The immediate backdrop for this announcement is Tuesday morning, when Kelly supported the use of blackface in Halloween costumes, a position ignorant of the ploy’s racist history. She apologized while insisting that she wasn’t a “PC” kind of person — a petty caveat that undercut her otherwise convincing expressions of regret. NBC News jumped on the news of her racial blind spot, running repeated and extensive stories on one of their own. It was a frontal indication of just how irreconcilable relations between the morning host and her bosses had become.
In its coverage, NBC News expressed appropriate disdain for Kelly’s remarks about blackface, though it’s important not to accord excessive credit to the network. The revulsion would have been more convincing if Kelly’s show, for instance, had been scoring glorious ratings. Instead, it had unimpressive ratings. Another consideration is that Kelly rankled network executives by calling out internal #MeToo issues and even calling for an internal investigation into the way that NBC News let the Harvey Weinstein investigation — launched by Ronan Farrow within NBC News walls — slip away to the New Yorker.
Eleanor McManus, who appeared on Kelly’s show to discuss #MeToo issues, said, “Megyn made a mistake, and she apologized for it immediately. Rather than creating a teaching moment for everyone, NBC chose to shame her. Megyn has used her show to give a voice to women in the #MeToo movement, not fearing the consequences, even if those people were in her own backyard. She is one of the biggest advocates for women.”
Not to mention one of the best-paid advocates for women. Kelly left Fox News for NBC News with a considerable incentive in the form of a $69 million contract over three years. That would be nearly $900,000 per bi-weekly paycheck, before taxes, insurance and whatnot.
Next is priorities: How many top-tier investigative journalists could NBC News pay with $23 million a year? At $200,000 per year, it could afford 115 such journalists. With such a crew, perhaps the network wouldn’t have needed any investigation into a fumbled Weinstein story.
And finally, expectations. Yes, Kelly made a mistake. Yes, Kelly apologized. Among her viewers and critics on social media, there was disagreement on how much deference the apology had bought her. Some said a lot. Others said very little:
Whatever your take on the matter, $23 million per year is a pay level commensurate with day in, day out perfection — obviously an unattainable ideal. Just as Kelly’s blackface remarks constituted an embarrassment for NBC News, so did the obscene pay package awarded to a television host who had learned her news amid the propagandists at Fox News.