In August 2015, Fox News host Megyn Kelly had the temerity to quiz Donald Trump about his misogynistic past at the presidential debate in Cleveland. “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,'” Kelly said in an expansive question about how the candidate would appeal to women.
Ever since then, Trump and a group of other men have all but conspired to sideline Kelly in this presidential season.
Immediately after the debate, Trump went on the attack, suggesting the most obscene things about Kelly’s motivations. “She gets out and she starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions,” Trump railed in an interview on CNN. “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever. In my opinion, she was off base.”
In the weeks that followed, Trump continued campaigning against Kelly via the usual channels — Twitter and innuendo, that is:
To the public, Fox News supported its star primetime talent. Several days after the debate, for instance, then-Fox News chief Roger Ailes issued a statement saying, “Donald Trump and I spoke today. We discussed our concerns, and I again expressed my confidence in Megyn Kelly. She is a brilliant journalist and I support her 100 percent. I assured him that we will continue to cover this campaign with fairness & balance. We had a blunt but cordial conversation and the air has been cleared.” Other official statements over the course of this saga have been even more critical of Trump, including one that lamented Trump’s “extreme, sick obsession with” the anchor, an obsession that is “is beneath the dignity of a presidential candidate who wants to occupy the highest office in the land.”
Inside the halls of Fox News, however, a different reality prevailed. New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman has noted that Ailes “privately blamed” Kelly for causing the whole ruckus, even going so far as to tell an anchor that Kelly’s question was “unfair.”
Such ambivalence and lack of integrity have pierced Fox News airwaves. Even as he slammed Kelly, Trump appeared quite frequently on other parts of Fox News, like the awful morning program “Fox & Friends,” “The O’Reilly Factor” and “Hannity.” A nadir was reached in late January 2016, as Trump was making (real) noises about boycotting an upcoming Fox News debate in Iowa, a threat that he coupled with attacks on Kelly herself. Amid the back-and-forth, O’Reilly hosted Trump on his program. As Trump declared that he had “zero respect” for Kelly, O’Reilly did little to defend her, to her dismay.
So it went — Trump continued to hammer away at Kelly and continued appearing on other Fox News programs. In early March, for instance, Trump appeared at a debate co-hosted by Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace, but later that month launched yet another Twitter fusillade at the anchor. Here’s one representative sample:
Dates matter here. The tweet above is from March 15, just before a couple of choice softball interviews with Sean Hannity. On March 22, for example, Hannity asked Trump, “I’m sure you wish you were wrong, Mr. Trump, but you were right. What did you see that maybe others didn’t see about what was happening in Brussels and Belgium?” On April 14, “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy started out a Trump phone interview with this question, “First of all, what did you think of the Masters yesterday?” After Trump complained that the GOP primary system was “rigged,” Doocy exclaimed, “It’s rigged!”
Being a powerful cable-news network, Fox News could have delivered an ultimatum to Trump: Either stop the nonsense and sit for an interview with Kelly, or forget ever appearing again on “Fox & Friends,” “Hannity” or the “O’Reilly Factor.” If such a threat were ever discussed, it certainly wasn’t executed. Kelly, an adversarial interviewer, was reduced for months to watching as her colleagues helped Trump minimize his advertising expenses. So she took matters into her own hands with an April visit to Trump Tower, to open what she hoped would be a more functional journalistic relationship with Trump. A breakthrough occurred when Trump appeared for a soft-focus interview on the Fox Broadcasting Company in May. For this venue, Kelly ditched her “Kelly File” bulldog persona and disappointed critics eager for accountability.
Certainly Trump appreciated Kelly’s approach to the interview, as evidenced in this wrap-up tweet:
Despite interview requests from “The Kelly File” since then, Trump hasn’t appeared on the program. Kelly has made do by interviewing campaign officials and surrogates. Last night, she had the nerve to note that Trump has circumscribed his interview appearances of late: “Donald Trump, with all due respect to my friend at 10:00, will go on ‘Hannity’ and pretty much only ‘Hannity’ and will not venture out to the unsafe spaces these days,” Kelly said. Was that the remark of a jealous and angry anchor? Didn’t sound like it, and she balanced things out by arguing that Hillary Clinton has also sought to insulate herself from tough questioning.
Over Twitter, Hannity went off:
That’s what happens when you present an advocate with unpleasant facts.
Now here are other facts, about some of the principals in Kelly’s 14-month journalistic slog:
*Donald Trump, proven sexist and misogynist.
*Roger Ailes, alleged sexual harasser. After a raft of credible allegations of sexual harassment piled up against him in July — triggered by a suit from former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson — he was ousted from the company. He’s a longtime friend of Donald Trump.
*Bill O’Reilly, alleged sexual harasser. In 2004, the King of Cable news promptly settled a sexual harassment suit from a former producer — Andrea Mackris. O’Reilly was also accused of making workplace advances on host Andrea Tantaros in her sexual harassment suit against the network, though he was not listed as a defendant. And Gawker has reported that his custody battle with his ex-wife surfaced an allegation that he’d dragged her “down a staircase by her neck.” O’Reilly called the allegation “100% false.” He’s a longtime friend of Donald Trump.
*Steve Doocy, alleged office sexist. According to Carlson’s July 6 complaint against Ailes, Doocy mistreated her while they worked together on the dreadful “Fox & Friends.” He “created a hostile work environment by regularly treating her in a sexist and condescending way, including by putting his hand on her and pulling down her arm to shush her during a live telecast,” reads Carlson’s complaint. Doocy’s bond with Trump extends at least as far back as 2011, when “Fox & Friends” started airing weekly chats with the eventual presidential candidate.
*Sean Hannity, apologist for the sexist and misogynistic GOP nominee. He’s a good-enough friend of Trump’s to have allegedly spoken with him — strictly on private calls — about his opposition to the Iraq war.
Who could assemble a sturdier old-boys’ network?
In a world with a lot of gray area, of course, sexism doesn’t explain the entire picture. Trump’s wimpiness is another critical component; he just doesn’t like to be cross-examined these days and has retreated in recent months from questioning by independent journalists of both genders and from various outlets. Nor has Trump been interviewed only by men at Fox News; he appeared time and again on the show of former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, who surely delighted the candidate by running an infomercial for the campaign titled “Meet the Trumps.”
Even so, Kelly may well have been onto something at that August 2015 debate. Her question about sexism and misogyny appears more relevant to her than perhaps she realized at the time. Her ratings have soared nonetheless.