On her program Tuesday morning, NBC News’s Megyn Kelly expressed confusion as to why the use of blackface in Halloween costumes is offensive. That was bad: Blackface has a hateful history in minstrel shows, wherein white folks posed as African Americans for the purpose of humiliating and insulting them. Upon sizing up the backlash, Kelly issued an email apology to her co-workers. That was good. The apology included this comment: “I’ve never been a ‘pc’ kind of person — but I understand that we do need to be more sensitive in this day and age.” That was bad. As the Erik Wemple Blog wrote on Tuesday, the invocation of “pc” — “politically correct,” of course — minimizes the horror of blackface by invoking tropes about hypersensitive progressives.

Genuinely contrite, Kelly apologized again on Wednesday morning to her audience. “I want to begin with two words: I’m sorry,” she said in opening the program. She later added: “I was wrong. … I learned that given the history of blackface being used in awful ways by racists in this country, it is not okay for that to be part of any costume, Halloween or otherwise.” That’s some pretty good apologizing, especially by the basement-drain standards of modern American discourse.

Yet a stubborn Kelly couldn’t resist the inclination to undermine her own message. The PC angle, again, thrust itself into the mea culpa: “I have never been a PC kind of person but I do understand the value in being sensitive to our history, particularly on race and ethnicity,” said Kelly. Please stop mixing slights against PC culture in with apologies for not knowing the history of blackface. The latter is a core component of American racism going back centuries; the former, a more modern term made controversial by partisan warfare. The two don’t belong in the same apology, the same segment, the same program. To quote the National Museum of African American History & Culture: “The influence of minstrelsy and racial stereotyping on American society cannot be overstated.”

AD
AD

To slam home the lessons, Kelly moderated a discussion on race with Roland Martin and Amy Holmes. “There are lines, and there’s history, and there’s pain. And when we acknowledge that, then we can learn and grow from it,” said Martin.

Very well. When NBC News executives hired Kelly away from Fox News, perhaps they didn’t imagine that she’d carry with her the racial provocations that she unfurled on the No. 1 cable news network. As Jamelle Bouie wrote in Slate at the time of her transition, “This demagoguery does not form the totality of Kelly’s output, but it’s a critical part we can’t ignore. It is misleading to discuss Kelly’s work and future without grappling with her willingness, and occasional eagerness, to spread racist conspiracies and racial fictions.” Just to review: Among other slights, Kelly belabored voter-intimidation charges against members of the New Black Panther Party, and she averred that Jesus and Santa were white, just to reassure her viewers. In introducing the offending segment on Tuesday morning, Kelly borrowed generously from the Fox News programming ethic: “This year the costume police are cracking down like never before.”

Where does NBC News brass stand on all of this? Just look at the programming. Tuesday night’s “NBC Nightly News” devoted two minutes to the in-house embarrassment; the “Today” show on Wednesday morning devoted more than four minutes to the matter. “It is uncomfortable, obviously, because Megyn is a colleague at NBC News,” said Savannah Guthrie on “Today.” Al Roker emphasized that Kelly needed to expand upon her email apology. Craig Melvin chimed in to say that it was “silly” to call this event “political correctness run amok,” as some had alleged online.

The network’s extensive self-coverage could be an admirable assertion of journalistic transparency. Or it could be the function of regret in the hallways over hiring her for a reported $23 million a year for shaky ratings. Or it could be both.

AD
AD