So the former Fox News and NBC host decided to call Reade last week and ask her herself. A conversation grew from it. A relationship formed. And though Kelly says she hadn’t planned on it, an interview did, too.
On Friday, Kelly presented the result — an on-camera, in-person interview with the woman who claims Biden sexually assaulted her when she was an aide in his Senate office in 1993. The 42-minute video is a concise encapsulation of Reade’s specific claims against Biden, her background, and her reaction to the backlash that has swirled around her since she first came forward in a podcast interview a month ago.
Yet instead of airing on one of the many networks that sought to interview Reade in the days since Biden vehemently denied her claims on television, the sit-down debuted on an oddly low-profile venue — Kelly’s YouTube channel, her primary platform since her most recent television job ended 18 months ago.
Reade was set to speak to Chris Wallace of Fox News last weekend, but canceled, citing unspecified concerns about her safety after Biden’s May 1 appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” She also canceled on CNN’s Don Lemon at the same time. CBS, MSNBC and NBC pitched Reade, with no luck.
Reade’s attorney, Douglas Wigdor, said Reade chose Kelly because she had a “comfort level” with her and the producer Kelly hired, Rich McHugh, formerly with NBC News.
Reade’s story has taken a circuitous path through the media, in part because her public accusations against the former vice president have evolved.
Last year, she was one of several women who told reporters that Biden had made them uncomfortable with his physical closeness; Reade described the then-senator once putting his hand on her neck during a meeting but did not suggest that he had made a sexual advance.
But in the podcast interview in March, she said that Biden pinned her against a wall in a Senate corridor and groped her under her skirt, an allegation she repeated to Kelly. She later gave interviews about this accusation to The Washington Post and the New York Times, among other outlets. (She also made one previous on-camera appearance, in a March video-conferenced interview with Rising, a YouTube show produced by the Hill newspaper, days after she first went public with her claims.)
Biden has strenuously denied her accusation, first via statements from his campaign and then last week in the interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Kelly said it was during a conversation with Reade last week that Reade suggested Kelly interview her. “I think she thought I was the perfect person for this. She knew I would ask tough questions and, as she put it, that I am ‘trauma-informed.’ She knew my [background] and knew that I have often found myself in the crosshairs of powerful men.”
Indeed, at Fox News, Kelly rose to stardom during the reign of Roger Ailes, and later alleged that Ailes had harassed her early in her TV career. She was part of an uprising by women at the network that ended Ailes’s career in 2016 (an episode portrayed in the movie “Bombshell,” with Charlize Theron playing Kelly in an Oscar-nominated role). Kelly also famously challenged candidate Donald Trump during the first Republican primary debate in 2015 about his misogynist comments, which elicited a hostile backlash and more abuse from Trump.
Kelly also said that Reade “seemed to be having difficulty getting her story out,” especially on television. But she said that began to change last week after McHugh added some important elements to the story, reporting in Business Insider that two friends said Reade disclosed details about the alleged assault to them a few years later. One of the women, Lynda LaCasse, who was Reade’s next-door neighbor at the time, said she remains a Biden supporter.
Kelly agreed to question her, and flew from Montana, where she has been staying since the coronavirus pandemic began, to Northern California to conduct the interview on Wednesday in a hotel suite. She declined to disclose the exact location, citing concerns for Reade’s safety.
As it happens, Kelly and Reade also have an attorney in common: Wigdor, who just started representing Reade and previously represented Kelly in her dealings with former employer NBC. Kelly and Wigdor, however, said there was otherwise no connection between Wigdor and the interview. (Wigdor was a Trump donor and supporter in 2016, though he has also represented many of the female Fox employees alleging sexual harassment by Trump allies Ailes and Bill O’Reilly.)
Kelly maintained that she did not land the interview with promises of going soft on Reade. “I’m not one of those people who ‘believe all women.’ I’m a lawyer at heart. I like due process, and I want to hear all the facts. . . . I hate partisanship. I know people will laugh at that because I worked at Fox for 13 years, but I do. I’m on the side of the truth.”
To help her produce the Reade interview, Kelly hired McHugh, a highly regarded news producer who has previously reported on Reade’s allegations.
McHugh and Kelly both had stormy departures from NBC. On her short-lived morning show, Kelly alienated some colleagues by spotlighting sexual misconduct allegations against anchors Matt Lauer and Tom Brokaw and for calling for an independent investigation of the network’s decision to spike its reporting about Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer convicted in February of assault and rape. Ultimately, her show was canceled in late 2018 because of low ratings and amid a mini-controversy over Kelly’s tone-deaf comments about wearing blackface, and NBC bought out her reported $23 million-per-year contract early last year.
McHugh, the producer of Ronan Farrow’s investigation of Weinstein at NBC, left the network along with Farrow after a dispute over their reporting with NBC News President Noah Oppenheim in 2017, prompting Farrow to publish it in the New Yorker, winning the Pulitzer Prize and helping to spark the #MeToo movement. Both Kelly and McHugh have reportedly cooperated in an investigation of alleged sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation at NBC News by the New York attorney general’s office.
In an interview, McHugh said Reade “was looking for someone who brings an understanding of sexual harassment and is empathetic to sexual assault victims,” and felt comfortable with Kelly.
Kelly said she takes “no position” on Reade’s accusations. “I’m 100 percent nonpartisan about this,” she said. “I really don’t want to take a position on it.”
Kelly said she intends to make clips of the interview available to the networks she beat to get it. “What makes me happy,” she said, “is that I don’t need corporate overlords standing over me to report the news.”
11:10 p.m: This story has been updated to note that Reade’s one previous on-camera interview in March with Rising.
Staff writer Elahe Izadi contributed to this story.