Megyn Kelly: Black Lives Matter Needs "White Buy-in Too"
Megyn Kelly: Black Lives Matter Needs "White Buy-in Too"
By Eugene S. Robinson
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because life's meandering crossroads sometimes carry you to the strangest places.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Journalist, attorney, author and a subject of interest whether she’s being played by someone else or just being herself, Megyn Kelly takes a TV timeout with OZY CEO and co-founder Carlos Watson on a recent episode of The Carlos Watson Show. The following are some of the best cuts from the full conversation, which you can find on the show’s podcast feed.
For the Love of Roger Ailes
Carlos Watson: So what was Fox like? Because I’ve always admired you from afar that you went from the law firm into journalism. What was winning there like?
Megyn Kelly: Well, when I first started at Fox, it was funny because I had a friend who was connected at MSNBC and I happily would have gone there too. I called her. I’m like, “Do you think they have anything open?” She’s like, “They don’t. They won’t hire somebody without reporting experience.” I’m like, “OK.”
Then a friend I met at the correspondents’ dinner said, “You should get your tape to Fox.” Anyway, long and short of it is I got my tape there and they offered me a job. So I was like, “Great. I’ll do it.” So it was never ideological. I’m pretty centrist in my views. I’m a little more center-right, now that I’m an old person, but I’m center-left on some things too. So for me, it was never ideological. I just wanted to report the news.
They hired me to cover the Supreme Court and just to be a general reporter. So I was like, “Great.” I love covering the Supreme Court. We had the Roberts confirmation hearing and the Alito confirmation hearing shortly after I got there. It was thrilling. I sat in the high court for two-and-a-half years listening to all the oral arguments. I’m like, “This is great. I don’t have any of the pressures of being a lawyer doing it, and I have all the fun of then getting to talk about it and analyze it for people.” So that’s kind of how it started and I liked that. I liked it a lot.
Watson: So who gave you your break there? Was it Roger Ailes or was it someone else?
Kelly: Well, Kim Hume was the one who interviewed me. She’s married to Brit Hume and she used to run the D.C. bureau. So she’s the one who first had me in and, boy, she held the cards close to the vest. I sat with her for three hours and she did not let on at all about whether I was getting this job. I really thought for a long time, “Maybe she’s just being kind to an up-and-coming woman. This is the pay-it-forward moment for her.” Like, “I’ll help you. Let me talk about the industry.”
Then Brit Hume comes by at noon and she’s like, “Brit meet Megyn,” and he’s like, “Saw the tape. We all love you. How fast can we get you up to meet Roger Ailes?”
At Fox, no one got hired or got ahead unless they had Roger Ailes in their corner, so he was definitely the main person backing me and giving me opportunity there.
Watson: I appreciated you when you raised the sexual harassment issues and when you were not afraid, and I think many of us in that same situation, I’m not sure we would have had the courage of our convictions, and I’m not trying to cast aspersions on people, but I’m sure it was not easy. How was it for you in having to deal with him, given the complexity of that?
Kelly: The whole thing was such a saga. It began with I just admired him, and I was a little afraid of him because he was inspirational and funny and smart, but also a little scary. Then it morphed into a period of, I don’t know, a year or so of harassment of me by him. Direct, undeniable harassment, culminating in him trying to make out with me in his office three times and when I wouldn’t, he stopped me and said, “When is your contract up?” So it wound up at a scary place.
I managed to navigate through it and that’s a whole other story, but basically I avoided him, and the problem went away, and I did report it, by the way. I reported it to a supervisor who I never knew whether he did anything, I just knew it stopped, so that’s all I wanted. I hired a lawyer just in case I got retaliated against and I told my office mate, Major Garrett, and then kept a detailed journal.
Major Garrett, he’s at CBS News now as a White House correspondent, but he’s backed me up on all of it. So it was just a tough situation where I didn’t want to make a federal case out of it. I certainly didn’t want to light the building on fire. I just wanted him to stop and to just see me through professional eyes.
Then he did and we got past it and he gave me a lot of opportunity, and most of them I did well on. I never failed him, so he kept promoting me, and Brit and Kim were big backers of mine and we got past it. I became good friends with him. I loved Roger in a weird way. I cared for his wife, I care for his son. Doug and I, my husband, had been to their house for dinner many times. It was so complicated because I did deeply care for him.
But then Gretchen filed that lawsuit, Gretchen Carlson filed that lawsuit, and I’ve said before I wasn’t her biggest fan and that’s fine. I mean, I don’t think Gretchen’s a bad person. We weren’t tight and I did care for him. So it’s like I don’t know what I believe and I hadn’t been viewing him for all those 10 years as a serial harasser. I always thought it was about me. He wanted to go to bed with me. Hubris.
Anyway, so I really wrestled with whether to speak up and what made me finally do it was I got wind of the fact that they were going to conduct an investigation, but only of the people who worked with Gretchen, which meant about six people, half of whom were guys and all of whom were low-level producers, no talent.
So I knew I wouldn’t be called in there to tell a story, no one would ask me, no one would ask any other talent who would have been alone in his office as I was. That’s what ultimately made me call Lachlan Murdoch and say, “I don’t know what he is, but you need to find out. You need to actually try to find out now and do a real investigation.” And they did, and he had been doing it to many others for many years and been getting away with it scot-free, and he had a team of protectors there who had been enabling him.
Watson: What would you tell other people who may not be in the same situation, so it may not be sexual harassment, but there’s some sort of situation where there was a power imbalance where there’s fear, where there’s real risk. What, if anything, did you learn going through that?
Kelly: I mean, I guess it depends on how you’re built, because I could certainly look at the me that was wrestling with this decision a couple of years ago and say, “MK, just keep your mouth shut. You’re not really tight with Gretchen. You don’t know what happened. This isn’t your responsibility. The system’s going to look into this or they’re not, you got a great job, you got a great future here, everyone here likes you, you get along with them all. So just keep your head down [and] your mouth shut.”
If that had happened, maybe I’d still be at Fox. Would that have been a better version of me? No. Would that have been a better version of the world? No, I don’t think so. But a lot of shit has come my way since then. I mean, a lot of bad things have come my way since then too.
On the Trump 2016 Win
Watson: Did you think Trump was going to win?
Kelly: I did not think Trump was going to win. I totally thought Hillary Clinton was going to win. And in my defense, I was talking to people at Fox News all day who thought that. And I thought, “These are his boosters.” I mean, Sean Hannity, who was as close to Donald Trump as you could get, would say to me, night after night, “I can get him to 267, but I can’t get them to 270. I just can’t get him to 270.”
And I know no matter what he says now, he was as shocked as anyone when Trump wound up at 306. It was stunning. I’ll never forget sitting on the set that night with Bret Baier and Chris Wallace. And I think Trump won Florida, then Trump won North Carolina, and maybe he won Michigan. I can’t remember, but it was another one of those states he wasn’t supposed to win.
And Chris Wallace said, “I think we’re all coming to the realization that Donald Trump could be the next president of the United States.” And it was like, “You’re right. We are coming to that realization. Oh my God.” Because I had just never even considered that he could actually do it. Like Sean, I couldn’t see the math. And then, there was this huge, huge sort of graphic board in the studio, and it said Donald Trump elected 45th president of the United States. And it was like, right? You had that like, “The guy who does Celebrity Apprentice? That’s so crazy.” And then in my case, of course, it had extra meaning because he had been bullying me for nine months.
So it was a little like, what does that mean for me personally? There’s that layer. I mean, we had made up by that point, but certainly there was a part of me thinking my bully just got elected president of the United States and how’s that going to shake out? But it was surreal. The whole thing was surreal.
Watson: And how did you respond when he said that thing? Because when he said that thing to you and still didn’t go down in the polls, that’s when I knew that he could win. That’s what convinced me that he could win the nomination, when he went after you, who I saw as one of the favorites on the right, by virtue of your position at Fox News. I thought, “Wow. This guy’s got more Teflon than I thought he had.”
Kelly: I was confused by it at first. I was confused why there wasn’t a negative reaction when he attacked John McCain, who was still living, but he said he wasn’t a war hero. He attacked me. He attacked the Gold Star family. And I thought, “I don’t understand why a Republican base doesn’t react to this.”
But now I do understand. Now I understand it very well. And I get it. And I see why they liked him so much. I don’t think it was, “Yeah, we hate Megyn Kelly,” or “We hate John McCain,” or “We hate a Gold Star family.” I think it was just, “The guy doesn’t give a damn. He’ll go after anyone. He’s a fighter. And if we send him to Washington, he’s going to fight for us.”
He won’t care what the press writes about him. He won’t care what the norms are the way a Mitt Romney would. He cares about us and he talks like us and he’s gruff and rough around the edges like us. And so we don’t judge him. We’re hiring him to go break the china, be the bull. And we’re not hiring some sweet little pleasant old lady who’s not going to touch the china. Right?
So it’s not that they liked the target of the attacks being attacked. Nobody wants a Gold Star family attacked. It’s that they liked his pugilistic nature, and the fact that he was just unafraid and unbowed by anything that smelled like establishment.
The Transformation of BLM and #MeToo
Watson: Talk to me about this past summer. How did you think about Black Lives Matter and all the conversation around that? Was that something that surprised you, excited you, you’ve leaned into? How did you encounter and think about that?
Kelly: Well, when George Floyd was killed, and I think a lot of Black people and white people were deeply affected by that tape in a way earlier tapes hadn’t done. There was something different about this one. Two of our closest friends are a mixed-race couple, so the wife is white and the husband is Black.
And the husband never was an activist of any kind, really never talked about his race much. He’s just sort of a gunner. He just went after it, got himself up out of a tough neighborhood and now he’s ruling Wall Street, and all self-made. I think in part, the reason he did it is because he wasn’t too focused on identity politics. He was just like driven, you know?
But even he really started to stop and talk about it, like, “What does this say? What are my own experiences? How does this fall in with the narrative of my own life?” And I listened to him and my husband listened to him and our friends did, and more than just him but others.
And when I saw the riots unfold, my first instinct was I sent out a tweet about, “How can we ask people to respect law and order, and sort of the balance of decency, when we don’t live that, when we don’t live that, and we don’t make that their experience?” That was my first reaction.
As the summer went on, I began to feel very differently, as it morphed into more of a political movement, where, to me, it seemed co-opted by activists as opposed to just people who wanted change and some reform in law enforcement turned into defund the police, which I know having done my research, is something most Black people are against and will hurt Black women and children in particular in the inner cities.
And the stuff that’s flipping over the tables and making people raise the fist. It was like, this is not the way. This is not the way to get buy-in on what started as, I think, an earnest effort to improve Black lives, right? Black lives.
And once it got more organized and political, and I think intrusive, into peaceful people, they were stopping Black people driving their cars in the street, making them raise the fist, and you see Black people getting out of their cars, being like, “I’m with you. What are you doing to me?”
That stuff was very alienating. And so my feelings on it have morphed because I think it’s become more of a political movement. And certainly the organizers of it have an agenda that I don’t support. So I feel like it was a wasted opportunity because I felt like we were much more unified in the wake of that death than we are right now.
And I don’t know. In a way I feel about it the way I feel about the #MeToo movement, where it started nobley, and then it morphed into something that wasn’t going to be all that helpful. Because it got co-opted by politics, it wound up alienating, I’m talking about the #MeToo movement, it wound up alienating the very group we most need to have buy-in on our progress, men.
Men are now afraid of us. They’re afraid to put us at the executive suite, because they’re worried we’re going to use the #MeToo movement unjustly to ruin a 30-year career. And it’s not like every woman has done that. It’s just enough of that kind of stuff has happened that they’re scared, no matter what they say publicly, because I know what they say behind the scenes.
And I think the reality of our racial struggle right now, in part, is for Black people to ascend in a meaningful way, and I realize we’ve had a Black president, we have a black Supreme Court justice, we have Black senators, but in a more meaningful way to the top of corporations and positions of power in America, the truth is you need white buy-in too.
And so it has to be a collective, collaborative approach. I’d love to scream it from the rooftops, but it doesn’t seem to be going that way in either department. And I sort of feel like I’m in the middle, like, “Wait, wait. Let’s keep talking. Let’s stop judging. Let’s not be cruel. Let’s be open-minded, and let’s say all this stuff we’re afraid to say.”
I love it when a man comes to me and says like, “Should I open the door for a woman?” Like, “Can I compliment her appearance at all?” Like, “What should I say do if she tries to hug me?” I don’t necessarily have all the answers to that from feminism central, but I’d love to talk about it. I’d love it when somebody asks me that.