Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

Does Megyn Kelly really deserve this vitriol?

FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2016 file photo, Moderator Megyn Kelly waits for the start of the Republican presidential primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa.
Associated Press/Chris Carlson
Megyn Kelly before the Republican presidential primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 28, 2016.

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

Quoting William Faulkner may seem overly dramatic when the issue of the day involves Jane Fonda’s latest face lift. But add Megyn Kelly to the equation, and the blow-up that follows has little to do with Fonda’s nips and tucks.

It’s all about Kelly’s history as a Fox News host. Liberals won’t forgive her for it. And TV’s liberal mean girls are especially mean as Kelly struggles to find a formula that works at her new home at NBC.

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The latest Kelly controversy links back to an awkward segment that occurred during the premiere week of her show, when she told Fonda she looked “amazing” and went on to say: “I read that you said you felt you’re not proud to admit that you’ve had work done. Why not?”

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“We really want to talk about that now?” responded Fonda, skewering Kelly with a glare that went viral. The actress, who was on the show with Robert Redford to promote a movie romance about an older couple, has been bashing Kelly ever since.

It wasn’t Kelly’s most gracefully posed query. But it broached a subject that Fonda, a hard-to-believe 80, has taken up with other interviewers. On Monday, Kelly directly addressed what she called Fonda’s “poor me routine.” She played clips of the actress discussing her cosmetic surgery and noted that Fonda had come on her show to pitch “a film about aging.”

Then, setting herself up for the backlash to come, she reminded viewers about Fonda’s controversial activism during the Vietnam War: “Many of our veterans still call her ‘Hanoi Jane,’ thanks to her radio broadcasts, which attempted to shame American troops,” said Kelly. “She posed on an antiaircraft gun used to shoot down our American pilots. She called our POWs hypocrites and liars and referred to their torture as understandable. Even she had to apologize years later for that gun picture, but not for the rest of it.”

Kelly ended the segment by saying, “The moral indignation is a little much. She put her plastic surgery out there. She said she wanted to discuss the plight of older women in America. And honestly, she has no business lecturing anyone on what qualifies as offensive.”

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The women on ABC’s “The View” came right back at her. Dragging the Vietnam War “into a plastic surgery conversation is a real stretch, Megyn, OK?” said co-host Joy Behar, who added, “Also, why are people more angry with Jane Fonda . . . than they are with Nixon or LBJ? . . . It amazes me how you can focus on Jane Fonda.” Behar ultimately went nuclear, saying: “Jane should have just said to her: ‘And how much work have you had, bitch?’ ”

Ann Curry, who participated in the segment, complained that what Kelly did isn’t journalism, as if any late-morning TV show fits that bill. Cohost Whoopi Goldberg ended by comparing Fonda’s antiwar activities to a controversial segment from Kelly’s time at Fox News: “You know, Megyn, if I can forgive you for telling all my friends’ black children that Santa is only white, you can step back because you made a mistake . . . We all make mistakes.”

Given Kelly’s $18 million salary, there’s no need to feel sorry for her. If the gamble of leaving Fox for NBC is a career-ender, she will never have to worry about paying her bills. But the hostility toward her seems out of proportion to her alleged crime, and rooted in selective memory. Kelly’s “white Santa” insistence was not her finest moment. But she also used her platform at Fox to take on then-candidate Donald Trump at the first Republican presidential debate, when she led off by reminding him, “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” That’s broadcast history worth remembering. Trump’s attacks on Kelly are worth remembering, too: “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

Meanwhile, if Kelly’s past isn’t dead, neither is Fonda’s. It’s all fair game, from glamorous antiwar zealot to wrinkle-free octogenarian.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.