Megyn Kelly, we hardly knew ye
I know when I say that I’m feeling sorry for Megyn Kelly, it’ll have the same reaction as farting in a crowded room. People will wrinkle their noses and get as far away as possible. Well, hold your nose, because I do.
Kelly is one of NBC’s more recent news anchors, with her own block of the Today show at 9 a.m., and what made her actually interesting is that she’s a Fox “News” transplant. She arrived on the Blue side of television after departing from Fox, maybe after an epiphany that the truthfulness of most everything spoken on that network, with the possible exception of the weather, was suspect. Somewhere along the line — maybe after Donald Trump so famously referred to her as “bleeding from her wherever” after she grilled him mercilessly during a presidential debate regarding his blatant misogyny — Megyn had to choose between her integrity and her paycheck.
Brava! You chose well, Megyn!
That said, at first, that was an awfully hard Left turn for me to navigate. I had to set down my precious disdain for anything and everything associated with Fox “News” and give Megyn a chance. She was walking away from the Dark Side, and in my mind, that deserved such a chance because maybe she is setting an example. Others on the Radical Right may follow her lead. Megyn was a walking talking crossover vehicle for Fox viewers realizing they needed to hightail it to somewhere sane. Or maybe they were just tired of being assholes. Whatever the reason, Megyn pointed out the exit a door for those folks.
I remained skeptical of course, because Megyn had been hanging out with the likes of Laura Ingraham and Anne Coulter, but she seemed to be reasonably human after all, unlike her former harpy coworkers. By all accounts, Megyn — with a reputation for being fearless and articulate — was doing just fine at NBC. She was learning to adapt to a liberal atmosphere. She was gaining a new audience and siphoning away some of Fox’s. And then, yesterday… she face-planted.
Oh, Megyn, Megyn… how is it possible that anyone your age, with a background in journalism, (which implies that you know how to check facts and do research) doesn’t understand the inherent racism of blackface? Blackface was designed to ridicule an entire race, one that has experienced (and still experiences) horrific treatment and, sadly, ongoing racism? You’re a smart gal… but this was your “I didn’t know Chicken of the Sea wasn’t chicken!” moment. We’re left slack-jawed in amazement that anyone could be that dense.
But there it was.
“It’s not chicken???”
And, like a toddler asking completely inappropriate questions at the most awkward moment, Megyn continued and asked why blackface was racist if it’s Halloween and you’re dressing up like a character, citing a TV personality who dressed up like Diana Ross and wore dark makeup. Megyn asked, “Why is that wrong? Who doesn’t love Diana Ross?”
Ummm… ummm… how to put this in a way that even a clueless innocent might understand… Because not everyone feels the same way about everything, and what is not painful for you is very painful for someone else, and therefore, in civilized society, we don’t do things that hurt other people.
Maybe that’s a start… and then hand Megyn a U.S. history book and send her to her room and tell her she can’t come out until she’s read the whole thing, and oh yes, there will be a pop quiz.
I watched Megyn stumble deeper and deeper into the mud of her own making in that segment, while her guests squirmed uncomfortably, trying to explain how blackface, even on Halloween, is offensive. It was one of those moments where you want to grab someone by the back of the neck and walk them away and hiss in her ear, “Just stop talking!!!”
The backlash from this incident was swift and harsh. Did she have it coming? Oh, yeah. We must hold people — particularly those in positions of power — accountable. The following morning, a visibly angered Al Roker, the usually jovial weatherman for the Today show, said that although Megyn apologized to her staff, audience and co-workers, she owed a larger apology to all of People of Color for saying something so offensive. Roker was spot on. She deserved to get the stink-eye in the company cafeteria for a good long time. But Megyn listened, and quickly issued what seemed like a heartfelt apology and, more important, she finally “got it” — blackface is just completely offensive, in all situations. Even on Halloween. She learned something, dammit! But that wasn’t enough for NBC. By the end of the next day, Oct. 24, the news was out that Megyn was being canned by NBC.
NBC… I get WHY you made that decision, because you must be pristinely PC, however, jettisoning Megyn wasn’t a very well-considered move. Given, Megyn revealed that she has some astounding blind spots in her understanding of U.S. history and racism. However, if you watch the clip, she seems to be genuinely trying to understand. She didn’t seem mean or intentionally hurtful — just utterly clueless.
It’s not chicken. It’s tuna. They called it Chicken of the Sea to get squeamish people in the 1950s to try canned fish, and probably also to play on the “tastes like chicken” explanation for anything that tastes dicey. And the mermaid on the logo… also not chicken. There are no chickens in the sea. It’s tuna. TUNA. OK?
I know, Megyn…
So, let’s just go with the theory that somehow, Megyn never learned the truth about blackface in all these years. She existed in the Fox “News” echo chamber, and remained completely clueless… Blithely going through life hurting and offending people without ever realizing it. But here’s the thing… stop and consider how many other essentially kind but grotesquely clueless Americans there are out there? Megyn represents an uncomfortably large portion of the population that’s just as clueless, and harbors the exact same questions. But at least Megyn asked. She was trying to understand. And then, holy cow, did she get a heaping helping of understanding from every direction. Oh, she “gets it” now.
And got canned anyway.
That’s troubling for other potential Fox crossovers, who are beginning to have an inkling that what they’re hearing isn’t quite accurate. Like Megyn, it’s as if they’ve been raised by wolves and have no idea how to behave like a human. But they’re trying to understand. They want to ask questions. But having seen Megyn excoriated for her clumsy attempt to gain understanding, and may think instead… “Hmmm… if I ask a question, I’ll get my head chopped off too. Think I’ll stay in the Fox hole where it’s safe.” And just like that, we prevented more folks from seeking truth. Remaining ignorant is less painful than ridicule.
Well, we didn’t. NBC, this one’s on you. You botched a truly teachable moment. One that could have opened up a conversation and raised awareness and understanding. But, in a knee-jerk reaction, you didn’t look outside your own interests and ratings to recognize that Megyn blundered into the tip of an ugly racist iceberg. You had your chance to bust it up, and by firing Megyn, you are helping it to continue drifting along. You should have accepted her apology, issued a stern statement, and encouraged Megyn to start thinking, looking and interacting outside her lily white box.
For a network that likes to trot out the “The More You Know” tagline, you really blew it. It was a chance for Megyn and so many more like her to know more. And now they won’t.
By Debra DeAngelo
Prior managing editor at the Winters Express (McNaughton Newspapers). Debra has won multiple awards for column writing from the National Newspaper Association and the California Newspaper Publishers Association.