Success in network news is all about savvy brand-building, and as brands go, being identified as the woman who stood up to a bully who is now the president-elect of the United States is hard to beat.
Megyn Kelly now gets to cash in on that brand.
Kelly, anchor of “The Kelly File’’ on Fox News, announced Tuesday that she has landed a high-profile gig at NBC News. The announcement on her Facebook page came after a tumultuous year-and-a-half marked by a running feud with Donald Trump, who vilified her in sometimes uncouth terms — “Blood coming out of her wherever’’ — after she confronted him on live TV about his record of misogynistic remarks.
Kelly will soon be more visible than ever in her new, multifaceted position at NBC News. Kelly could occupy a unique space on the network news landscape, bringing buzz to NBC’s news operations in an era when broadcast networks strain for relevancy amid the wall-to-wall coverage of all-news cable networks. Her hiring may also earn NBC some favor among conservatives, who are frequently withering in their assessment of a network they see as riddled with liberal bias.
Kelly’s switch represents a rare instance of a Fox News star making the leap to the very kind of network news operation that Fox has used as an oppositional foil. Her ascent also underscores the shift in television toward anchors-with-attitude: i.e., on-air personalities who are news-opinion hybrids, such as Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews, who express strong opinions on their nightly shows on MSNBC while also co-anchoring the network’s election coverage with the more traditional anchor Brian Williams. (In an indication of her importance to the network, Kelly co-anchored Fox News’s election night coverage.)
The announcement represents a big loss for Fox News. According to the Washington Post, Fox reportedly offered her as much as $20 million to stay on — $5 million-a-year more over what she is making now.
In a Facebook post, Kelly said she will “be launching a new daytime show Monday through Friday, along with a Sunday evening news magazine program.’’ The Sunday-night program raises the possibility that NBC will use Kelly’s popularityto compete with CBS’s venerable juggernaut, “60 Minutes.’’ Her show on Fox News is one of the highest-rated programs on cable news; the TV Newser website reported last week that “The Kelly File’’ in 2016 “achieved its best year since launch,’’ climbing 18 percent in total viewers.
The Monday-Friday daytime show will reportedly be a news and discussion program, so Kelly’s show could potentially become a daytime destination for news-hungry viewers — that is, if NBC affiliates are willing to yield the time slots, often filled with syndicated shows. Kelly also said she will “participate in NBC’s breaking news coverage and its political and special events coverage.’’
For Kelly, who had to weather snide remarks from Fox News colleague Bill O’Reilly after she alleged that former network chief Roger Ailes had sexually harassed her — allegations that Ailes denied — it’s clearly time to leave the ideological hothouse of Fox News.
There was a period when Kelly seemed pretty comfortable in that hothouse. She appeared to be generally in sync with the conservative gestalt at Fox, though she was seldom as hardline as O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. But over the past few years, Kelly carved out an increasingly independent profile, highlighted on election night 2012.
When GOP strategist and Fox commentator Karl Rove insisted that Mitt Romney could still win Ohio, Kelly challenged Rove: “Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better, or is this real?’’
Later, when an agitated Rove urged Fox News to reverse its call that President Obama had won Ohio over Romney, Kelly walked down the hall, followed by cameras, to Fox’s “decision desk’’ and asked the head of the team whether he stood by his call. He said he did.
Kelly distinguished herself in anchoring the Fox presidential debates during this election season.
She confronted Trump in August 2015 while moderating a Republican primary debate, saying: “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.’’ She added: “Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?”
Trump wasted little time in firing back. “You could see there was blood coming of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever,’’ he said of Kelly the next day. He repeatedly insulted the anchor on Twitter, and his many followers on social media followed suit. Kelly stood her ground, saying “I certainly won’t apologize for doing good journalism.’’ Last May, however, Kelly drew criticism that she pulled her punches in an interview with Trump.
‘‘I really had to choose — am I going to be an honest journalist ... or am I going to suck up to Trump?’’ she told the Associated Press last year. ‘‘I chose the former, and it’s worked out fine for me.’’
Kelly has often polarized opinion, and the reaction to her NBC News appointment is likely to play out along similar lines. Some have praised her for her toughness and poise and what they see as her willingness to buck party lines. Others have called her overrated, arguing that she only looks independent when compared with the rest of the Fox team. And the soon-to-be occupant of the Oval Office? Chances are he’ll weigh in with an opinion on Kelly’s move, sooner or later.Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.