Viewers of Today’s 9 am hour on Thursday could be forgiven for glancing at their calendars with confusion during the program’s opening moments. “Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the show. I’m Megyn Kelly. Happy Friday,” Kelly said into the camera. The mistake stemmed from the fact that Kelly, whose time at NBC is coming to an end, was not appearing live. The episode, pre-taped, ran as news of her imminent departure spread.
Kelly is reportedly negotiating her exit with NBC executives and will not be back on the network’s airwaves. Her comments on Tuesday about blackface Halloween costumes (“The costume police are cracking down,” “Back when I was a kid, that was okay”) may have hastened the breakup. But according to CNN’s Brian Stelter, discussions about dropping her from Today’s lineup predated the recent controversy. Kelly had been scheduled to appear as part of the network’s midterm elections coverage, though that also appears to be off the table.
In early 2017, when Andy Lack, the chairman of NBC News, hired Kelly away from Fox News, he praised her journalistic bonafides and promised her a broad platform to build her image. Kelly had burnished her reputation with tough questioning of Donald Trump during the presidential race, but her history of inflammatory comments on race—as well as her exorbitant 3-year, $69 million deal—raised doubts about whether the fit was right. A foray into an evening newsmagazine was met with criticism and low ratings, and her gaffes and failure to connect with audiences at Today, where she replaced Tamron Hall and Al Roker, two African-American hosts, has been a steadily simmering problem for NBC.
Kelly’s racial insensitivity makes it easy to saddle her with the blame for her flameout, but NBC executives deserve scrutiny for betting on her in the first place. Lack and others at the network knew of her past offenses—her insistence that Santa Claus and Jesus were white, her racist hyping of danger posed by the “New Black Panther Party,” her hand-waving dismissal of police brutality—before bringing her aboard.
With her departure from NBC imminent, one natural landing place for Kelly would appear to be her old home, Fox News. Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reports that Kelly has interest in returning. But would Fox take her back? The early indications don’t look promising. Lachlan Murdoch, the new CEO, is “extremely pleased with the current lineup,” Sherman writes.
Below, more on Kelly’s tenure at NBC.
- A long time coming: Kelly was rejected by her NBC colleagues long before this week’s controversy, reports Sarah Ellison of The Washington Post. “Inside the building, colleagues had grown envious of her large salary, exasperated by her on-air gaffes and disdainful of her low ratings,” Ellison writes.
- A messy divorce: Kelly’s career implosion is “ugly, dramatic, and inevitable,” writes The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove. Even by the standards of previous stars who had messy breakups with their networks, Grove writes, “the brutal collapse of Megyn Kelly’s NBC News career, after barely 18 months, is especially ugly—and embarrassingly public.”
- No surprises: USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers argues that no one should be surprised by Kelly’s racist comments on Tuesday. “Kelly had a long track record of racial demagoguery at Fox News before she ever set foot in the NBC studios,” Powers writes.
- Negotiations: John Koblin and Michael M. Grynbaum of The New York Times have the details on what comes next as Kelly’s newly-hired lawyer, Bryan Freedman, negotiates her exit package with NBC execs.
- Public criticism: CNN’s Brian Stelter looks at the very public criticism that Kelly faced from colleagues over the past week, highlighting statements by Lack, Craig Melvin, and Al Roker that seemed to make it clear the blackface comments would not be tolerated.
Other notable stories:
- The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan argues that it’s time to “get real” in coverage of the connection between President Trump’s incendiary language and the pipe bomb packages that have been sent to his frequent targets. “The Trump effect is a straight line from years of his hateful rhetoric to real-world danger,” she writes. “It’s a line that goes directly from disrespect to pipe bomb.”
- Apple News Editor in Chief Lauren Kern “has quietly become one of the most powerful figures in English-language media,” writes Jack Nicas of The New York Times. Apple, Nicas writes, is swimming against the Silicon Valley tide by employing human editors, rather that algorithms, to select the news it highlights for a massive audience.
- CJR’s Zainab Sultan looks at the impact of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder on Saudi journalists. “Reporters say that it’s always been challenging to write from inside—or even about—the kingdom, but Khashoggi’s death has globalized awareness of the risk,” Sultan writes.
- Conspiracy theories about the packages mailed to targets of Trump’s ire being a “false flag” operation spread from the fringes of the right wing internet to the Twitter account of Fox Business Network’s top host. The Times’s Kevin Roose examines the influence of this type of misinformation, writing: “Conspiratorial thinking has always been with us—the grassy knoll, the moon landing, the Freemasons. But it has been turbocharged in the Trump era, as cable news networks and pliant social media networks allow hastily assembled theories to spread to millions in an instant.”
- AT&T, which acquired Time Warner earlier this year making it the parent company of CNN, is donating $250,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Leaders may not like everything that is written about them—I know I don’t,” said AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson. “But journalists serve as an indispensable check on power. They do the hard and often unpopular work of shining a light on issues that matter, so that people are better equipped to make decisions for themselves.”
Finally, a quick note from me: This is my last morning writing “The Media Today.” When I started this newsletter, nearly two years ago, I couldn’t have imagined how much I would enjoy the early morning grind and the overwhelming response from readers. So, sincerely, thank you to everyone who reads and especially those who write in and share your criticisms, compliments, and other thoughts.
In a couple months, I’ll be uprooting to southern Africa, and I hope you’ll be seeing my byline popping up at CJR and elsewhere from there in 2019. In the meantime, I’m thrilled to tell you that my former colleague Jon Allsop will be taking over my duties here. (Mathew Ingram will continue his insightful weekly look at the impact of tech and social media on Wednesdays.) You probably know Jon’s byline from his time as a Delacorte Fellow at CJR. I’m excited to see what he does with “The Media Today.” Hit him up with your tips, suggestions, and grammar complaints at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Jon_Allsop.