How Megyn Kelly Won

Tawni Bannister/The New York Times/Redux
Megyn Kelly, New York City, December 2016

As she prepared to go live on the final night of the Republican Convention in Cleveland, Megyn Kelly found herself at the center of two converging stories. That afternoon, Rupert Murdoch had announced to Fox News staff around the world that Roger Ailes, the network’s cofounder and CEO, was resigning over a sexual harassment scandal. Later in the evening, Donald Trump, who had spent much of the previous year insulting Kelly, would accept the Republican nomination for president. Ailes’s swift downfall, after two decades running Fox News, was in significant measure the result of Kelly’s own actions. Trump’s nomination was taking place in spite of them.

Murdoch had initially supported Ailes against the lawsuit that Gretchen Carlson had filed two weeks earlier. Carlson, a former Miss America, alleged that Ailes dropped her as a cohost of the breakfast program Fox & Friends because she spurned his sexual advances. It was Kelly’s demand for an independent inquiry, and what she told investigators at the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison—appointed by Murdoch’s sons Lachlan and James to make that inquiry—that ended Ailes’s reign. Kelly was under considerable pressure to defend her boss, or at least to keep the silence she had maintained for many years. Instead, she told the Paul, Weiss lawyers that Ailes had sexually harassed her too during her early years at the network. On the basis of that testimony, Murdoch withdrew his support from Ailes, and sent him packing with $40 million in severance. The network settled Carlson’s suit for a reported $20 million.

But if Ailes’s demise represented a victory for Kelly, Trump’s nomination, which he accepted that night with a blood-and-thunder speech, was a clear defeat. Fox News was the sponsor of the first Republican primary debate in August 2015. Kelly set the tone with a brutal but entirely warranted question about Trump’s long history of misogyny, citing his own remarks—such as his telling a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice that she would make a pretty picture on her knees—to back up her challenge. In demonstration of her point, Trump denigrated Kelly for months afterward, calling the poised corporate lawyer turned television journalist a “bimbo,” “crazy,” “over-rated,” and a “lightweight.” Most notoriously, he said on CNN that she had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

Unsuccessful in vetoing Kelly’s participation in the next Fox News–sponsored debate, Trump boycotted it in protest. His campaign of vilification provoked threats of violence against Kelly, which intensified when Michael Cohen, one of Trump’s top lieutenants, retweeted a message saying, “we can gut her.” Breitbart News mounted a vicious campaign demanding that Fox fire her. In her book, Kelly tells us she needed armed guards around the clock, even on a family vacation to Disney World.

The Ailes…

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