Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly is not one to cower in the face of criticism, and this week she’s getting plenty. Much of it relates to her newly released book “Settle For More,” and two topics that are well-covered inside: Donald Trump and Roger Ailes.
The criticism is coming from all sides. She’s facing tough questioning about why she didn’t speak out on allegations that then-candidate Trump, his lawyers and his supporters bullied and threatened her for months during the presidential election, which she details in her memoir, and is being criticized by Fox News colleague and political commentator Bill O’Reilly for a chapter on alleged sexual harasser Ailes in the book.
Some reviewers of the book, which was under embargo until Nov. 15 when it was published, have questioned why Kelly didn’t share more explicit information about her own experience with Trump, as it may have been in the public’s interest while deciding who to vote for in the presidential election – a point ABC’s Today Show journalist Savannah Guthrie raised during a segment Wednesday morning featuring Kelly.
To this, Kelly said, “Trump kept making me the story, and I certainly didn’t want to keep adding fuel to that fire.” She added that no matter what she says in the book, it probably wouldn’t have stopped Trump. “If the Access Hollywood bus and the twelve female accusers coming forward, and all the other stuff didn’t bring him down, you think my book would? You’re deluding yourself.”
O’Reilly, well-known for his conservative style, has fired at Kelly with comments about her disloyalty to the network that made her a star. Earlier this year, Fox News and Ailes, the network’s founder and CEO ousted in July, were at the center of a sexual-harassment scandal. Kelly first spoke about the harassment charges in the summer, and in her memoir describes the unwanted sexual advances Ailes made toward her.
In her defense over the Ailes’ coverage in the book, Kelly said, “I thought it was an important story to include, and I’m proud to say that our bosses here at Fox,” the Murdochs, agreed. “Like me, they believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant.” She made these comments at the end of her show Tuesday while promoting her book.
My take? The critiques from those who question Kelly’s withholding of information may have some merit. While Kelly wanted to keep herself out of the Trump story (Journalism 101 – never insert yourself into a story), she walked a little too close to that line when she sat down in a one-on-one interview with Trump – heavily hyped by her network – to supposedly get to the bottom of their very public fight. But during that interview, she failed to ask him this tough question: Why did you come after me so viciously for nine months?
It’s a claim she’s repeated in interviews this week, referring to Trump “like a dog with a bone,” and calling 2016 her year of “guards and guns.” And once she inserted herself into the story, she should have asked him the hard question. If anyone – especially a candidate for president – had called me a bimbo, sicced his lawyers on me, and willfully intimidated me for nine months, that would have been my first question. The American public deserved that question, and Trump’s answer.
I am mindful that such vitriol and constant harassment surely must be overwhelming. And to be fair, executives and colleagues at Fox News did step in to intervene on Kelly’s behalf, to no avail. The harassment only stopped when Kelly took matters into her own hands, used her bully pulpit, and did the interview. She faced Trump head on, and he finally backed off.
As for O’Reilly’s criticism? Classic Bill. Sure, Kelly’s star did rise thanks to the network Ailes founded. But she does not owe that man any loyalty or clemency. Sadly, what Ailes is accused of happens all the time, and women’s voices are often silenced. No woman should ever have to put up with sexual harassment, and shining sunlight on the harassment is how best to disinfect it.
I’ll end with this. Kelly has rightfully earned her career, doing all the hard work necessary to become a high-profile and well-regarded journalist. Kelly is not perfect, but her missteps are infinitesimally small compared to those made by the two men – Trump and Ailes – against her.
Beth Bacheldor is a former journalist who worked at small daily newspapers and spent years covering business technology. Today she co-owns a content marketing agency based in North Carolina.