In every era, there are people with real moral fortitude who make stands based on principle and at great personal sacrifice. There are also always people who want to look like they are acting on principle so they can gain fame and fortune. Megyn Kelly picked the perfect time to pivot from racist Fox News talking head to feminist icon. You couldn’t have scripted it better: The combination of her public feuding with Donald Trump, who officially becomes POTUS today, and the battery of sexual harassment charges swirling around her former boss Roger Ailes set the stage for Kelly to jump from the sinking Fox ship to a primetime gig at NBC News.
Opposing Trump is going to be vital in the coming years, but in American politics, the enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend. Look no further than Kelly. After all, she waited to tell the public that Donald Trump had been tipped off about debate questions until after the election, so she must not hate the guy that much. Instead of accepting Kelly’s spin and crowning her the female Dan Rather, we should remember the terrible things she has said and the underhanded tactics she has used to to claw her way to the top of the journalistic heap. Megyn Kelly is no hero.
Liberals can celebrate the few moments when Megyn Kelly has positioned herself as a feminist icon: She has defended maternity leave, stuck up for trans rights, and gone after co-workers for sexist language. Those who would have fawning words for Kelly would do well to remember that these grand gestures grew more frequent as she neared her exit from the conservative news empire. Before we write more puff pieces about Kelly, let’s remember the person she was before she started eyeing Barbara Walters’ throne.
Although Kelly has said a number of distasteful things over the years, she has a particular tendency toward saying mind-boggling, gross things about race. Kelly’s most famous “problematic” moment was when she insisted that Santa Claus couldn’t be black.
This was Kelly’s most famous racist incident, but this is just the tip of the lily-white iceberg. Sam Biddle at Gawker (now of the Intercept) put it best when he wrote, “Her career has been one long, low, racist dog whistle.” She kicked off her career by indulging Fox News audiences with ludicrous fantasies surrounding the New Black Panther Party. This drew eyeballs, and Kelly kept at it. Kelly fanned the flames of the racially-charged conspiracy theories surrounding ACORN back in 2009. Appealing to the same racist fearmongering, she has repeatedly indulged unproven accusations of voter fraud whenever they emerge in the right-wing news cycle. More recently, after a group of Texas teens were manhandled by police officers at a pool party, Kelly was quick to claim that one of the young women was “no saint.” She has even used the phrase “anti-cop, thug mentality” when describing the Black Lives Matter movement.
Kelly’s supposed feminist bonafides only extend as far as they can help make her palatable to morning show America. Notoriously, Kelly refuses to call herself a feminist, associating the word with “a shrillness I find unattractive.” She also is quick to throw women and women’s causes under the bus when it’s politically convenient. While she defended maternity leave after it personally affected her, she has been critical of parental leave in the past. She made headlines in 2012 when she mocked contraception advocate Sandra Fluke, yet has recently spoken about how essential contraception is, now that she has to appeal to a more liberal audience. Kelly has also said that efforts to stop campus sexual assaults have “gotten to the point of ridiculousness,” and has been a huge fan of rape culture apologetics on her show. The pundit has also gone to great pains to spread widely debunked conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood. She has even referred to the gender-pay gap as “a meme”—of course, it was a far more serious issue for her when it came time for salary negotiations.
In addition to her racism and sexism, Kelly has often gone out of her way to mock the poor and working class. One of her most consistent go-to talking points throughout her Fox career has been mocking “entitlements” and claiming that any poor or working-class person who stands up for themselves a “victim.” Like many at Fox News, she peddles the story of just how self-made she is while stomping on those who are trying to make themselves. She managed to twist coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing into a criticism of the Massachusetts state welfare program while throwing in a dose of Islamophobia for good measure. Bill O’Reilly teamed up with Kelly on a report that asserted Democrats in Colorado wanted to allow citizens to use their EBT cards in marijuana shops when in reality they were advocating access to ATMs in and near those shops to withdraw funds for groceries as banks may not be nearby. Of course, the segment was peppered with coded language about “liquor stores” and “strip clubs.” Whenever possible, Kelly liked to tell her Fox News audience that those who struggle just don’t want to get a job.
The 11th-hour conversion of Megyn Kelly to a liberal at the hands of Donald Trump’s misogynistic brand of conservatism makes a nice story, but that’s all that it is: a story. Kelly has spoken out in favor of the right kind of entitlements for the right kind of women in the right kind of circumstances, and this narrow defense has earned her Hollywood and media attention despite her vitriol towards non-whites, non-Christians, and the poor. While it will be important to build a coalition against Trump, don’t be fooled by the likes of Megyn Kelly, Evan McMullin, and Lindsay Graham. As Michael Arceneaux put it in the Root, “If one were in need of confirmation that you, too, can get away with Bill O’Reilly’s type of racism so long as you’re a pretty, blond white woman, look no further than the news that Megyn Kelly is leaving Fox News for NBC.” In politics, the enemy of your enemy is not your friend, and you definitely don’t have to watch the enemy of your enemy’s TV show.