Kelly used her time on air to test her television muscles again on the cable network that made her famous. Simultaneously amused and outraged, she was far more at home on the prime-time Fox News show than she’d ever been as the host of the third hour of NBC’s “Today.”
In classic Kelly fashion, she has emerged in a moment of peak controversy for the television news business. She seemed to be back to address a variety of personal grievances and to correct the record about her departure — at least implicitly.
Kelly let Carlson say what she could not. Namely, that she was not forced out of NBC because of the company’s objection to her comments questioning why blackface was not an appropriate Halloween costume. Instead, Carlson argued she was forced out because she had reported too aggressively on NBC News’s decision to not air reporter Ronan Farrow’s investigation into Harvey Weinstein.
“Just this week, [NBC News] was busted covering up for Harvey Weinstein. Megyn saw all of it,” Carlson told Fox News viewers in his introduction.
Her appearance was a ratings hit and helped draw more than 4 million viewers, making it the No. 1 cable news show for the night, ahead of both Fox News’s “Hannity” and MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” The appearance came a day after the publication of Farrow’s book, “Catch and Kill,” an account of how Farrow says NBC News killed his investigation into Weinstein. It alleges that the network did so to cover up for the alleged sexual harassment and assault by former “Today” star Matt Lauer. (NBC News has repeatedly denied that it killed the investigation, and says Farrow’s piece did not have women on the record. Lauer denies he had encounters that were not consensual.) Farrow’s investigation eventually ran in the New Yorker magazine and won a Pulitzer Prize.
Farrow’s book provided Kelly a peg to talk about her short time at NBC News. It also gave Carlson and other Fox hosts an opportunity to strike a rival news network — NBC News — and critique “outrage culture” and the hypocrisy of mainstream media.
“As I watched the Ronan story unfold, the one thing I wanted to know is what did they know and when did they know it,” Kelly told Carlson, referring to Lauer’s firing at NBC and its relationship to Farrow’s Weinstein story.
Kelly, whose hour of “Today” struggled to find an audience, got some of her best ratings at NBC while telling stories of sexual harassment, including at her workplace. (She had previously alleged that she was sexually harassed by then-CEO of Fox News, Roger Ailes, who died in May 2017.)
“I had been reporting on the story even while I was at NBC. I talked to Ronan. I talked to his producer Rich McHugh, I talked to Rose McGowan. I talked to many Harvey Weinstein victims and accusers and was getting to the bottom of what NBC knew while I was there,” she added. “The question is what did they know about Matt Lauer prior to the time the woman came forward who was ultimately his downfall?”
Kelly's comments open old wounds from a year ago when she and NBC News parted ways in a messy negotiation that involved allegations of racism, sexual harassment and assault, and retaliation.
Kelly left NBC in January and does not have a noncompete agreement with the network, meaning she is free to join another network. She said that she used the past year to spend more time with her family.
In his interview, Carlson discussed how Kelly had previously called for an external investigation to look into her then-employer’s handling of the Harvey Weinstein story.
Carlson noted that MSNBC host Chris Hayes had earlier that week critiqued NBC’s handling of Farrow’s investigation. He asked her whether Hayes should worry about being fired.
“No comment on that,” Kelly responded with a smile. “I will say the question is open as to whether they put dollars ahead of decency. If they were more interested in protecting their star anchor than protecting the women of the company.”
She went on to call — again — for an outside investigation of the network. “They investigated themselves! That doesn’t work,” she said in her trademark staccato. “Fox News had an outside investigator. CBS News had an outside investigator. NPR, the NFL. This is how it’s done.”
NBC, unlike the forenamed institutions, did not hire an external law firm but instead used the well-regarded general counsel at NBCUniversal who was “more than qualified to spearhead” the investigation, said Hilary Smith, a spokeswoman for NBCUniversal. She added that the team conducting the investigation was outside the newsroom.
As for their knowledge of Lauer’s behavior, Smith said, “Matt Lauer was fired within 24 hours of the company learning what he did, and we launched a corporate investigation shortly thereafter.”
Farrow appeared two hours earlier on Fox News in an interview with Bret Baier.
He said in an interview with The Washington Post that his interactions with Kelly were limited at NBC and that “there’s no shying away from the reasons that were given for her departure,” referring to her blackface comments. But Farrow noted that “Megyn Kelly had begun pretty tough and incisive coverage of sexual harassment allegations at NBC, and she had gone on air and publicly called for an independent review not long before her firing. I did hear from multiple sources that those events were not unrelated.”
(The two did not cross paths in the Fox News green room: Farrow was in New York and appeared on air via satellite, while Kelly was in the District.)
“She told the truth,” said McHugh, who was Farrow’s producer for the duration of their Weinstein investigation at NBC. “She challenged NBC executives for stopping our investigation. And I admire her for it,” he added. McHugh recently wrote a corroborating account in Vanity Fair of NBC’s efforts to “stop” the Weinstein investigation.
NBC News chief Noah Oppenheim has aggressively attacked Farrow’s book, calling some of its allegations a “smear” and “conspiracy theory.”
Given the recent departure of Fox News's chief news anchor Shepard Smith, Kelly's appearance on Carlson's show caused many Fox News employees to speculate about her possible return to the network, according to half a dozen current and former Fox News staffers who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
Carlson’s booking of Kelly, which was a surprise to Fox News management, spurred the network to issue an unusual statement reassuring staff that there was no risk of Kelly returning to the network. “Megyn Kelly’s . . . appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight was coordinated weeks ago and is a one-time occurrence,” the statement read. “Any future programming changes we are considering do not involve her.”
In addition, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott spent the day speaking to Fox News personalities and their agents to further reassure them that Kelly was not coming back.
But that didn’t stop speculation.
“There is a very specific strategy that is planting very fertile seeds,” said one celebrity publicist who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of hurting business opportunities. “It means those seeds are going to grow into something.”
Kelly’s appearance on Fox News followed a series of news items about Kelly’s future.
Earlier this week, she told Page Six that people should not lose sight of “the forces for good in this story,” referring to Farrow’s book. She named Ann Curry, who says she warned executives about Lauer. She also cited Meredith Vieira, whose former assistant Brooke Nevils was the woman whose complaint about Lauer’s alleged assault prompted his firing. When Nevils told Vieira what had happened to her, she urged Nevils to report Lauer.
About the same time, the Hollywood Reporter released a story, citing “sources” who said that Shari Redstone, vice-chair of CBS and Viacom, had plans to launch a conservative streaming news network and had talked to Kelly and other former Fox personalities about possibly joining.
Sara Evans, a spokeswoman for Redstone, denied any intention of launching a conservative news channel or meeting with Kelly about such an idea. Viacom separately issued a denial: “Viacom has no intention of launching a TV news channel, conservative or otherwise.”
Carlson kept Kelly on his show for three full segments, bumping a pretaped interview with Dennis Rodman, because, he said, he and Kelly were having such a good conversation. The two spent some time criticizing the mainstream media in general and NBC News in particular for its handling of sexual assault allegations against Brett M. Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court nomination proceedings.
Carlson asked her whether she had learned anything in her year off the air. She quipped that she hadn’t learned much — she was like Woody Allen that way, a comment that, given the subject of the conversation, seemed like an odd choice.
But then Kelly paused and dove into a moment of sincerity. “What comes to mind is the goodness of humanity, the kindness of strangers,” Kelly said. “Just as awful as the media can be, actual humans are awesome and loving and kind and helpful.”
But her time among “actual humans” might be coming to a close, she said. It sounded a lot as if she was ready to get back to the world of the “awful” media. “I’ll probably get back out there,” she said.