Days After Condoning Wearing Blackface, Megyn Kelly Is Out At NBC
Just days after appearing to condone donning blackface in the style of a 19th Century minstrel show, Megyn Kelly is out at NBC News.
Just days after a conversation on her weekday morning show during which she made comments questioning why it would be wrong for children or adults to wear blackface on Halloween, Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News Channel host who left the network last year and signed a multi-million dollar contract with NBC, has seen her show come to a quick and ignominious end:
Megyn Kelly’s NBC morning show has ended. The network announced Friday that other “Today” show anchors will replace her in the 9 a.m. hour, bringing an end to “Megyn Kelly Today.” The cancellation follows months of the host’s missteps, awkward moments and a racially insensitive defense of blackface Halloween costumes.
Though the impetus for the end of her show was her comments about blackface, the seeds of its cancellation were planted months earlier. By August, nearing the one-year anniversary of the show, Kelly knew that “Megyn Kelly Today” wasn’t working, and she had started to make plans about her future. She had already had a conversation that summer with NBC News Chairman Andy Lack about the problems with the show.
Given that she could not move to MSNBC — she didn’t want to go there and the left-leaning MSNBC audience would not accept her — the options at NBC News were limited.
She consulted with advisers about how to deal with her differences with NBC, according to two people familiar with her discussions. It wasn’t long before Kelly was calling on the air for an external investigation into NBC News’s handling of Ronan Farrow’s reporting into Harvey Weinstein, a move that didn’t win her many friends inside the building.
Kelly, once a star at Fox News, had long nurtured ambitions of moving out of the conservative news bubble and into the top tier of mainstream broadcast personalities, with aspirations of becoming a mix of Oprah Winfrey and Charlie Rose.
She once said she wanted to “help people,” just as Oprah had. Her book title suggested she wanted to “settle for more.” She debuted her softer-edged NBC morning show “Megyn Kelly Today” by saying she was “kind of done with politics for now.”
But her rocky transition to morning news showed just how difficult it is to separate one’s identity from the Fox News brand.
The end of her show was announced in a tweet by NBC News. People close to the matter said Thursday that Kelly’s lawyers and NBC brass planned to meet today to hash out the details of their relationship. NBC lured Kelly from Fox News early last year with a three-year, $69 million contract.
Kelly’s future with NBC remains uncertain. “Megyn remains an employee of NBC News and discussions about next steps are continuing,” her attorney Bryan Freedman said in a statement.
She is not welcome back at her former home, Fox News, which she left on sour terms.
“We are extremely happy with our entire lineup,” said a Fox News spokesman. Kelly burned bridges at Fox after she publicly discussed sexual harassment she said she faced from the late Roger Ailes, the channel’s co-founder.
In some corners, Fox News insiders were enjoying a certain schadenfreude in Kelly’s NBC failure. Darla Shine, the wife of White House deputy chief of staff Bill Shine — a former Fox News executive, gleefully noted Kelly’s troubles by tweeting a story that noted Kelly was not appearing on her show for the rest of the week, along with the comment that: “This is what happens when you tilt the universe with lies @Megynkelly. . . . You helped perpetuate lies against those who helped you. Only the truth will set you free!”
Shine, whose husband was a longtime deputy to Ailes, had also lashed out at Kelly when she first said Ailes sexually harassed her.
It was in the casual banter segment of “Megyn Kelly Today” that she ran into trouble this week, when she asked her all-white panel of guests: “What is racist?”
“Truly, you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween or a black person who put on whiteface for Halloween,” she continued. “When I was a kid it was okay as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”
Understandably, Kelly’s comments led to many pushbacks, including one from Robert A, George, a member of the Editorial Board at the New York Daily News:
Sorry, Kelly is younger than this writer who grew up in the ’70s and experienced genre-breaking un-PC cultural moments involving Richard Pryor, “All in the Family” and early “Saturday Night Live” — when even the N-word got on broadcast television. Even then, blackface was generally verboten.
Regardless, even if that wasn’t the case, if Kelly wanted to go down that road, how did she not have one producer say, “Well, we’ve got a week before Halloween, let’s defer this topic until we have at least one person of color on the panel to share their thoughts, cool?” This is a classic white-bubble moment that no broadcast morning television show should let itself fall into. It’s the stupidity, stupid.
Yes, we are in shaky times where many social media cranks are are just waiting to be offended and pounce. Folks are ultra-cautious about saying something that might get them fired. Got it.
You know one way to help ameliorate that possibility? Get more voices at the table that allow a full and open discussion on the topic at hand. To put it in a “Hamilton” context, let more people into the room where it happens.
I didn’t comment on the ongoing controversy regarding Kelly’s remarks this week largely because, well, there were more important things to pay attention to, although I did address the comments on social media. As I said there, I’m just a few years older than Kelly, she’s 47 and I turned 50 a few months ago. She grew up in Illinois and upstate New York, I grew up in Central New Jersey. I can state clearly that it was not considered acceptable for someone to don blackface in the style of a post-Civil War minstrel show whether you were a child or an adult. Indeed, I can say with certainty that the only time I ever saw a white person wearing blackface was in an episode of All In The Family where Archie was reluctantly dragooned into doing so by his friends in his lodge. It was clear, though, that even Archie Bunker didn’t like doing it, and the act was mostly played to comic effect at his expense, and largely as a subplot for the episode where his Grandson Joey was born. As was the case with much of Archie Bunker’s views on race, the episode fit in with the show’s overall theme of debunking and countering racism and, as some have argued, did more to help race relations than make them worse. There was no condoning of wearing blackface in that episode, and quite honestly I never would have thought of doing so as part of a Halloween costume and I doubt that it would have been seen differently in the Albany, New York area at the time. The idea, as she suggested that it was considered socially acceptable during her lifetime in the area where she grew up is simply too absurd to be believed.
In this context, though, it’s worth noting that this wasn’t the first time that Kelly made comments that led to an uproar along racial lines. Five years ago when Kelly made comments on her Fox News Channel show that Santa Claus and Jesus Christ were both definitively white. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that Jesus Christ, to the extent he existed as a historical figure, could not have possibly been “white” as we define that term today given the racial and ethnic makeup of the Roman province of Judea at the time, the comment raised obvious objections from a racial point of view. As I said at the time, it seemed as if Kelly was engaging in the old Fox News trope of claiming that there was a “War On Christmas.” The difference is that Kelly chose to make it racial issue by asserting that the two main characters that symbolize the holiday were definitively white. Whether this was part of an effort to be controversial for the sake of controversy, or whether Kelly actually believed it was unclear at the time. Taken into context with her blackface comments, though, one has to wonder what exactly Kelly’s views on race are.
In any case, Kelly’s comments quickly led to an uproar on social media, in the broader media, and among many co-workers at NBC, something that caused her to issue a public apology. At the same time, though, she did not return to her show on Tuesday morning and stayed away for the rest of the week while her future at the network remained in doubt. It quickly became apparent, though, that Kelly’s most recent comments were only part of the problem that she faced in making the transition from Fox News Channel to a more traditional news network. Notwithstanding the fact that she had the reputation of being more of a hard-news host than an opinion journalist when she was at Fox, Kelly clearly did not fit in well with her NBC colleagues and the fact that her ratings were not justifying the salary she was being paid. This is especially true given the fact that this weekday show was actually Kelly’s second try at an NBC show. Her first, a Sunday night “hard news” show that was often either pre-empted by N.F.L. football or up against 60 Minutes on CBS, a battle that she predictably lost. The weekday show, which was really the third hour of the Today show, was the network’s second attempt to get the multi-million dollar investment pay off. Given the fact that her weekday ratings were consistently bad, it was likely that the network was looking for a reason to pull the plug, Kelly handed it to them on Monday.
As for Kelly, it’s unclear where she goes next. Technically, she’s still under contract at NBC but it’s clear that an exit agreement is being negotiated between her representatives and the network. That agreement will likely result in her getting millions of dollars in exchange for walking away from the remainder of her contract, but where she goes from there. Fox News Channel is apparently unwilling to take her back, and, for obvious reasons given the circumstances of her dismissal, it’s unlikely that any other network is going to be willing to hire her. Is this an appropriate punishment for saying something monumentally offensive and stupid? I’ll leave that for the reader to decide. As it stands, it was unlikely that Kelly was on the way out at NBC anyway, this just gave NBC the excuse they needed to get rid of her.
No honor among thieves or FOX personalities.
She isn’t being sent to prison, she isn’t being fined a nickel, she isn’t being spanked or sent to timeout in the corner. She was costing NBC money and they are giving her millions of dollars to just go away after she completely trashed what was left of her brand. If she invests wisely and lives modestly she might never have to work again.
I should be so punished.
Going from Fox News to anything legitimate is a nearly impossible leap. Like moving from acting in porn to a lead role on Broadway.
It’s worth noting that she has a history of saying these offensive and stupid things (particularly in relation to race) for a while. So this isn’t an isolated incident. Given her history it’s difficult to see any of the other channels (other than Fox wanting to hire her knowing that she will most like self inflict this harm in the future).
The best defense she has is that this type of content was normal at Fox.
That said I hope NBC gave her segment producer the boot as well. Someone should have stopped this before it want to air.
The show aired live as I understand it so I’m not sure they could have stopped it.
You can take the girl out of Fox News but you can’t take Fox News out of the girl…
You never saw Ted Danson in black face? How did you miss that?
Or Jimmy Kimmel?
As to this being an appropriate “punishment”, it’s the same deal as Kavanaugh. There’s no entitlement to a powerful or high paying job. They hired her to do a job. She was bad at it. End of story. Shame it won’t be possible to fire Kavanaugh when he turns out to be a bad judge.
I didn’t see her comments, but of course she has a solid history of questionable comments. So .
Of course the minstrel-style black face has a sordid, obviously racist past. But if the goal is equality, you don’t want to discourage white kids from looking up to Black Panther and banning them from dressing up as him for Halloween. I’d be damn careful about how and whether to darken anybody’s face to make it a closer representation, though.
@Doug Mataconis: True, it’s live, but the segments are planned and booked well in advance. I cannot believe that her staff didn’t know in advance that said discussion was going to happen.
@Resistance Ron: You forgot C. Thomas Howell in Soul Man, but you also apparently forgot all of those examples were controversial in their own time because blackface hasn’t been considered acceptable since the Vaudeville days.
That said, I don’t think Megyn Kelly deserved to lose her job over this. She wasn’t throwing bombs. She wasn’t being racist. She was just wrong. So what?
She didn’t. She lost her job over bad ratings. This blackface thing was just the trigger/excuse.
No. She was being casually racist. Whether from underlying racism, ignorance, a sense of white grievance, or remnants of FOX training, who cares.
It goes to a lack of capacity for empathy and absence of imagination (in many ways the same thing) which is core to the conservative personality. They simply cannot project themselves into another person’s life and see things from a different perspective. They lack the part of the brain capable of imagination.
As I’ve said many times before, there’s a reason there are so few conservative creatives. What is the single key mental ability you need to work in a creative business? Imagination. It only takes a very little to understand why blackface is offensive, and Kelly lacked even that. Blinded by the white.
There are people who grow up in the village and never ask themselves whether life might be better in the next village over the hill. Or whether there might just be something amazing over that hill, something worth climbing the hill to discover. Conservatives are the people who don’t have the capacity to see the ‘other’ as anything but a threat or as a lesser being. No imagination, no empathy.
@OzarkHillbilly: Seconding this. If I were a quarter as bad in my job as she was, I’d be unemployed.
Kelly had a second chance at NBC, and in the end (a) she didn’t earn her ridiculous salary, and (b) showed that she’s basically still in her heart a Fox News Blonde.
@Resistance Ron: You mean the Ted Danson incident that caused a large amount of backlash because everyone knew that blackface had a massively racist connotation?
That would be a good example that adult Megyn could have used to remind her of the problems with it.
(I don’t recall the Kimmel example).
And I am Doug’s age and have always known that blackface was an issue–so Megyn’ s “when I was a kid” bit struck me as false the second I heard it.
And another dismissal of doing anything about racism by JP, because while racism is bad, racist actions really shouldn’t be ameliorated or corrected, I guess.
The “so what?” is because of a) ratings coupled with b) her history, and c) the current moment.
NBC has decided that they don’t want to associate with her any longer. Surely you can see why that might be the case?
@Steven L. Taylor: For some, a thing is only a problem in need of rectifying if it affects them. Otherwise “move along folks, move along, there’s nothing to see here.”
@Steven L. Taylor:
Oh Steven, don’t you see that doing something about it is exactly the Social Justice Warrior ideology stuff that he hates.
BTW, welcome back Jenos. It’s great to see you’ve continued to hone your “complaining about being banned” and “whataboutism” skills.
Any white person not buying into progressive intersectionality these days is at risk of being called “casually racist.” It’s baked in.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Of course I see why that’s the case. Angry mobs threaten corporate profits.
You think there was some nobler principle at work here?
@James Pearce: We get it. You are Racist Skeptic GuyTM. No need for further conversation, because we are just a bunch of SJWs who can’t handle a little racists chit-chat and our views are all fake anyway.
Seriously, Rosa shouldn’t have cared whether she sat or nor, because after all, the bus was still going to take her home and who really wants to sit at the lunch counter anyway? There have to be really good reasons for all those poll closings and voter ID laws that have absolutely nothing to do with race or class.
@Steven L. Taylor:
If James knew the actual history of Rosa Parks, and that she and her compatriots spent quite a bit of time planning that protest, I’m pretty sure he’d declare her a Social Justice Warrior provocateur and suggest that the fact she intentionally staged the event points to the underlying weak argument.
I hope he never reads “A letter from a Birmingham Jail” as MLK Jr. pretty much tears his ilk apart in that essay.
@Steven L. Taylor: @mattbernius: You know who else said offensive things on TV?
Rosa Parks and MLK.
(Seriously, guys…Megyn Kelly said something stupid about offensive Halloween costumes. That doesn’t make you Rosa Parks for condemning her for it.)
Can you remind me which TV stations or networks MKL or Parks worked for?
Seriously there is absolutely no coherence in your arguments. I’m not even being critical here. I’m stating fact. This is all over the place. Because as far as I can tell, your argument is that networks shouldn’t require their employees not to say offensive things.
And that’s before we got to the fact it wasn’t about a Halloween costume. That’s the problem here James. That you have again twisted yourself in a knot to minimize the underlying racism of the commentary. As you over, and over, and over again.
BTW, it isn’t just Steven and I who have noticed it. It’s telling that multiple posters keep point this out about your chain of thought. And in every case you see the problem being with *us* not *you.*
I just assume Megyn Kelly’s childhood friends were a bunch of racists who dressed up in blackface all the time. So, of course she thought it was acceptable.
A few years ago in Seattle, at the Emerald City Comicon, a guy dressed up like Geordi Laforge from ST:TNG. He had the visor, the uniform, and had darkened his skin. He just loved Geordi. There he is, standing around with blue faced people and green people, and Klingons and the rest, and it was amazingly offensive to about half the people and he had done it utterly cluelessly. The Stranger had a fun write up of on their blog.
In a better world, without the history we have, it would have been fine.
Megyn Kelly’s statements were dumb, and clueless — but I am surprised that she handled them so poorly. People forgive clueless if you show some effort to get a clue.
Seems pretty coherent to me, but then again, I’m just trying to convey it, not make it look ridiculous.
I do not think this discussion should have cost Megyn Kelly her job. That discussion seems like it should be totally inbounds, and the only reason it wasn’t is because we’re in this completely toxic moment where if something can be misconstrued, it will be.
(In all honesty, I started turning away from intersectionality/social justice stuff about the time “offensive” Halloween costumes became a yearly topic of discussion. We can dress up as ghouls and goblins, murder victims and killers, but don’t dress up like a sexy nurse cuz that’s offensive. Get out of here, man….)
I honestly did not interpret her comment as condoning blackface; it seemed a simple statement of fact to me. I think she’s just your run-of-the-mill over-privileged white woman who is tone-deaf on such issues. I could be very wrong, though. Either way, as James wrote recently, the social media lynchings are overwhelmingly disproportionate and overreactive, and need to stop. I don’t think she should’ve been let go because of a dubiously ignorant comoment.
@Michael Reynolds: You underestimate the value and importance of being cute and blonde. Genetics pays off–big time–$69 million over 3 years in this case.
With that in mind, and noting that she’ll probably get at least half of the remaining year, her net worth, at about $30 million, and the contract settlement will keep her off the streets while she gears up for her next gig–print journalism at Conservative Treehouse or one of Michelle Malkin’s shops, maybe.
@Resistance Ron: Yeah. I remember Ted Danson being criticized for it, too. Don’t follow Kimmel, comes on too late. (I have a daytime life.)
WTF! Did I miss something? Was 30 Rock burned to the ground and I missed it? GAWD!
@Just nutha ignint cracker: Megyn Kelly is this week’s James Gunn.
Obviously, you come at this from a different perspective. And I’m thinking through what you wrote. While I get what you are saying, I can’t bring myself to agree.
As a run-of-the-mill over-privilaged white man, I also have come to think you get to the point where “enough is enough.” Kelley has had a long history of making these gaffs (see for example: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/10/25/megyn-kelly-nbc-blackface-racist-comments-white-supremacy-column/1760679002/ ). For example, long before this blackface thing there was the “Jesus was white, Santa was white” thing. Or that time she decided to refer to Michelle Obama as the president’s “Baby Mama.” And as Robert George pointed out, even if she legitimately wanted to have this conversation, why not have a single African-American on the panel?
In the grand scheme of things, is this relatively banal versus other forms of racism out there (in the media and beyond). Sure. But, at some point, “over-privileged” just isn’t an excuse anymore (especially considering that they replaced a number of commentators of color with her show). Frankly, it never should have been. We should expect more of people.
(All that said, NBC hold responsibility for hiring her in the first place — it’s not as if her pattern of this sort of accidental behavior was unknown. Likewise I still think the producer should have placed the breaks on this — or better programmed the panel — before this ever went to air.)
To me, no. To NBC, yeah. Maybe not “perfectly, but they’d have lived with it. I realize this may be news to you, but the MSM aren’t liberals, they’re capitalists.
Did you actually watch the segment, Doug? Because that’s emphatically not what she said/did, and I’m a bit surprised you would so badly mischaracterize her statements. She specifically limited her point to darkening your skin when dressing up as a particular character and referenced someone dressing as Diana Ross as an example. That’s not at all “in the style of a 19th century minstrel show”, which involved exaggerated and denigrating caricatures of black stereotypes. The shameful and obvious racism of minstrel show blackface may justify heightened sensitivity about any use of skin darkening makeup, but they are not equivalent. Racism is inherent to the blackface of the minstrel show – indeed, that’s the whole point of it – but not to the use of skin darkening makeup to better resemble a specific character you’re trying to portray. It’s deeply unfair, in my opinion, to elide that difference and claim Kelly was defending minstrelsy.
@Gustopher: Blackface is like watermelon. Is watermelon inherently racist? No. Does that mean it doesn’t say something about your character if you offer up your black guests a big plate of watermelon? Again, no. It can mean you are clueless (ala Ted Danson). Or it can mean you are the Fox News kind of racist who delights in taking offense about virtually everything but suddenly becomes oh so reasonable and logical in explaining why their use of racially offensive terms and visuals are all so innocent. There was a politician riding Trump’s coattails who sent out a post with fried chicken and watermelon photoshopped into a group of African Americans. When called out about it he was all faux Fox News innocent. “Everyone loves fried chicken and watermelon. I like fried chicken and watermelon. You SJWs see racism in everything.”
Megan Kelly came from Fox News. She had long ago evaporated any good will in the racism department. I suspect that this wasn’t planned out but that in the moment she fell back to her Fox News past and out came the sly reverse racist card. Does it mean she’s a racist? Possibly not. But coupled with her poor ratings, the lack of rapport with the people on the NBC shows who are black, and the negative balance she held in her “honest mistake” account, this was pretty inevitable.
BTW, I thought at the time it was pretty obvious why NBC hired Kelly. There was a general concern among networks that they were losing the type of people who followed Trump. Importantly, her transition was negotiated before Trump assumed office and immediately revealed himself to be a total disaster. Someone at NBC no doubt thought they had hit the trifecta: attractive blonde TV personality; cred with the Trumpers; and, because of her me-too moment, cred with liberals. On paper, ar least, it could have worked out.
The Richard Pryor Show (1977) NBC
Featuring Robin Williams first (?) TV appearance.
Tim (Venus Flytrap WKRP) Reid
Go to Hell, do not collect $200 go straight to Hell for laughing at this!
Probably not my place to step in, but are all of those Kelly gaffs examples of
a) unforgivable racism that must be suppressed
b) run-of-the-mill privileged tone-deafness?
This is a straw man. I don’t think anyone is making that claim.
It is simply a tone deaf statement and she has a history. As such, with low ratings to boot, it is hardly a surprise that she is being let go. Given her severance package, I don’t see a huge injustice here.
@James Pearce: And note, that Matt referred to all of this as “relatively banal versus other forms of racism out there.”
Looked at in isolation–I don’t find her comments all that offensive. Blackface has a very specific connotation which was not the context of the conversation. If a white women wants to dress up like diana ross…God Bless her–especially if she is equally as endowed. But like I told all my white coworkers who rushed me to find out my opinion on this Kelly firing–the minstrelsy flavor of Blackface infuriates me on sight. Anyone partaking, including black people in blackface, should punched in the face with extreme prejudice (pun intended).
Looked at as a whole, however, this is how Kelly makes a living. Saying things close to the line that she knows will piss liberals and black folks off. Its made her quite a bit of money of the years. She went to her standard bag of tricks one too many times and with an employer not so receptive. Im good with them wanting her off NBC–they probably could have waited for her to come up with something a little closer to prejudice or racism but she had it coming. She’ll survive.
I certainly do appreciate your comment and the position from which you present it. Although we see this from different prisms, our conclusions are the same: frustration with the antics of our individual … peoples, let’s say. It’s the “please, God, don’t let this fool be black” (white, in your case) plea.
From my perspective, I think we black folks employ a fake outrage at blackface, the use of the n-word, and other such minstrel antics. Further, we almost never make the distinction between individual, white supremacist racism, and the structural, systemic racism that truly impacts our lives. I mean, geezus, there’s a whole music genre submerged in the use of the n-word! And why was it okay for the Wayans brothers to “whiteface” in the movie “White Girls”, but we get exercised and outraged over Megan Kelly’s statement of fact? No, there’s a certain hypocrisy to our collective outrage over this.
The whole issue is too damned complex and complicated to tackle in a web post. And you’re correct: NBC knew who she was when they hired her, so, it’s pretty gat-dayumed hypocritical of them to fire her. I emphatically disagree with that move, as it only causes the true racists to entrench even further, and the fence sitters to totter to their side.
And let’s be real: Megan Kelly is overprivileged only because she benefits from the white patriarchy that erected America’s institutions that perpetuate this sh*t, anyway. You’re not overprivileged because you’re the systemic norm. That’s not criticism, just a statement of fact.
100% to everything you wrote.
@Steven L. Taylor:
She was fired and will never work in TV news again.
@James Pearce: Sigh.
No one said this was “unforgivable racism that must be suppressed” and to claim that they did, or even to infer it, is a strawman.
Can you see why discussing these things with you gets more than a bit frustrating?
@Steven L. Taylor:
Honestly? No, I can’t see that.
If Kelly’s comments were treated as “run of the mill privileged tone-deafness,” she would still be employed. “Unforgivable racism that must be suppressed” means you get fired and your career is over.
I think NBC had hoped that this former FOX Network host might widen the appeal of NBC to more conservative leaning viewers, but I don’t believe she ever became the draw hoped for, although her show and hosting ability were acceptably strong. Funny how a few ill-chosen words here ruined her career. That doesn’t seem fair to me. She is obviously no racist as The Supremes had many white fans and some artists like Dusty Springfield made their careers as a white admirer of black musical styles and soul music.