Over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, Megyn Kelly has been called a few choice names by Donald Trump. A one-sided feud began last summer when the Fox News Channel host asked him a sharp debate question about his “temperament” and history of disparaging remarks about women. The next day, the real estate mogul groused in an interview that Kelly had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” He continued with a similar line of disparaging commentary for months.
Kelly’s tough queries and the verbal backlash from Team Trump had a dual effect on the cable news star: She drew violent and misogynistic threats from his fans, and she catapulted to a new level of fame.
Looking to quash the drama and, no doubt, score high television ratings along the way, Kelly recently invited Trump to sit down with her as part of a television special that will air Tuesday on Fox’s broadcast network. “Megyn Kelly Presents” will feature her one-on-one interview with the presumptive Republican nominee, along with conversations with three other newsmakers.
Over a Caesar salad lunch at a cafe on Manhattan’s West Side, she chatted about her upcoming show, the dark days that followed Trump’s put-downs and why she rejects the term “feminist.” This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Tell us about the morning last month when you went to Trump Towers to meet with Donald Trump. Were you going to see whether he would sit for an interview with you?
I had reached out to him to ask for a meeting. First he said “no,” then he said “yes.” I had proposed coming to him wherever he was. I didn’t think it needed to be on neutral ground. [So] I went over there. I woke up early and it was an unusual morning in that I felt somewhat anxious. I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t spoken with him in nine or 10 months. Certainly, I had seen what he had said about me on Twitter and elsewhere, but I don’t know if we can really refer to that as communication. [laughs] I didn’t know whether he would use the opportunity to try to embarrass me or make me feel uncomfortable. I anticipated it would go well because I didn’t think he would accept the meeting if he was angry and wanted to embarrass me.
Did he apologize?
He didn’t. Nor was an apology required or requested and, for the record, I did not apologize either. We probably both knew instinctually it was better not to go there on our first meeting. . . . I asked him for an interview. The entire year I understood that if he would sit with me we would get an enormous number, but it just never felt like the right moment to ask him because he stayed angry for so long, so I not only believed he would say “no,” I also believed that if he said “yes” it would not be a good exchange. I didn’t want to sit for some hand-to-hand combat. I was already in the midst of that with him — on his end, let me stress. On his end. Not on my end. I never responded to any of his attacks on me. We had finally gotten to the point in April where he had quieted down. . . . Anyway, the meeting went very well, and I walked out of there feeling hopeful that we could return to normalcy.
He agreed to sit for the interview.
Yes, and there were no restrictions on it.
You’ve teased the interview with a clip of you asking him whether he really stayed angry with you all those months, and he replies that he had great respect for you requesting the meeting with him. Aside from crazy high ratings, what were you hoping to elicit from the conversation with him?
Just to correct the record, the first thing he said when I asked whether the anger was real or if this was strategy was that he is a real person, and when he’s angry at somebody he doesn’t just turn around the next day and say, “Oh you’re my best friend.” So his answer I read as being: “It was real. I was angry.” And then, he turned the page and said, “But I had great respect for you reaching out to me.”
And that was fine. The nature of the relationship, as you know, between journalist and subject is one of pursuit. We get paid to call people up and ask them to sit with us, so it’s not like a romantic suitorship. We have to call up these people and seek time with them. . . . Some people have said, “How could you?” That’s my job. That’s what I get paid to do.
I really wanted to talk to him about temperament. I think if there is a theme for this interview it is going to be temperament. The policy discussions with Trump have been done to death and will be done to death again. I’m not worried about anybody accusing me of not asking Trump tough questions. I think I’ve proven I’m not afraid to do that, but this is a chance to go to a different place. To do more of an interview as opposed to a debate, to get to know Trump the man, to try to understand him a little better. And then we do get into what happened between the two of us over the past nine months.
I want to ask you about that — being made a player in the 2016 campaign by Trump’s feud with you. You were subject to vitriol from some Trump supporters who saw you as the enemy. You were also on the cover of Vanity Fair with a glowing article. What’s this last year been like for you, with his attacks boosting your profile?
Let me put it to you this way. If I could go back and undo all that followed that August 6th debate question, I would. I wouldn’t take back the debate question — ever, under any circumstances. I stand by that question 100 percent. For the record, it was a great question.
The good things that have happened to me as a result of the dust-up with Trump — sure, I suppose you could include the Vanity Fair cover in there, although I had been on magazine covers before Trump, and certainly I have received a lot of love from many people, which has really been uplifting and it has shored me up. But the truth is 85 percent of the experience has been quite dark and unpleasant.
And, look, I have done my level best to not make this story about me. I could have gone out there every time he attacked me and said something in response. I could have milked it for ratings on the “Kelly File” night after night. I could have talked about the security threats I was getting week in and week out. I chose not to do that. But that doesn’t change the reality of what happened.
So, no, you ask me now that I hope we’re past it, now that he’s secured the nomination, you ask me what has the year been like and the answer is: It’s been a difficult year.
During that debate last August, you never really got an answer to your question from Mr. Trump, on the issue of how he would answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that he was part of the war on women. Did you get the chance to get an answer from him?
He said what he has said many times since in this campaign, which is, “What I say is what I say, and if you don’t like it, too bad. And we’ve gotten too politically correct in this country.” I understand that. I am somebody who has railed publicly against the PC culture. But of course, as with anything, there are limits on how far we want to take that. Somebody can be speaking in a non-PC way and it feels like a breath of fresh air until it isn’t. That is one of the complexities of the Trump campaign.
Let’s talk about your television special. You made a name for yourself by hosting a news show in a way that really pressured guests, turned up the tension. Now you’re working with Bill Geddie, who has been Barbara Walters’s partner in many of her specials. How’s this going to be different?
In cable news, you have to get up and down in a segment very quickly. If you have four minutes, that’s a lot on the “Kelly File.” There’s no time for cocktails, as I say. You gotta get right to it. [claps hands] And if it’s a controversial subject . . . you’ve got to go right to the place that hurts. It’s my job, I have to.
In print journalism and long-form interviews like I’m doing for the special, it’s very different. You have a chance to establish a relationship. You have a chance to put your subject at ease. You have a chance to allow them to be introspective in their answers, which is a lovely change from the way I have to do it on my normal program.
One of your guests on the special is attorney Robert Shapiro.
“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” was a TV hit. You were in law school during the trial. That was such a divisive moment for the country — especially along racial lines. Where were you when the verdict came down, and what was your reaction?
He talks about that, how divisive racially it was and what he experienced on the trial team, and there was some of that even amongst the lawyers.
Trump was an interesting exchange for all the obvious reasons, but the Shapiro interview I was riveted to because I was learning new things about the trial of the century, a case I watched gavel-to-gavel while in law school. I was a third-year law student . . . in the student lounge 24/7. We would sit and we would argue amongst ourselves about what we were seeing — the rules of evidence and how bad Judge [Lance] Ito was. [Alan] Dershowitz swooped in and he was incredibly impressive. Marcia Clark was not. At the time I was hoping to become a criminal prosecutor, so I was looking at her thinking, “Could this be me? Could I do this?”
You don’t identify as a feminist or take on that label, but you’ve been pulled into some women-empowering events and hailed by some feminists following the sexist treatment you received. What has that been like for you to be embraced as a kind of banner woman in this way?
I am grateful for the support I have received, in particular from women. Never have I felt the sisterhood so much as I have over these past 10 months, and I have felt buoyed by it. But that word “feminist” is controversial. I think it’s a charged word because it connotes a social-issues platform that, as a journalist, I should not be associating myself with. Basically, it means that you’re pro-choice, and whether I am or I am not is none of anybody’s business. I certainly shouldn’t be taking a position on it as a news anchor.
One of the advantages of working at Fox News is you do have a fair bit of exposure to conservative guests, because we do put them on all the time. . . . So I understand completely how the pro-life women feel. So they may be feminists at heart if feminism stands for female empowerment and standing shoulder-to-shoulder to support each other when it comes to equal rights and equal voices, but you add that issue in and it’s just so divisive. . . .
You know I have been booed for rejecting the word feminism, which is ridiculous. Wouldn’t you rather live the life of a feminist and reject the word than say you’re a feminist and boo someone who is actually living it? That’s ridiculous.
Where did that happen?
[Stephen] Colbert. I almost stopped the interview and said, “Hey, stop that! That’s not how we get ahead.” It’s not the terminology that’s important.
I heard you’re working on a memoir. What’s the focus? If you had to give it a title or lay out the theme, what would you say ?
We are going to unveil the cover on the special.
So you’re done writing the book then?
Oh, I’m not done. This month could not be busier. It’s going to be marketed as a memoir and it is about my life, but it is also about my values, and I address the subject of feminism in there and expand on some of these feelings. The book will be in stores November 15th, and it is intentionally timed for after the election because I don’t want to do anything that would influence the election one way or another. It is the only place that I will speak openly and freely about what this last year has been like for me.