What if, a recent piece of speculative fiction in Vanity Fair wonders aloud, Megyn Kelly isn’t a poisonous bigot and shameless cable news demagogue, but a complex, flawed icon of modern feminism? Like most science fiction, this is a pack of lies meant for babies. Megyn Kelly is just as racist—or cynically willing to play the part—as every man she works with at Fox News.
Here are some very nice things that the deeply fawning profile says about Megyn Kelly, a racist, or at least a woman who plays a racist on TV:
The brightest star at Fox News, Megyn Kelly is a newly minted role model for women who sees her gender as irrelevant, and a conservative champion who transcends politics with her skillful skewering of windbags of both parties
Unnerving would-be leaders, blowhards, and didacts from both parties has become Kelly’s specialty, as the world learned in August.
And yet … it’s not uncommon for the casual left-of-center viewer to say, in spite of himself, I kind of like her. In Kelly’s hands, these right-wing red-meat stories are presented with a varying degree of balance and often treated with humanity and wit. She’ll muster outrage at political correctness, but it feels rooted in common sense, not just derived from talking points.
Whatever the case, Kelly has become a feminist icon of sorts—the sort who won’t actually call herself a feminist. Perhaps this is because Kelly works at Fox News, where “feminists” are in the same scary category as “liberals” who wage war on Christmas each year.
She won’t sell her soul for a ratings bonanza.
You’d have to own a soul to sell one; she likely found time for that transaction some time before the 2013 segment in which she railed against the notion that Santa Claus could be black.
The Vanity Fair piece paints Kelly as a straight-shooter, a folksy iconoclast who won’t talk down to her audience, despite the fact that Kelly has essentially made her living condescending to the sorts of people she knows make up her audience (when she isn’t pandering to gullible liberal media elites who should know better, obviously). On Fox, Kelly makes sure to discuss the world with the same blunt, unsophisticated perspective as the spooked whites who watch her. Her career has been one long, low, racist dogwhistle.
Kelly arguably made a name for herself with her obsessive coverage of the New Black Panther Party, a small, irrelevant fringe group she repeatedly used as a stand-in for the entirety of Black America, for the purposes of frightening Fox News’s old, white audience. Dave Weigel’s equation of Kelly’s wall-to-wall NBPP coverage with “minstrelsy” was spot-on.
When a 2015 video surfaced showing white police forcibly shutting down a pool party attended by black children in Texas (tackling one and drawing a gun on another), Kelly noted that the girl at the center of the clip “was no saint.” In another segment, Kelly asked a guest “What is the evidence that what happened to Eric Garner, or what happened to Michael Brown, has anything to do with race?” (Kelly of course despises the Black Lives Matter movement, preferring her black activism cartoonish or nonexistent.)
Just listen to her talk about Erykah Badu, exuding the kind of racist energy that makes one stutter and trip over their words, half zeal and half hatred. Whether it’s sincere or a show she puts on is irrelevant; it has the intended effect of putting Angry Black Faces on the screens of Fox viewers, and making an issue as simple as its most immediate, dumbest racial component. When a black person is killed by a cop, Megyn Kelly cites the “anti-cop, thug mentality” of “black communities.” When protestors organized at the University of Missouri, Kelly dismissed them as “a small group of angry black students.” To Megyn Kelly, black rage is pervasive when she wants you scared, insignificant when she wants you ignorant.
The Vanity Fair profile is willing to peek at and pay lip-service to Kelly’s “contradictions” without saying what’s behind them: garden variety cynicism. Posturing as Less Crazy than Glenn Beck, Less Mean than Bill O’Reilly, and Less All-Around Awful than Sean Hannity isn’t brave, contradictory, or even interesting. It’s just savvy. Kelly’s ability to articulately shout about any triviality or black misdeed with the conviction of a TV lawyer (which she actually is) means she excels at her job—her ratings are fantastic—but doesn’t mean her job is anything other than helping Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch profit from the exploitating of white racial resentment and unease. Doing so while telling Vanity Fair “every so often, as all [women] know, you have to stop and slap somebody around a little bit who doesn’t understand that we are actually equals and not second-class citizens” doesn’t make Megyn Kelly an icon, or an iconoclast, or a contradiction. It makes her a showman and a grifter. “I’m a soulless lawyer,” Kelly once told The Daily Beast. “Give me any opinion and I can argue it.”
Trading in race-baiting (sincere or not) each night while making the occasional, perfunctory nod toward gender equality doesn’t make Megyn Kelly complex, it just makes her bad. Just because she’s willing to tell Donald Trump that he’s a sexist doesn’t mean she herself isn’t toxic in many of the exact same ways Trump is. And while she’s eager to position herself (or let the press position her) as the refreshing female alternative to the stodgy male Hannity/O’Reilly Fraternity, she’s no less the irresponsible race-baiter than they. Is the best alternative to the Angry Racist Old Men of Fox News really just an Angry Racist Young Woman of Fox News?