Megyn Kelly is a better interviewer than interviewee. “I don’t want to talk about Donald Trump anymore, truly,” the famous Fox News anchor told Cosmopolitan editor Joanna Coles yesterday in New York as part of Advertising Week XII. In deference to Kelly, she’d already answered a question or two about her antagonist in the Aug. 6 Republican presidential debate. But the no-nonsense Kelly who hosts the highly rated “Kelly File” weeknights at 9 p.m. ET would never have accepted such a punt.
Nor would Kelly tell Coles her views on abortion. “I don’t talk about that. It’s alienating and I’m a newsperson, so I don’t want anybody to think I’m, you know — I’ll just say that I understand both sides completely,” said Kelly.
One way to get Kelly to riff is to attack Fox News. Coles did just that, via a compliment for Kelly: “It might only be you that presents the news in an fair and balanced way,” said Coles. With that, Kelly went off, taking a selective inventory of the political views of various Fox News personalities: “There’s no question that Sean Hannity is a conservative,” she said, just getting started. “Bill O’Reilly — I think Bill is a populist. Certainly when it comes to family values, he’s more conservative, but he’ll surprise you. He pushed for a minimum wage, he’s against the death penalty … he’ll surprise you on some of the issue. And Greta [Van Susteren], I think Greta is a liberal although to tell you the truth I can’t tell you. So that’s the prime time lineup and I’m there at 9:00. … Bret Baier who is at 6:00, no idea what his politics are and he and I have been good friends and colleagues for 11 years. I mean, I have no idea what his politics are.”
Then Kelly dialed back the clock: “Look at our daytime lineup … Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum could not be more fair. Jenna Lee and Jon Scott, completely right down the middle. Shepard’s at 3:00, Neil Cavuto at 4:00.”
Only a list can refute all the problems with this.
1) “Fox & Friends.” The most laughable program on all of news TV. A recycling platform for every stray, poorly reasoned and insufficiently corroborated anti-Obama conspiracy. This show lasts three hours — from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. — and tilts so far to the right as to swamp any hope of balance through the rest of the network’s lineup.
2) “Outnumbered.” This is an often-spirited midday debate-couch show featuring four women panelists and one guy. As we’re writing this, the guy today on today’s edition of “Outnumbered” is psychiatrist Keith Ablow. He’s also the guy who criticized President Obama for a poor response to the Ebola threat because of his “affinities” to Africa.
3) “The Real Story.” This afternoon program is hosted by Gretchen Carlson, an alumna of “Fox & Friends.” No wonder Kelly didn’t mention it.
4) “The Five.” This roundtable show airs at 5:00 p.m. on Fox News. It didn’t find its way into Kelly’s accounting, perhaps because it consists of five panelists, with only one of them left-leaning in most cases. It is entertaining and sometimes informative, though never, ever balanced.
5) O’Reilly. Kelly likes to note that Fox News’s table-setter sometimes surprises people with certain centrist or left-leaning views. It bears asking: Why do such things surprise people? They surprise people because, well, he fills his one-hour show with constant harangues against liberals and President Obama and Democrats and just about all of their policies. Just about.
6) The boss. Note one of the folks that Kelly omits from her ideological rundown — Roger Ailes, the television genius and former Republican political operative who runs Fox News. He sits in the editorial meetings and barks out ideas and thoughts. His people listen. Friendly biographer Zev Chafets once sat in a Fox News editorial meeting and came away with this impression: “Ailes throws out ideas, but he doesn’t usually insist.”
He needn’t. His staff knows how he feels about the news of the day. Think about Obamacare: Ailes doesn’t like it — he’d repeal it if he were president, he told Chafets — and his network has somehow managed to convey that sentiment in its overwhelmingly negative coverage of the health-care program. That very coverage — which spread across the Fox News TV schedule and adjoining platforms for months and months and months — explains why Kelly’s hour-by-hour analysis of hosts’ political leanings is so meaningless.
So does Benghazi. If all these centrist, liberal and otherwise apolitical anchors really determined Fox News coverage, as Kelly suggests, then how did the network rack up more than 1,000 evening Benghazi segments over 20 months following the Sept. 11, 2012, attack?
Fox News has every right to pursue its own take on the news, since this is America and all. In her riff to Coles, Kelly rightly noted that her network never dismisses constituencies that may get short shrift in other media precincts. Along these lines, she mentioned viewers who are pro-life, pro-Second Amendment or who home-school their children. To that list, we’d add members of the U.S. armed services, whose interests the No. 1 cable news network has always championed, sometimes with fantastic results. In 2012, O’Reilly and Van Susteren pushed hard for the release of Jon Hammar, a Marine veteran who was being held in a Mexican jail. “Bill O’Reilly saved my son’s life,” Hammar’s mother told the Erik Wemple Blog.
Kelly, moreover, was hardly fashioning a novel argument when pressed on the network’s leanings. People have been making Coles’s point for quite some time. Back in 2012, Ted Koppel alleged that no one is “going to be confused as to the ideological belief of most of the people who appear on Fox.” O’Reilly denounced this “unfair” jab at the network’s hard-news reporters.
Neither Koppel then — nor Coles yesterday — had much of a response, perhaps because they don’t spend their midday hours watching Fox News.