December 10, 2013

The 3 million-plus viewers of Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” last night were treated to one of the greatest distortions in the news business. He welcomed Megyn Kelly, the host of the 9 p.m. “Kelly File” show on Fox News, to talk about her anchoring style, among other things. Here’s how she described herself: “I’m a straight-news anchor. I’m not one of the opinion hosts at Fox.” Kelly went on to describe how guests have differing impressions of her politics: “I always tell people if they think I’m this conservative operative, ask Karl Rove if that’s true. … The way we do it on the Fox News Channel is the straight-news anchors like myself give a hard time to both sides.”

The problems with that short description of duties are almost too numerous to rebut. For one, that single, famous incident in which Kelly put Rove in his place during an Election Night meltdown was a single, famous incident. Nothing more. A better indicator of whether Kelly hews to Fox News’s conservative politics may just be the makeup of guests that have appeared on the “Kelly File” since its launch this fall. Media Matters for America recently completed a breakdown of those guests; it found they tilt more conservative than does the lineup on “Hannity.

And that claim about giving a hard time to both sides? How many Obamacare opponents have been grilled mercilessly on Fox News in recent weeks?

That’s not to say that Kelly doesn’t occasionally rip both sides. She does, and she’s closer to a straight-news anchor than many or most of her colleagues at the network. Yet the product that comes off her set, especially on a pivotal political topic like Obamacare, is lopsided.

Leno asked Kelly to cite her “last heated exchange.” She mentioned an entertaining throw-down with Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a former Obama adviser and proponent of Obamacare. “He tried to blame the failed rollout of HealthCare.gov on Fox News,” said Kelly, prompting laughter from Leno’s audience. “A little off-point. I don’t think we were responsible for that.”

Here’s the exchange to which Kelly was apparently referring:

EMANUEL: Remember, this was not an environment which was hospitable to setting up the exchanges. You and your colleagues were trying to underfund it and make sure that didn’t work.
KELLY: A lot of the criticism proved true.
EMANUEL: It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’ll try to do everything we can to make it fail and then when it fails, we’ll say, why did it fail?
KELLY: I don’t think Fox News had anything to do with the rollout of HealthCare.gov.
EMANUEL: You were constantly attacking the law and trying to make it underfunded.
KELLY: It was all our fault.

Had Leno been even a bit steeped in Fox News’s history with the Affordable Care Act, he might have asked Kelly whether her influential network had anything whatsoever to do with attempts to block, defund and otherwise obstruct the health-care implementation. But this is the “Tonight Show,” after all.

One of Leno’s key questions was this: “People assume if you’re on Fox News, just as they do if you’re on MSNBC, you have a certain bias. How do you deal with it? You seem pretty straight down the line. How do you deal with that?”

(h/t Mediaite)

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.