Megyn Kelly’s had a tough week. Donald Trump has been castigating her on Twitter and on television, calling her everything from overrated to unfair to not a bimbo.
During the O’Reilly Factor on Wednesday night, Kelly didn’t even get support from her colleague, Bill O’Reilly (whom she now sometimes surpasses in the ratings). Instead, he let his guest, Trump, insult her without being seriously challenged. And, as Gabriel Sherman reported for New York, she has been receiving threats from Trump fans still angry about her tough questioning of their candidate at the first GOP debate. (This isn’t even to mention Trump’s campaign manager, who reportedly threatened her as well.)
All of this is enough to make one feel sympathetic toward Kelly, who is a talented interviewer and impressive television personality. And of course no one deserves physical threats or misogynist attacks, both of which seem to be in the repertoire of a disturbingly high number of Trump supporters. But Megyn Kelly is no hero. Despite her reputation as being something approaching fair and balanced, as Willa Paskin noted in Slate, she is far from a liberal’s dream anchor. She may be less conservative than O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, and less obviously partisan, too. But her show, as much as any show on Fox, is powered by racial resentment and fearmongering. Indeed, if there is any irony to the attacks from Trump and his supporters, it lies in the fact that Kelly spends a good deal of her time riling up the same passions that Trump has.
Fox News has a well-deserved reputation for being partisan, but much of the red meat it feeds its viewers is not about politics. Instead, the diet consists of stories on cultural issues meant to enrage the base, whether they are about liberal college professors or the so-called War on Christmas. Kelly is an expert at playing this sort of culture warrior, but her particular subject is race. A good chunk of Kelly’s program consists of stories about urban protests, “black-on-white” crime, and all the scary problems facing white America. Her approach to the Black Lives Matter movement has been to call it “obviously beyond the bounds of decency,” and to instead present it as a danger to police. When protests in Baltimore became a national story, Kelly’s fearmongering reached new heights, with bold graphics and “deep concern” about the threat the protests represented to average (white) Americans. (One of Kelly’s guests was Mark Fuhrman, the notorious racist, who spouted a bunch of nonsense and was seconded by Kelly.) As Media Matters and others have extensively documented, Kelly’s racial record is disturbing, whether it was her condemnation of Sandra Bland for not following orders, or her obsession with overblown stories about black Americans supposedly trying to keep white Americans away from the voting polls. (I suppose this would be ironic if it were true.)
Occasionally this side of Kelly breaks through in non-Fox watching public consciousness. One example would be when she claimed that “Jesus was a white man.” She went on to say the same thing about Santa. And yet none of this seems to matter to Trump’s supporters, who view Kelly as just another member of the liberal media, intent on taking their man down. Their reaction to her is confusing and irrational, but one wonders if Kelly ever has second thoughts about the consequences of playing to people’s worst fears and beliefs.