I can’t claim to know Megyn Kelly well. I was a guest on her old show at Fox a few times, and each time I found her to be polite, professional, and committed to ascertaining the truth. She is, in fact, among the best of the hosts I’ve had the privilege to work with.
So I was a bit sad to see her leave the world of hard news for the “softer” confines of daytime TV – but I understood why she did it. Few women in media endured a more brutal experience in 2016 than Kelly did. Donald Trump attacked her viciously, and his legions of fans piled on. At the same time, she took on her own network, stepping forward early – well before the avalanche of sexual-misconduct allegations sparked by the Harvey Weinstein scandal – to describe her own experiences of harassment at work.
None of it can have been easy, so Kelly made a change. Sadly, however, she stepped out of the frying pan of our dysfunctional politics into our polarized cultural fire. In spite of her new role, as a more sunny, upbeat daytime host who’s intentionally shunning politics, the leaders of the entertainment left have been unforgiving. Talk of celebrity boycotts has followed a series of mocking reviews, and a few awkward moments in interviews – most notably with Jane Fonda and the cast of Will and Grace – have been blown up into the kind of Twitter feeding frenzy that defines modern American call-out culture.
Why all the malice? After all, it’s not unusual for new shows to have growing pains and awkward moments. Some never find their footing, yet normally, when strong women speak “truth to power,” the cultural Left is eager to embrace them, to give them the benefit of the doubt. But not here. The reason is clear. Megyn Kelly wears the Scarlet F. She came from Fox News. Here’s a key portion of Variety’s report that celebrity publicists are “bailing” on Kelly:
In launching a talk show, Kelly faces a challenge of a genre that in recent years has had far more misses than hits. Aside from that, there’s the other elephant in the room – Kelly carries heavy baggage from her years as the star anchor of Fox News, where she extolled her political views and shot up to superstardom battling with then-candidate Donald Trump.
One publicist said they didn’t want their client to schmooze with Kelly, because her brand is too alienating, as a result of her association to the conservative-leaning news network. “I don’t even know if it’s as much her as it is Fox News,” the publicist said. “Because she came from Fox News, she was set up for failure because the industry is so polarized now and no one wants to touch anything associated with Trump.”
And we wonder why tribalism is such a strong force in the United States. We have developed a culture that defines you as all-in or all-out. In that world, Kelly isn’t a human being, she’s a tool – to be used by the angry Left when it’s convenient (for example, when “battling” Trump or confronting Fox) but never fully accepted unless she truly repudiates the past and joins a new team. Grace and patience are reserved for friends and allies only. Everyone else is mocked for the slightest slip, their bad faith assumed as a matter of course.
Is it any wonder that so many Americans have developed what David Brooks has rightly labeled a “siege mentality”? If there’s an inch of daylight between you and your ideological friends, you may soon find yourself homeless – despised by those who value loyalty in the face of implacable foes and distrusted by enemies who also require absolute allegiance. Public figures are reduced to “one of us” or “one of them,” and honest brokers are ever-harder to find.
Because of her proven ability to attract viewers, Kelly is a handsomely compensated celebrity, but that shouldn’t blind us to another reality. Honest action carries real cost. It’s a popular myth that those who break with their own team receive great rewards, the “strange new respect” that conservatives often joke about. Yes, it’s true that dissenting conservatives often find sporadic space in elite media, but that’s cold comfort when facing a hurricane of online abuse, fractured friendships, and a sense of ideological and spiritual homelessness.
Public figures are reduced to ‘one of us’ or ‘one of them,’ and honest brokers are ever-harder to find.
Thus we return to where we began: All-in or all-out. It’s as if our political culture has adopted the admonition of the book of Revelations. Be hot or cold; if you’re lukewarm, we’ll spit you out. But politics isn’t religion, and if 2017 has taught us anything it’s that neither side has a monopoly on virtue. Think about this: At the same time that celebrities were giving Kelly the side-eye for an awkward question or two, they were silent participants in an industry that had thanked Harvey Weinstein for Oscar success more than it had thanked God.
Like I said, I don’t know Kelly well, but I do know that as a person who’s attempted to do the right thing – and suffered for it – she should at the very least receive a measure of respect. The fact that this small ask is apparently beyond the capacity of all too many members of the media elite is yet more proof that our crass, tribal culture has gone off the rails.