Remember when Megyn Kelly, then a Fox News personality, looked into the camera in 2013 and said that “Santa just is white?” Media critics laughed about that, and the jokes at her expense continued for days. Still, those were the salad days for Kelly’s brand. She was a hot Fox commodity at the time, and many considered her heir apparent to Bill O’Reilly’s prime-time timeslot.
Then came the 2016 Presidential debates. Kelly was tough on the candidates, especially Trump, and many of her fans didn’t appreciate it. They complained, and some stopped watching Kelly’s show, eventually motivating the network and Kelly to part ways. Kelly moved over to NBC, got her own show, and began rebuilding her brand in a mold that would appeal to that network’s viewers.
While she didn’t have as vibrant a fan following, Kelly got good ratings and earned respect as a journalist. What happened during an October 23 episode of “Megyn Kelly Today,” however, has since cost Kelly her show, and possibly her job, less than two years after signing on with NBC.
During a lighthearted discussion about “appropriate” Halloween costumes, the subject of blackface came up. Everything was going fine, with everyone on the panel agreeing that it was a bad move to dress in blackface, no matter your intentions. Kelly then decided to nudge the line by asking “What is racist?”
Let’s stop for a moment, right here, and consider this question, asked rhetorically, on a major U.S. news network in the current political climate. This comment alone would get people talking, and it wasn’t necessarily a bridge too far.
But then Kelly said a few more things, including that she didn’t see the big deal in white people wearing blackface, comments that seemed to make the other panelists bristle and later set off both her fans and coworkers.
“Back when I was a kid that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character,” Kelly said.
And she kept going, mentioning a friend who wanted to dress up as Diana Ross, and continued defending a choice that, essentially, everyone had just agreed was a bad idea.
The uproar was immediate. Later that day, Kelly sent an internal email to her colleagues, expressing regret. “Today is one of those days where listening carefully to other points of view, including from friends and colleagues, is leading me to rethink my own views,” she said.
The following day, she offered a tearful public apology to viewers during the Wednesday edition of her show. Now, Megyn Kelly is allegedly in talks with NBC, negotiating an exit from the network altogether.
According to a tweet today from the “Today” show, “This morning, NBC News host Megyn Kelly is in talks with the network about her imminent departure, according to a source familiar with the situation.”
Granted, Kelly could have intended her blackface comments to spur a conversation — albeit an uncomfortable conversation — which is always a good goal for talk media. But, given her previous holiday-based racial commentary, people were very quick to make assumptions and cast aspersions. Both colleagues and fans addressed the comments, and most weren’t favorable in their assessment.
From a PR perspective, it’s very hard to defend Kelly. She’s not a client I’d want to represent right now.