When emotionally well-adjusted people with a good handle on reality get in a disagreements, they talk their way through them with respect and empathy. When men get in disagreements with Megyn Kelly, they treat her like a crabby octogenarian treats the automated voice menu they get when they call the bank. There’s shouting. There’s demanded modification to behavior. There are threats, there are flounces. They act as though Kelly is a piece of advanced technology fashioned to serve them and, in failing to do so, is experiencing a critical error.
Newt Gingrich’s bizarre Tuesday exchange with the Fox News host exemplifies this curious phenomenon. During an interview on her eponymous evening news show, Gingrich grew frustrated with Kelly’s coverage of sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump. “You are fascinated with sex,” said the thrice-married serial philanderer. “And you don’t care about public policy.”
From there, things got weirder, culminating in the former Speaker of the House demanding, and then literally daring Kelly to say the words “Bill Clinton sexual predator.”
Like an iPhone that no longer recognizes touch screen demands, Kelly declined.
Gingrich is far from the first man to seem positively perplexed by Kelly refusing to act like a preprogrammed android.
Earlier this month, Kelly exchanged barbs with Fox News colleague Sean Hannity. After Trump spoke to Hannity, a doe-eyed supporter of the Republican presidential nominee, Kelly remarked that she wondered if Trump would speak to the real journalists. Hannity, like a dissatisfied guest at Westworld, got mad. “u should be mad at Hillary Clinton Clearly u support her!” Hannity tweeted (and [sic]).
In a 2013 interview, Megyn Kelly took on conservative pundits Erik Erickson and Lou Dobbs, both of whom were arguing that feminism was turning women into a race of dominant man-eaters. Kelly was incredulous of her guests’ insistence that working mothers were at the root of society’s downfall, needling Dobbs as he attempted to link women working outside of the home to divorce and thus social chaos. “Excuse me,” said Dobbs, as though admonishing a sassy robot waitress at a futuristic Tokyo diner. “Let me just finish if I may, oh dominant one.”
This year, Donald Trump has been the standard-bearer in treating Megyn Kelly like she’s a laptop that needs to be taken to the Genius Bar. It started when Trump seemed blindsided by Kelly’s primary debate question about his level of respect for women, and ballooned from there. He told Morning Joe that he believed she should apologize. “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” he told CNN days later, in much the same way a person might complain to the IT department that their screen went all blue and now they can’t click on anything. And remember when he tried to get calling her “Crazy Megyn” to catch on?
Trump has demanded she use different polls on her show, demanded she cover him the way he wants to be covered. Critical Kelly error detected.
Trump’s frustration with Kelly seems compounded by the fact that he’s used to hanging around women who respond to his input with the unquestioning subservience of a digital assistant. He’s been known to ask women whose appearance he finds pleasing to stand up and twirl, including at least one former Apprentice contestant. During this month’s Al Smith Dinner, he paused during his stink bomb of a comedy set to ask his wife Melania to stand up for applause, like a Stepford wife. When she delivered a speech at the RNC that turned out to be plagiarized, he didn’t blame her; he blamed the woman who programmed—nay, wrote the speech for—her. He demanded, to no avail, an apology from Hillary Clinton during the second presidential debate, and called her a nasty woman in the third.
Critical woman error detected. Abort.
Kelly, unpredictable and fascinating to people at all points on the political spectrum, must be a real puzzle for men who have a specific idea of how woman should behave. But Megyn Kelly isn’t a person who can be fixed by shutting her down, unplugging her, and then rebooting. She’s not going anywhere and neither, it seems, is male befuddlement over her unwillingness to cater to their whims.