More magazine’s final issue in March showed a lovely — and quite serious — face with a memorable headline: “Lessons From America’s Most Beautiful Badass.”
The face belonged to Megyn Kelly, perhaps the hottest property in TV news and the host of Fox News’s “The Kelly File.”
Kelly hasn’t always lived up to her steel-spined reputation. Her much-touted special with Donald Trump in May was an exercise in mutual promotion that featured softball questions and cutesy laughs with the candidate and ended in a cringe-worthy preview of her soon-to-be-published book.
But Tuesday night, Kelly once again showed what she can do in her best moments. Her interview with former House speaker and current Trump ally Newt Gingrich offered a rarely seen mic-drop. They sparred, mesmerizingly, over the allegations of Trump’s sexual misconduct.
Gingrich tried to dismiss the topic — and dis the interviewer: “You are fascinated with sex, and you don’t care about public policy.”
Quite a claim — and Kelly wasn’t having it. Gingrich had conflated the violence of sexual assault with consensual sex. She fired back, citing polls that show that most women actually do care about the issue of sexual harassment. And, as Gingrich proceeded to repeatedly label former president Bill Clinton a “predator,” she asserted the obvious: Fox has given plenty of coverage to Clinton’s checkered past with women. (And let’s not forget that while the House speaker was championing Clinton’s impeachment, he was carrying on an adulterous affair with one of his staffers.)
Then Kelly, a lawyer, ended the interview on a startling note: “We’re going to leave it at that, and you can take your anger issues and spend some time working on them, Mr. Speaker.” Startled, Gingrich managed this much: “You, too.”
The interview immediately blew up on social media, with the general reaction being something as simple as “Wow.” (Trump’s own reaction on Wednesday was affirming: “We don’t play games, Newt, right?”)
Trump’s social media adviser, Dan Scavino, took the E-ZPass lane to the low road with a threatening tweet worthy of his boss: “Megyn Kelly made a total fool out of herself tonight — attacking Donald Trump. Watch what happens to her after this election is over.”
I’m not sure what that means — whether it was meant to evoke the need for a bodyguard or a defense lawyer — but I doubt that Kelly is losing sleep over it, any more than the New York Times is losing sleep over Trump’s recent threats to sue the paper.
There’s more than a whiff of desperation in that misguided silliness.
The Kelly-Gingrich dust-up made for riveting TV — and it was good to see her taking no prisoners — but it wasn’t Kelly’s top moment. That remains her stunning question to Trump in the first Republican primary debate last year.
“You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.’ Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?”
Trump’s immediate answer carried a hint of yet another threat: “I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me.”
And in fact, he shunned her show for many weeks afterward until a much-touted summit meeting at Trump Tower, which resulted in the aforementioned special in May.
Kelly is tough, talented and smart. She did the right thing when she told internal investigators that she, too, had been sexually harassed by her former boss Roger Ailes — a move that might have been the final blow for him at Fox, where he was fired in August.
She is also often occupied with burnishing her brand and enhancing her career, which includes the matter of the expiration of her Fox contract in 2017. Meanwhile, her autobiographical book, “Settle for More,” comes out next month and is expected to detail her feud with Trump and the toll it took.
Let’s not equate Kelly’s iron-fist-velvet-glove interviews — some interviews, that is — with journalistic idealism. Neither is it crusading feminism. There’s a hefty measure of calculated self-promotion in all of this.
But it serves a good purpose: Kelly, with her stratospheric profile, has provided a consistent voice for women’s issues during this campaign.
If that also helps her sell books and get a fatter contract, I’m all for it.
For more by Margaret Sullivan, visit wapo.st/sullivan