The Many Times Megyn Kelly Became the Story

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Don’t become the story.

That’s an adage in the news business that most journalists try to live by, even in a time that rewards self-promotion. And it’s a rule that Megyn Kelly flouted again and again.

While this tendency was not much of a factor in her previous job, as a prime-time anchor at Fox News, it created complications during her 18-month stint at NBC.

The network canceled her show, “Megyn Kelly Today,” days after she suggested on air that dressing up in blackface for Halloween was appropriate for white people. Ms. Kelly’s comments, and the uproar that followed, felt familiar to many fans and critics.

Those who become stars at major broadcast networks have a rare talent for being interesting and innocuous at the same time. Ms. Kelly, a former corporate lawyer who made her name as a sometimes confrontational interviewer, struggled to walk that line.

Here is a look at the times Ms. Kelly became the story.

December 2013

On her Fox News show, “The Kelly File,” Ms. Kelly took issue with an essay in Slate arguing that the popular image of Santa Claus as a white man was due for a makeover.

“For all of you kids watching at home, Santa just is white,” Ms. Kelly said.

Later in the discussion, she added, “Jesus was a white man, too.”

In the panel discussion that followed, she did not acknowledge research that traces St. Nicholas to a fourth-century bishop in what is now Turkey and scholarship that has long debated what Jesus actually looked like.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who hosted shows on Comedy Central at the time, led the rhetorical charge against Ms. Kelly’s remarks. “You do know Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, right?” Mr. Stewart said.

May 2016

Ms. Kelly’s feud with Donald J. Trump — which broadened her appeal beyond her Fox News base — began in Cleveland during the first Republican presidential debate in August 2015. Before a prime-time audience, Ms. Kelly questioned the candidate about his history of denigrating women as pigs, dogs and “slobs.”

After the event, Mr. Trump added Ms. Kelly to his list of Twitter targets, saying she “really bombed” as a moderator. He also told an interviewer that, during the debate, Ms. Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” — a comment widely interpreted as a reference to menstruation.

Mr. Trump refused to participate in a later debate that Ms. Kelly moderated in Iowa. The attention raised her profile but also made her the target of death threats, she later wrote in her memoir. Fox News stood by its host, issuing a statement that Mr. Trump had an “extreme, sick obsession” with her.

After months of Mr. Trump calling Ms. Kelly “crazy,” “overrated” and “sick,” Roger E. Ailes, then the chairman of Fox News, tried to broker a truce between his star and the candidate at Trump Tower.

Weeks later, Ms. Kelly sat down to interview the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. But the tough questions went missing. Critics described the tone of the interview — part of a Fox News prime-time special that aired in May 2016 — as “crushed velvet” and “neither groundbreaking nor especially informative.”

After the interview, Mr. Trump posted a supportive message on Twitter: “Well done Megyn — and they all lived happily ever after!”

June 2017

When NBC hired Ms. Kelly, it planned to make her a force of its news division. Not only would she host the third hour of its morning franchise, the “Today” show, she would also host a Sunday night newsmagazine program meant to challenge “60 Minutes” on CBS.

The debut episode of “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly” had a big guest: Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president. But during the one-on-one interview, Mr. Putin proved unwilling to offer up more than his presence, evading or delivering pat answers to Ms. Kelly’s questions about allegations of Russia’s interference in the American presidential election. After Ms. Kelly asked about possible communications between the Trump campaign and the Russian ambassador to the United States, he said, “That’s complete nonsense. Do you even understand what you’re asking?”

The third guest for “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly” was Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist who founded Infowars. Before the episode aired, families of children and teachers killed in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — which Mr. Jones has called a hoax — pleaded with NBC not to give him publicity, especially in a segment scheduled for Father’s Day.

Before the interview, critics accused Ms. Kelly of being too cozy with Mr. Jones, especially after Infowars published audio of her cajoling and flattering him to do the interview by saying she did not want to portray him “as some boogeyman.” Mr. Jones also released a photo from the day of the interview that showed him and Ms. Kelly in a car. In the picture, she was smiling and wearing sunglasses.

Parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook shooting asked NBC to spike the interview, and a Connecticut affiliate announced that it would not air the program. Ms. Kelly was also disinvited from a Sandy Hook charity event and accused by some viewers of infecting NBC with Fox News-style conservatism.

Face to face with Mr. Jones, Ms. Kelly challenged him repeatedly and described his claims as “reckless accusation, followed by equivocations and excuses.” But by then the public relations battle had been lost.

September 2017

With her Sunday night troubles behind her, it was time for the unveiling of Ms. Kelly as the host of “Megyn Kelly Today.” Her challenge? Prove to audiences — and the NBC executives who had given her a three-year, $69 million contract — that she could make herself at home in the bubbly environs of morning television.

Her first guests were the creators and cast of the rebooted NBC sitcom “Will & Grace.” Debra Messing, a star of the show, seemed enthusiastic about promoting the return of the groundbreaking comedy — which broke taboos about the portrayal of gay characters in mainstream entertainment in the late 1990s.

During the segment Ms. Kelly called out to a “Will & Grace” superfan who happened to be in the audience, inviting him to the stage of Studio 6A. The audience applauded as the beaming man received hugs from the sitcom’s stars. And then came Ms. Kelly’s question: “Is it true that you became a lawyer, and you became gay, because of Will?”

The suggestion that sexual orientation is a choice prompted many of Ms. Messing’s fans to criticize her participation on Ms. Kelly’s program, and the actress said on Instagram that her appearance with the show had been a mistake. “Regret going on,” Ms. Messing wrote. “Dismayed by her comments.”

And despite a big promotional push, the show’s first week drew lackluster ratings.

September 2017

Ms. Kelly’s first week on “Today” also included an awkward encounter with a Hollywood legend.

Jane Fonda assumed she was sitting down with Ms. Kelly to discuss “Our Souls at Night,” the film she had made with Robert Redford. But the host wanted to talk about Ms. Fonda’s plastic surgery.

When pressed, the actress fixed Ms. Kelly with a glare that later became a meme. “We really want to talk about that now?” Ms. Fonda asked.

January 2018

Ms. Fonda continued to talk to other outlets about the interview, telling Variety that it “stunned” her and was “so inappropriate.” She even referred to it on the Jan. 16 edition of “Today,” drawing laughter from the hosts, Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie.

On Jan. 22, Ms. Kelly hit back, saying at the top of a three-minute segment that “it’s time to address the ‘poor me’ routine.” After telling viewers that she had “no regrets about that question,” she added, “Nor am I in the market for a lesson from Jane Fonda on what is and is not appropriate.”

Sounding more like a Fox News pundit than a “Today” show host, Ms. Kelly went on to question Ms. Fonda’s patriotism. She made a reference to “Hanoi Jane” — a nickname attached to the actress after her 1972 visit to North Vietnam and the resulting photo of her seated on an antiaircraft gun, which Ms. Fonda has since called her biggest regret.

The actress “still says she’s not proud of America,” Ms. Kelly said, “so the moral indignation is a little much.”

January 2018

When Ms. Kelly was in law school, she found herself gaining weight. Eager to slim down, she asked her stepfather to shame her whenever she went into the kitchen. “And it works,” she said with a thumbs-up gesture during a segment about a mother who posted photos of the svelte physique she was able to maintain while raising three young children. “What’s your excuse?” the mother added in a caption.

Ms. Kelly went all in on the shaming regimen during her interview of the mother. “You should parlay the shaming thing into a professional business,” the host said. “Because some of us want to be shamed!”

The comments did not go over well, with Meghan McCain noting on Twitter that fat shaming has “real-life ramifications.”

“I still cringe when I hear a person attacked for his or her weight,” Ms. Kelly said on her show the next day. “Please know I would never encourage that toward any person. I’ve been thinking a lot about why I once encouraged it toward myself.”

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