under the guise of journalism, is working to create a rumor like this in 2010. Watch her broadcasts and you become convinced that the New Black Panthers are a powerful group that hate white people and operate under the protection of Eric Holder’s DOJ.”
The Fox obsession with New Black Panthers patrolling America underscores a double standard the network tends to exhibit when the scary, threatening men happen to be black instead of white.
Kelly still doesn’t seem to understand why people would think the New Black Panther coverage was, in any way whatsoever, racist. “Earlier on in my career, when I covered the New Black Panther case, some of our critics were saying I was racist covering them. And that really bothered me,” she told The Washington Post last year.
The Panther coverage was Kelly’s most disgusting and maddening string of segments. But there were many more low moments, including handing the megaphone to those promoting factually challenged Muslim-baiting. Then there is her ability to manufacture shocking voter fraud out of thin air. There was that time her reporting resulted in death threats for school board members—all for a misleading Pledge of Allegiance story. There was her multi-part “exclusive” grilling of the deeply irrelevant, anti-American former professor Ward Churchill late last year, a baffling and pointless exercise in hippie-punching.
And who could forget her infamously silly 2013 Black Santa / Black Jesus episode, which revealed the softer side of Fox News’ den of white-victimization complex?
“Megyn Kelly’s at a point where she’s suggesting that small kids who would like to see themselves represented in culture are the real racists,” The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg tweeted at the time.
This is not nitpicking at an otherwise sterling track record of Fox News’ marquee talent. This is a pattern. Megyn Kelly’s work is not a deviation from the rest of Fox News’ facts-allergic, ideologically driven output. She’s precisely where she belongs.