Now comes an exclusive from Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times indicating that Kelly would be leaving Fox News for NBC News, according to “people briefed on the talks.”
Kelly confirmed the news with this Facebook posting:
Over a dozen years ago I started at Fox News in a job that would change my life. Now, I have decided to end my time at FNC, incredibly enriched for the experiences I’ve had. I have agreed to join NBC News, where I will be launching a new daytime show Monday through Friday, along with a Sunday evening news magazine program. I will also participate in NBC’s breaking news coverage and its political and special events coverage.While I will greatly miss my colleagues at Fox, I am delighted to be joining the NBC News family and taking on a new challenge. I remain deeply grateful to Fox News, to Rupert, Lachlan and James Murdoch, and especially to all of the FNC viewers, who have taught me so much about what really matters. More to come soon.Happy New Year, and God bless.
The news is huge. Kelly, after all, is the only thing tethering the Fox News prime-time lineup to sane, rational and balanced discussion of contemporary news topics. She is preceded by Bill O’Reilly, a man who recently all but declared himself a spokesman for aggrieved white America, and by Tucker Carlson, who as top editor of the Daily Caller showed a flair for sexism and slipshod news reporting. And she’s followed by Sean Hannity, who works at a news network but swears he’s no journalist and shills for President-elect Donald Trump at every juncture.
As Rutenberg reports, NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack lured Kelly away from that swamp with a tripartite role at the network — a daytime show of some sort, a Sunday night news presentation and a role in special NBC News coverage of special events, both political and nonpolitical. That last one is a huge consideration: At Fox News, Kelly was a key part of the network’s debate team, as she, Chris Wallace and Bret Baier took turns hammering GOP candidates in primary debates. It was at just such an occasion — Aug. 6, 2015, at the first Republican primary debate — that Kelly asked Trump an astounding question about his treatment of women, setting a tone for the rest of the campaign.
The move away from nightly prime-time work was a priority for Kelly, who was tired of being away from her three young children and husband — novelist Douglas Brunt — in the evening hours. “I want to see my kids for dinner, I want to put them down at night, I want to see their soccer games after school,” said Kelly in an interview with this blog. In her memoir “Settle for More,” Kelly described the months of threats that followed her debate encounter with Trump; at one point, one of her children said, “I’m afraid of Donald Trump. He wants to hurt me.”
At Fox News, Kelly made her career by sticking it to people. When commentators at her own network made sexist remarks, she roasted them alive. When Newt Gingrich made a lame comment or two about Trump and the news media’s obsessions, Kelly turned him into mush. In like manner, she ripped Dick Cheney, Anthony Weiner and pretty much anyone who stuck up for Obamacare. Whether that style — so perfect for cable-news viewers looking for polemical beat-downs — will work on Kelly’s NBC News platforms is something she’ll have to prove. Her daytime gig, according to Rutenberg, is to be “a mix of news, interviews and panel-like discussions covering a range of issues, not only government and politics.” Recall that Fox Broadcasting aired a Kelly special in May that featured interviews with Trump and other newsmakers. Reviews of that performance were mixed, and that’s a charitable summation.
The Murdoch family, which runs Fox News’s parent company 21st Century Fox, tried hard to keep Kelly from leaving, including a reported offer of about $20 million per year. And Kelly credited Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch with greenlighting the very revealing passages of “Settle for More” detailing her alleged sexual harassment by Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News who was ousted this past summer following a sexual harassment suit from former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson. “I am very proud of the fact that I discussed this with Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch before I wrote this chapter in my book,” said Kelly. “We were all on the same page that this was an important chapter to include, and I am proud of them, that they feel as I do, which is sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
As important as Kelly’s work was on air at Fox News, she also made her impact felt internally at Fox News over the summer. After Carlson’s suit hit, Kelly spoke up as investigators with the prominent law firm Paul, Weiss began looking into Ailes’s history with women at the network. When Kelly found out that Ailes was trying to limit the personnel who’d give their input, Kelly pounced. “It was then that I realized I had a choice to make. I could sit back, let the process play out — limited though it might be — and keep my mouth shut,” she wrote in “Settle for More.” “Or, I could ensure that the owners of Fox News Channel — Rupert Murdoch and his sons — understood they might actually have a predator running their company, and that a full-throated review was necessary.”
Now comes all the jockeying, speculation and deliberation over who’ll replace Kelly in her key spot in the Fox News prime-time lineup. Following Ailes’s ouster, Fox News elevated company veterans Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy as co-presidents. In so doing, the network signaled that it would pursue a policy of continuity in programming, despite the wishes of some media types that the network pivot to some new and more wholesome approach to the news. The bosses reaffirmed an Ailesian commitment to tendentious conservative content when it hired Carlson to take over the slot that Greta Van Susteren previously occupied.
The result? Fabulous ratings.
Maybe Fox News will seek someone more like Kelly than Carlson to fill this void in the lineup. Maybe it will elevate someone from its daytime roundtable shows “Outnumbered” or “The Five.” Maybe it’ll conduct a nationwide talent search! Filling the slot won’t be a cinch, considering that Kelly is the second-most-watched host on cable news. Yet whatever Fox News decides, the new show will likely drub its competitors in cable news and launch a new round of celebratory Fox News press releases. Because Fox News is less a lineup of discrete programs and more a cable-news movement with a built-in audience that isn’t going away, no matter how many pundits whine about its old demographic. Plug in a new host at 9 p.m., flog the classic lineup of Fox News issues and watch the viewers tune in.
Fox News will survive the departure of Kelly, especially by its own definition of success.