Erik Wemple is a media critic in the Opinions section of the Washington Post.
In her memoir “Settle for More,” Fox News megastar Megyn Kelly introduces us to a number of compelling characters: her father, a wise and intellectual presence who dies just before Christmas and just after having a fight with 15-year-old Megyn; Roger Ailes, the longtime boss of Fox News, who gets ousted over a sexual harassment scandal but who also promotes Kelly during her maternity leave; Major Garrett, the veteran Beltway journalist who urges Kelly to get the heck out of a one-on-one encounter with a U.S. senator in his “hideaway” office — “GET OUT NOW. CODE RED,” Garrett warns.
Another, more powerful character takes shape through the words of Kelly’s young daughter, Yardley. “I’m afraid of Donald Trump. He wants to hurt me,” says the little girl. After Kelly protests, Yardley replies, “Well, he wants to hurt you, so he wants to hurt me too.”
Perceptive child. In one of the many plot lines of campaign 2016, GOP candidate — and now president-elect — Donald Trump harassed, insulted and belittled Kelly, usually via Twitter. “Lightweight,” “bimbo,” “average in so many ways” were among the put-downs — all of which Trump’s followers interpreted as license to say much, much worse. “Every time he tweeted about me, it was like he flipped a switch, instantly causing a flood of intense nastiness,” writes Kelly, who then goes on to provide highlights. “F--- off you sl--, I will beat you up so bad I will force you to support trump you sl--,” reads one of the many. Death threats and security guards became part of Kelly’s life.
The Trump Kelly exposes in more than 300 pages in “Settle for More” is familiar to the body politic after a year and a half of rallies and Sean Hannity interviews. He’s abusive and nonsensical. Yet the scourge of Trump acquires additional potency through Kelly, a loving mother of three who struggles to build a wall between the menace of her professional life and the happiness of home life, which is anchored by her novelist husband, Douglas Brunt. It all comes with a twist of media irony, because this is a story told by a Fox News stalwart, though it didn’t air — and perhaps couldn’t have aired — on Fox News itself.
The reigning tension in these pages comes from Trump and his obsession with Kelly. Several months before he launched his presidential candidacy, Kelly writes, “he began calling me and sending me personal notes.” One of them detailed his “high speaking fees. I thought, Why is he telling me this?” she writes. Other wooing overtures included an attempt to pay for a “weekend vacation” for Kelly and friends at a Trump accommodation, and an invitation to Kelly and her husband at Mar-a-Lago. No, thank you, Kelly replied.
Upset about Kelly airing an unflattering segment related to his long-ago divorce from Ivana Trump, the mogul berates her in a phone call: “That story never should have been on your show. O’Reilly didn’t put it on his show,” said Trump, referring to the Trump propaganda hour, “The O’Reilly Factor.” After some more tense chatter, Kelly informs Trump that he doesn’t control “The Kelly File.” “That’s IT. You’re a disgrace! You should be ashamed of yourself!” It was in that conversation that Trump unfurled a baleful threat: “Oh, I almost unleashed my beautiful Twitter account against you, and I still may.”
Precious bonus detail: When Kelly visits Trump Tower to broker peace, Trump tells her that he’s “proud of you in a certain way.”
The twisted behavior of our president-elect wouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been reading his biography in outlets such as the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, BuzzFeed and many others. Via strong, on-the-record reporting, these vital media organs have laid out Trump’s long-running misogyny, insistence on utter control and core incoherency — among many other faults and disturbing patterns. But as the country learned, such revelations failed to deter, and indeed may have galvanized, Trump’s followers.
Kelly comes at the narrative from a more efficacious angle. She works at Fox News, home to some of the media’s most fervid and shameless Trump partisans, including O’Reilly, Hannity and the three-strong crew on the morning program “Fox & Friends.” In an Election Day interview, one of the hosts of that program told Trump, “So many of your voters are watching and watch Fox.” All of which is to say that Kelly has built a franchise that can move Trump World.
“Settle for More” comes out Tuesday, as if planned precisely to skip the election of the most powerful person in the free world. (The Post obtained an early copy of the book.) Back in May, Kelly announced: “In addition to ‘The Kelly File,’ I’ve been working on a project: a book, which I’m unveiling right now. It’s called ‘Settle for More.’ ” She went on: “For the first time, I’ll speak openly about my year with Donald Trump. You can preorder it now wherever books are sold.”
There are times when Kelly all but smacks the reader in the face with her scoop-preservation strategy: “This is actually one of the untold stories of the 2016 campaign: I was not the only journalist to whom Trump offered gifts clearly meant to shape coverage.”
Surely Kelly had her reasons for punting the story beyond the election. The threats against her were serious, and so were her efforts to counter them. And as Kelly made clear in a May interview with Trump for the Fox Broadcasting Company, she doesn’t like becoming the story. Even so, journalists present stories when they’re relevant.
A case in point comes in the last chapter of “Settle for More,” in which Kelly cranks through her central role in Ailes’s string of alleged sexual harassment episodes (he has denied them). Fox News hasn’t released details of the internal investigation that forced Ailes’s departure, and on this front Kelly fills in a number of holes. In a meeting at Ailes’s office in January 2006, the boss tried to grab Kelly and kiss her on the lips. As she wiggled free and made her way to the door, Ailes asked what she termed an “ominous” question: “When is your contract up?”
A decade later, former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes for his boorish behavior toward her. Kelly lent her voice to the resulting investigation, with helpful results: At least one ass-grabbing, paranoid septuagenarian is now out of a job.
By Megyn Kelly
Harper. 340 pp. $29.99