Megyn Kelly on Santa, and dealing with critics

December 12, 2013

After my profile of Megyn Kelly went to print last night, the Fox News anchor stirred up a little controversy — controversy that’s still spinning on the hamster wheel of the Internet. On her 9 p.m. show “The Kelly File,” she had a quadruple split-screen segment (four talking heads!) on a Slate essay titled “Santa Claus should not be a white man anymore.” Media Matters, the progressive non-profit watchdog of what it calls “conservative misinformation” that has covered Kelly vigorously, posted video of Kelly’s segment underneath the headline “Megyn Kelly Wants Kids at Home to Know That Jesus and Santa Were White.”

“Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change,” Kelly said about the essayist’s call to make Santa more inclusive and secular. “You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man too.”

Let’s put aside the thorny topic of Jesus Christ’s ethnicity, the absurdity of debating Santa Claus on primetime, and the ridicule and allegations that such a segment invites upon a TV host. One of the many things I didn’t get to address with Kelly was a segment on her Nov. 20 show about a comment Oprah Winfrey made about ending racism: “There are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die.” It’s one thing to present video of this stark quote; it’s another for Kelly to follow it immediately by saying, “Well just today Oprah was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.” To me, that makes a direct, unfair and queasy correlation between the quote and the award. I wish I had asked her about it before our time was up.

We did talk about her aggressive coverage of the New Black Panther case when she was a daytime anchor. I’ll offer this excerpt from our conversation, not because it directly correlates to the Santa segment, but because it addresses a sensitivity she’s developed toward a particular kind of criticism:

“The more I respond to the naysayers, the less I have of myself. I don’t have to convince anybody. And nine times out of 10 the people who are haters are not convinceable anyway. In my experience, the people who believe all the negative things about you want to believe them. And the people who don’t believe — despite the negative things that are written — are fans of yours, people who watch and get you, and they’re not going to believe that stuff no matter what. Earlier on in my career, when I covered the New Black Panther case, some of our critics were saying I was racist covering them. And that really bothered me. That was the first time anyone had said I was a racist. And it was because I was covering this story. It was like, ‘But i’m just covering a story and it happens that people at the heart of the case are black.’ But, anyway. That really got to me. That ultimately led to a shouting match with Kirsten Powers [then a columnist for The New York Post] because she also had an exchange that said something about ‘the angry black man, and you’re just using that to scare people.’ So I got angry because she had touched a narrative I was hearing a lot about that was really bothering me. But now I realize — and, you know, I’ve since apologized to her. But now I realize people are gonna say what they’re gonna say. It doesn’t make it true, and it doesn’t mean fair-minded people are gonna believe it. And if you respond to those things, or focus on them, it sort of breathes more life into it.”

In other words, don’t expect her to respond to your criticisms about last night’s segment.

Dan Zak is a feature writer and general assignment reporter based in the Style section. He joined the Post in 2005, after stints as an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a city-desk reporter and obituary writer at The Buffalo News.
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