I first met Megyn Kelly when I was starting out as a TV commentator. I started appearing on her show in the summer of 2011 while Megyn was on maternity leave after having her second child. Having appeared on her show several times, but with a guest host behind the anchor desk, perhaps my first real introduction to Megyn was the widely shared clip of her dressing down conservative Mike Gallagher, who criticized the very idea of maternity leave while Megyn was taking hers.
If you haven’t seen the clip, it’s classic Megyn. She is silly and sharp at the same time, teasing Gallagher as she simultaneously tears into him. Gallagher can’t help but laugh as Megyn lashes him. It’s breathtaking.
I met Megyn soon after when I finally appeared on her show when she was actually hosting. I genuinely gushed about her segment with Gallagher and response was, again, classic Megyn—a sort of verbal eye rolling that might be summed up as “Ugh, I know right?”
It left her intent clear even if her motives weren’t. Was Megyn Kelly a feminist expressing solidarity (even though she eschews the word feminism?) Was she an exasperated journalist fed up with the elusiveness of fact and truth? Was she annoyed at the personalization of political attacks? Or maybe a little of everything?
Or was Megyn just showing a hint of her genius—the realization that to be a successful woman in the media today, you have to show personality while still maintaining a de-personalized professional objectivity. White men are allowed to ask whatever questions they want and aren’t accused of harboring an agenda. Women and people of color have to actively work against perceptions they’re inherently biased. Megyn Kelly threads that shitty needle with unparalleled humor and skill.
I was a regular on Megyn’s show for several years, starting when I first became a Fox News commentator, a move Megyn helped facilitate behind the scenes. And though I’m no longer at Fox, I continue to consider Megyn a mentor and friend. Her advice and example have been deeply valuable as I’ve developed my own media career.
I haven’t talked with Megyn about the Donald Trump kerfuffle and I have no idea how or whether she’ll address Trump’s planned boycott of Thursday night’s debate because Megyn is one of the moderators. But as someone who thinks incredibly highly of Megyn—and not so highly of Trump—it’s worth pointing out that in their previous encounter Megyn was doing what any good debate moderator should do, pressing Trump on his record and the facts.
Yes, her question happened to be about how Trump treats women. As a woman, Megyn was probably more likely to notice Trump’s past sexist statements and feel compelled to ask the question. Would it be nice to live in a world where Megyn Kelly didn’t have to ask “the woman question” on Fox News and, while we’re at it, Don Lemon didn’t have to ask “the black question” on CNN and Thomas Roberts didn’t have to ask “the gay question” on MSNBC? It would be utterly refreshing and transformative if white straight men would step up and speak out on these issues. And if they did no one would probably question their bias or legitimacy, and Trump certainly wouldn’t accuse the men of going after him because they were menstruating.
Indeed, Trump has a reputation of singling out female journalists. But unfortunately, in the world in which we live, we know that no matter how pressing the persistent inequalities and injustices with respect to women and people of color and the LGBT community, questions about race and gender and sexuality tend to only be raised because women and people of color and queer folks ask them. And thank goodness these questions are being asked in an election where the rhetoric of the candidates seems woefully out of touch with vast parts of the American population.
I’m quite sure Megyn doesn’t see herself as the mouthpiece of any political agenda. To the contrary, whatever her personal views might be, it’s her perpetual positioning as a quixotic questioner of all sides that makes her perhaps the mouthpiece of this moment in history. That doesn’t mean Megyn’s views never creep out or frankly creep me out, as when she stoked racialized fears about the “New Black Panther Party” inciting anti-white violence in the wake of Obama’s election. Megyn is not, to be sure, a liberal hero. But she’s not a conservative robot, either.
If you haven’t watched her defend the dignity and rights of transgender people, as she did while accusing a notoriously bigoted Fox News psychologist of “adding to the hate,” you’re also missing the full picture. In an increasingly two-dimensional world of us-versus-them hyper-partisanship and a media landscape that feeds into it, Megyn Kelly is more than meets the eye. She is a complicated, complicating figure—forcing a reductive medium to be more, and mediating against overly reductive politics.
She is also, by the way, forcing a whole swath of liberals to re-think their generalizations about Fox News. And she’s forcing right-wing Fox News fans to rethink their loyalty to Donald Trump. These are not small achievements.
In the end, who knows what Megyn Kelly is thinking. Maybe it doesn’t matter. The real point is that she has us all listening.