Fox News’s Megyn Kelly had a sound strategy. She had absorbed an endless amount of Twitter-borne abuse from Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump following their famous showdown at the Aug. 6, 2015, primary debate; Trump even boycotted the January Fox News debate in Iowa over concerns about her. So Kelly in April went to Trump’s office and negotiated a truce: “We had the chance to clear the air,” Kelly said on her program.
The cleared air made way for that memorably bad May interview that Kelly conducted with Trump on a Fox Broadcast Network special. That was the one in which Kelly failed to hold Trump properly accountable for months of misogynistic abuse. Fox News’s Howard Kurtz helpfully explained that the soft-focus format wasn’t right for a grilling.
Whatever the case, Trump got some assistance from Kelly that night in the form of a pleasant, humanizing interview. After the spectacle, Trump tweeted:
Well, that is it. Well done Megyn — and they all lived happily ever after! Now let us all see how "THE MOVEMENT" does in Oregon tonight!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2016
Since then, he has stiffed Kelly’s nightly show on Fox News. Though Kelly clearly planned to use the special as a prelude to more Trump interviews on “The Kelly File,” that hasn’t happened. Sure, Trump goes on “Fox & Friends,” “Hannity” and “The O’Reilly Factor” with some regularity. Fox News has declined to comment for this story, but it’s inconceivable that Kelly and her producers haven’t been pounding the Trump campaign for interviews.
The cratering of Kelly’s long-term plan for Trump coverage is bad news for Fox News. As Michael Calderone and Sam Stein report in the Huffington Post, Trump has pretty much ditched the rest of television news in favor of Fox News. Except for a phone interview on CNBC, Trump has stovepiped to Fox News and Fox Business since the beginning of the month, a focus that leaves behind his just-say-yes policy to other networks throughout the primary season. The exclusivity may be good for Fox News ratings, but on a critical level, it’s a big problem: The candidate’s coziness and extended interviews with host Sean Hannity, for instance, have brought derision to Fox News. ThinkProgress a while back found that Hannity had interviewed Trump 41 times without making any news. For his part, Bill O’Reilly fluffs up Trump’s pillows before he comes on “The Factor.”
Much-needed balance would come via the “Kelly File.” Away from the soft-focus confines of broadcast television, Kelly would surely blast away at Trump’s evasions, deflections and lies. That’s what she did last night in an interview with new Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who continued the Trump-campaign flip-flop on the so-called “deportation force.” After Kelly asked whether Trump would make good on his pledge to deport 11 million undocumented people, Conway replied, “He will enforce the law, which will take care of a lot of that. He will deport those who have absolutely committed a crime. … He will make sure that American jobs are protected.”
Kelly then busted in: “That provides wiggle room that wasn’t there before.” Correct.
Time is running out for Kelly’s Trump-interviewing colleagues to take a cue or two from her.