The brightest star at Fox News, Megyn Kelly is a newly minted role model for women who sees her gender as irrelevant, and a conservative champion who transcends politics with her skillful skewering of windbags of both parties, most notably Donald Trump. Evgenia Peretz gets to know the woman behind the contradictions.
It’s 8:50 P.M. at the Kelly File studio. The crew dudes finish shining her glass desk, through which viewers can see her shapely legs. Two makeup women, armed with blow-dryer and hair spray, put the finishing touches on her glistening tresses. And Megyn Kelly, Fox News’s breakout prime-time star, girded in a snug black dress and four-inch strappy heels, is champing at the bit to make another presidential contender—this time Jeb Bush—squirm in his seat.
“If it’s fair to question Mrs. Clinton for failures leading up to [Benghazi],” she says, looking into the camera at her 2.7 million viewers, “why is it unfair to question Jeb about his brother’s failures leading up to September 11, 2001,” as Donald Trump had just done. She turns the question to Jeb, speaking via satellite video hookup. “Is it a double standard?”
“Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” replies Bush.
She points out that Jeb’s in fifth place in the polls, and she wants to know, “What would it take to make you get out [of the race]?” Bush, looking as if he were wearing a scratchy, too tight suit, replies that he’s going nowhere.
In the face of Donald Trump’s taunts, what’s his plan? “To me,” says Kelly, “it seems like you don’t know what to do. You’re like, ‘How am I supposed to respond to this?’ ”
He smiles forcibly and tries for a joke. “We’re in the same boat, Megyn,” he says, referring to Trump’s recent attacks on Kelly.
She beams appreciatively but refuses the bait. “Well, but I’m not running for president.”
The moment the interview is over, Bush bolts from his chair, grim and grouchy. The control room, alight with numerous monitors, is buzzing with excitement. “He’s not happy. I didn’t even get to thank him,” says a young associate.
“You can tell he’s on edge,” calls out another. “All through the interview, fake smile, fake smile. Soon as it’s done, no smile.”
Unnerving would-be leaders, blowhards, and didacts from both parties has become Kelly’s specialty, as the world learned in August. The first television journalist to call Trump out face-to-face on his obnoxiousness, she kicked off the first Republican debate by calmly cataloguing Trump’s sexism in a single question. To recall: “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals…. 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, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton … that you are part of the war on women?” Trump tried to laugh it off mid-question, saying that those insults were directed only at Rosie O’Donnell, but Kelly wouldn’t let him off. He then complained, “Honestly, Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be based on the way you’ve treated me.” The following night, he suggested to Fox News’s rival network CNN that the reason she was so hostile was that she was probably menstruating: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” When that didn’t rattle her, Trump lashed out on Twitter, calling her a “lightweight,” re-tweeting that she was a “bimbo,” and stoking his supporters to boycott her show. Kelly took the high road and said on-air that she had no reason to apologize to Trump, and that she would “continue doing my job without fear or favor.”
Kelly’s Trump episode was one in a string of satisfying male-ego deflations that have helped her surpass cable’s biggest news star, Bill O’Reilly, in the key demographic of 25–54. Her occasional, yet highly entertaining, bucking of the conservative party line has attracted more independent-minded viewers and has even earned praise from liberals such as Chris Matthews, Joy Behar, and Gayle King. As of late, passersby have been calling out versions of “It’s not too late to come to the other side!” Still, some media types warn against getting too excited over Kelly. As Bill Maher put it, “We think of Megyn Kelly as the sane one over there at Fox News. It’s just because she’s surrounded by Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. She’s like the blonde dragon girl on Game of Thrones. Everyone else is a zombie or a dwarf or f**king their sister, so she looks normal.”
Whatever the case, Kelly has become a feminist icon of sorts—the sort who won’t actually call herself a feminist. Perhaps this is because Kelly works at Fox News, where “feminists” are in the same scary category as “liberals” who wage war on Christmas each year. Perhaps, as she claims, it’s because her accomplishments speak for themselves and have nothing to do with her gender.
SOURCE: Vanity Fair