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Megyn Kelly’s reported cancellation by NBC after blackface remarks should surprise no one

Did anyone at NBC even watch her on Fox before they hired her?

LAGUNA NIGUEL, CA - OCTOBER 02:  Megyn Kelly speaks onstage at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit 2018 at Ritz Carlton Hotel on October 2, 2018 in Laguna Niguel, California.  (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Fortune)
LAGUNA NIGUEL, CA - OCTOBER 02: Megyn Kelly speaks onstage at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit 2018 at Ritz Carlton Hotel on October 2, 2018 in Laguna Niguel, California. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Fortune)

When Megyn Kelly was a child, according to Megyn Kelly, it was okay to wear blackface “as long as you were dressing up like a character.”

Then again, when Megyn Kelly was a child, it was still legal to use lead paint in your house. In this and all paint-based matters, our society has evolved. And whether or not it was in fact “okay” to follow Mischief Night with a DIY minstrel show during Kelly’s tender years in the 1970s is an opinion that Kelly’s contemporaries of color do not share.

The most surprising thing about Kelly’s blackface remarks — which she punctuated with a frustrated tear about how “I can’t keep up with the number of people that we’re offending just by being normal people” — is that anyone is surprised by them at all.

Telling highlights of Kelly’s storied tenure at Fox include, but are not limited to: dismissing of a Department of Justice report finding “rampant racial discrimination” in the Missouri police department that patrolled the neighborhood where Michael Brown was killed; calling a 15-year-old black girl who was pinned down by a police officer at a pool party “no saint”; siding with “All Lives Matter” against Black Lives Matter; insisting that both Santa Claus and Jesus Christ are/were white.

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The question of Megyn Kelly at NBC was never really “will she say something racist?” It was, “when will she say something racist?” As Kelly herself wrote in her apology, “I’ve never been a ‘P.C.’ kind of person.” “P.C.” at Kelly’s old home at Fox is but a euphemism for “speaking with no regard for how one’s words might injure another person, as if discrimination is a mere thought experiment invented by liberals with the express purpose of angering Rush Limbaugh.”

And so the better question is: Why did NBC make a $69 million bet on someone they already knew was, to use a delicate term, a problematic hire? As Vanity Fair notes, “Kelly has been an uncomfortable fit within 30 Rock essentially since the moment she arrived from Fox News in 2017.” Before what is, by multiple reports, the end of her short career at NBC, it’s worth looking at its beginnings. 

She launched her first ill-fated NBC show, Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, by interviewing Alex Jones, a blustering, incendiary hate-monger whose claim to infamy is bellowing that the Sandy Hook massacre was a “false flag” and that the parents of murdered children were just “crisis actors.” Jones is currently being sued by the parents of Noah Pozner, who was six years old when he was killed in his classroom, because Jones’ relentless campaign against them has brought death threats to their doors, forcing the surviving Pozners to move seven times and, at present, live in hiding.

Probably Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly should’ve ended right there, but, like the miracle of Chanukah, the series lasted a full eight episodes. Each hour brought in fewer viewers than the last; it was quietly canceled earlier this year.

This could have been a cut-your-losses moment for NBC, but no such cutting occurred. Kelly was moved to the third hour of the Today show, a placement that, as the Huffington Post notes, “displaced two black hosts ―  Tamron Hall, who left the show, and Al Roker, who surrendered the third-hour slot to Kelly.”

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There, in her stilted, fumbling segments that often alienated her guests and turned off her audience, she proved what Kelly Ripa has been demonstrating for decades: That sharp, upbeat, morning show shtick? Not just anyone can do it! It is difficult to do anything well, even — maybe especially — those things which appear like they ought to come naturally.

The whole debacle rounds out several years of questionable-at-best decisions by NBC top brass.

Though NBC disputes this, Ronan Farrow says the network killed his investigation into Harvey Weinstein. Farrow ended up taking his work to the New Yorker, where it won a Pulitzer Prize and, alongside the bombshell reporting of Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey in the New York Times, galvanized the #MeToo movement and sparked a worldwide reckoning around sexual violence in the workplace.

As ThinkProgress wrote at the time, NBC’s denial was hard to believe:

Considering they also sat on the Access Hollywood tape of then-GOP nominee Donald Trump bragging, in graphic and vulgar detail, about the ease with which he, “a star,” could sexually assault women. The tape was from 2005, and the story wound up in the hands of the Washington Post’s David Farenthold, who broke it about a month before the presidential election. There were also reports that NBC planned to edit the Trump tapes in order to protect Billy Bush, who’d been promoted from Today to Access Hollywood in 2004.

And it was Variety that published the investigation into Matt Lauer’s alleged career of sexual harassment and misconduct. Lauer, one of NBC’s most highly-compensated on-camera anchors — $25 million a year to say creepy things to Anne Hathaway and narrate the Thanksgiving Day Parade! — was accused by multiple women of sexually disturbing, coercive, and abusive behavior, spanning years. As one former reporter told Variety, executives at the Today show stood by their man. “They protected the s— out of Matt Lauer.”

Similar botching occurred around Tom Brokaw, who, as the Washington Post reported, was accused by multiple women of unwanted sexual advances and touching in the workplace. Meanwhile, NBC had theoretically just wrapped up a “thorough internal investigation” into systemic sexual abuse in its ranks and found there was nothing to see there.

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The man behind this magical thinking is NBC chairman Andy Lack, who reportedly killed Farrow’s reporting and, as Page Six reported, is “facing the boot” over his failure to handle any of the #MeToo investigations. It was Lack who brought Kelly on in the first place, though the New York Times writes that in a private meeting, he condemned her blackface remarks with no equivocation: “There is no place on our air or in this workplace for them.”

Maybe the most crushing part of the Kelly story is not that NBC gave her a platform from which to spout her blackface endorsement. In doing that, here is what they didn’t do: Spend tens of millions of dollars on the reporting that the public actually needs.

That kind of journalism is struggling financially in all quarters and is under attack from the President of the United States. Global press freedom is at its lowest point since the beginning of this century. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, there had “never been a more dangerous time to be a journalist.”

Think what where that money could go — but don’t think about it too long, because we already know where it most likely will go: To Megyn Kelly, who is reportedly fighting for the network to pay out her contract in full.