On a day dominated by political headlines — President Trump’s continued war on the NFL anthem protests, the Republicans’ failing health-care efforts, a new travel ban, saber-rattling from North Korea, an important election looming in Alabama, and I could go on and on — Megyn Kelly launched her much-hyped eponymous fourth hour of the “Today” show on NBC Monday by explaining, “The truth is, I am kind of done with politics for now.”
It’s a nice thought — I have it daily. But unfortunately it isn’t reality. If she wants to succeed at the peacock network — and I sincerely hope she does — she’ll need to reconsider.
If you caught Kelly’s 9 a.m. debut, you might find yourself nodding along with the critical consensus that the former Fox News anchor known for sparring with liberal opponents and asking then-candidate Donald Trump tough debate questions seemed out of place in the new hug-plagued environs where tears are heartily shed and celebrity guests are heartily cajoled.
I have no desire to join the pile-on of Kelly. So I’ll be the first to point out that this isn’t totally fair.
For one, left-leaning media and industry critics were never going to be truly objective. While each may acknowledge she’s a talented broadcaster, they still see her as tainted by Fox and all that represents to them — the “fanatical” far right, a bevvy of unserious “anchor babes,” unchecked office sexism, and a culture of sexual harassment.
While that perception of Fox is arguably unshakable at the moment, it also isn’t fair to Kelly, an eagle-eyed former defense attorney whose rigorous journalism and willingness to hit back against powerful Republican men like Trump, Newt Gingrich and even her boss Roger Ailes set her apart from others at the network.
Meantime, NBC viewers, and in particular “Today” show viewers, are fiercely protective of the brand and, thanks in large part to the current popularity of its cable arm MSNBC, of its left-leaning bona fides. Giving the former Fox News host a chance is a tough ask of people who were told nightly by MSNBC’s primetime stars that Fox News viewers were backwards, racist conspiracy theorists.
Much of this is out of Kelly’s control. But what isn’t is what she chooses to cover. And here’s where I’ll be brutally honest with Kelly, precisely because I think we need her more than ever and I want her show to thrive.
Believe me, I get up every morning hoping that I won’t have to spend the full hour of my own show covering politics. But as this weekend illustrated, politics is now in everything, from football to hurricanes to the Emmys to the opioid epidemic. To ask an audience to put politics aside for an hour a day is downright nostalgic.
It’s also kind of irresponsible. In some part because of cable news and those of us who’ve made it our home these past years, the country is more polarized than ever. Walking away from this mess is a luxury Megyn Kelly cannot afford if she wants viewers to trust her and continue to watch her on a new platform.
Nor should she want to. She’s uniquely skilled at skimming through partisan talking points to get to the heart of a matter. She’s preternaturally unafraid of powerful people. And she’s tough without being mean-spirited or smug.
In addition to adding some lighter fare, Kelly can cover politics and the important stories that matter differently than she did at Fox, and even differently than her new colleagues do in primetime. But she can’t not cover them at all.
Calmly guiding her new viewers through this frenetic, chaotic and often unsettling political reality we’re living in isn’t just her talent, it’s her duty.
Cupp is host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on HLN.
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