Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Fix | Analysis

The big Megyn Kelly-Tom Brokaw dust-up that wasn't

By Callum Borchers

October 3, 2017 at 2:39 PM

Things got a little awkward on Megyn Kelly’s NBC morning show on Tuesday when she interrupted Tom Brokaw’s commentary on the political influence of the National Rifle Association and abruptly tossed to a commercial.

Though Kelly explained that she was “up against a hard break,” it looked to some viewers like the former Fox News star was trying to censor criticism of the pro-gun lobby. It didn’t help that Kelly and Brokaw talked over each other for about 10 seconds, creating the appearance of a struggle between the two.

Vanity Fair senior writer Joanna Robinson tweeted that “Megyn Kelly cutting Tom Brokaw off as he talks about the NRA is perhaps her finest hour of bulls--- yet.” Vogue culture writer Patricia Garcia opined that “Megyn Kelly cutting off Tom Brokaw while he rails against the NRA is exactly why this woman has no place on TV.”

Watching the uncomfortable exchange, I saw something different. It looked to me like Brokaw couldn't hear Kelly's initial attempt to wrap up a panel discussion of gun violence, which led to the extended crosstalk.

Let's set the scene: Kelly was closing the segment with a final question from a member of her studio audience: “You know, with the tragedy that happened in Las Vegas, we're constantly bombarded with the news, day and night. When does this become harmful to us and our children?”

“I couldn't hear the question,” Brokaw replied.

Kelly then paraphrased the audience member's question, and Brokaw spoke for about 45 seconds before Kelly interjected.

“Got it. Gotta leave it at that, Tom,” she said.

But Brokaw didn't leave it at that. He kept talking, and so did Kelly.

As a veteran news anchor, Brokaw certainly understands the need to hit breaks on time. While it appeared that he was trying to complete an important thought, against Kelly's will, it didn't make sense that he would refuse to yield. It seemed more likely that he simply hadn't heard Kelly. After all, he hadn't heard the question from the audience.

Plus, Brokaw has talked about a hearing problem in the past. Here's part of an interview he gave to NPR in 2015:

TERRY GROSS: I'm going to ask this next question as someone who has been known to have an occasional stammer that I have to deal with on the air: You have a kind of slur in your speech sometimes . . .

BROKAW: Yeah, I have an “L” issue, and I think — over the years [it has] diminished a lot. I was unaware of it until I left South Dakota, and then I go back and listen to other people in South Dakota, and it's not uncommon. In our family, we had chronic hearing loss, and I really think that it came out of that — that I didn't hear it the right way at the right time. I had a brother who had a really severe hearing loss and, as a result, his speech pattern is even more pronounced, although it has been a lot better now.

I emailed Brokaw about the situation, and he responded quickly.

“You're right,” he wrote. “The acoustics in the studio were terrible. I didn't have an IFB [earpiece], and I am writing as I return from my hearing-aid mechanic. My hearing aid this morning went bad as the show started.

“Chick Hearn, the late, great L.A. Lakers play-by-play announcer had a phrase: no harm, no foul. Exactly the case this a.m. No harm, no foul. Not worth any fuss. I'm a Kelly fan.”

Other guests who have appeared on Kelly’s new show are not fans, however.

Related: [Megyn Kelly is striking out with her celebrity guests]

Last week, Jane Fonda complained after Kelly asked about plastic surgery during an interview that Fonda expected to be a breezy opportunity to promote her latest movie, “Our Souls at Night.”

“Seemed like the wrong time and place to ask that question,” she told ET Canada.

Debra Messing said she regretted appearing on Kelly's premiere episode, along with her “Will & Grace” co-stars, because of a question Kelly posed to an audience member who loved the original TV series, which is back on the air for a limited reboot.

“Is it true that you became a lawyer, and you became gay, because of Will?” Kelly asked.

She appeared to be joking, but the suggestion that people choose to be gay offended Messing, who wrote on Instagram that she was “dismayed by [Kelly's] comments.”

Brokaw may not have been offended by Kelly, but the Fonda and Messing incidents may have contributed to the Internet's swift defense of him.


Callum Borchers covers the intersection of politics and media.

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