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Megyn Kelly Out At NBC's 'Today' Show

Megyn Kelly, who left Fox News last year to work at NBC, has sparked controversy repeatedly, most recently with her remarks about whites wearing blackface.
Phillip Faraone
Getty Images for Fortune
Megyn Kelly, who left Fox News last year to work at NBC, has sparked controversy repeatedly, most recently with her remarks about whites wearing blackface.

Updated at 1:50 p.m. ET Friday

Megyn Kelly was once talked about as the future face of NBC News — possibly as its next chief news anchor. Now, she has lost her perch as host of NBC's Today show at 9 a.m.

"Megyn Kelly Today is not returning. Next week, the 9 a.m. hour will be hosted by other TODAY co-anchors," an NBC News spokesperson said in a statement Friday afternoon.

On Thursday, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told NPR that negotiations between NBC and Kelly were ongoing. "It's clear she will not be returning to the network," the person said.

Earlier this week, Kelly had unsuccessfully sought to contain the damage from several statements she made on her hour on Today defending the desire of white people to dress up in blackface costume for Halloween.

Colleagues and people on social media reacted in outrage to her remarks, often pointing to her own past as a host on Fox News who periodically made racially charged remarks.

"What is racist?" Kelly asked Tuesday in a conversation with other panelists on her show. "Truly, you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween, or a black person who put on whiteface for Halloween. When I was a kid, it was OK as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character."

Kelly, who is 47, grew up outside Albany, N.Y. The television news star returned to the matter more than once during the discussion, defending a white reality show star who was castigated for dressing as Diana Ross, replete with oversize Afro wig. Her remarks tapped into a painful vein of American racial history that Kelly said, in an apology, that she was only now fully realizing.

The incident recalled past controversies at Fox News. In 2013, Kelly had infamously made racial claims for both Jesus Christ and Santa Claus: "For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white," Kelly said during a discussion on Fox News in 2013. "Jesus was a white man, too."

Initially, she said she had been joking. Last year, once at NBC, she told Business Insider that she regretted those remarks.

In some ways, NBC spoke most directly through its broadcasts, on which Kelly's colleagues uniformly condemned her remarks. NBC Nightly News' Lester Holt, the sole African-American evening anchor among the nation's three big broadcast networks, devoted an extended segment to the controversy, which included critical quotes from the head of the NAACP, among others.

NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack, her strongest advocate within the news division, had hired her away from Fox News in early 2017 amid a ton of fanfare and an annual paycheck in excess of $16 million. Lack notably declined to defend her at a meeting this week with staffers.

On the Today show, of which her program was a part, two African-American colleagues offered sharp rebukes Wednesday.

Al Roker said her emailed apology to colleagues was insufficient. "She owes a bigger apology to folks of color around the country, because this is a history going back to the 1830s. Minstrel shows," Roker said. "To demean and denigrate a race wasn't right."

"There was some criticism yesterday online that this was political correctness," said Craig Melvin, a new co-host at Today. "That's silly. And it's disingenuous. And it's just as ignorant and racist as the statement itself."

At the opening of her show Wednesday, just 90 minutes after Melvin and Roker spoke, Kelly apologized to viewers as well. She hasn't been seen on the air since that episode ended.

In retrospect, Kelly's implosion seems almost foreordained. She had been hired as part of Lack's effort to demonstrate that NBC News would not list to the left, despite the liberal outlook of MSNBC. She was coming from the nation's most influential outlet among Republicans and cultural conservatives: Fox News.

Kelly could also claim a sense of independence: Despite Fox News' affinity for President Trump, she had clashed with him during the campaign. And she had embraced the #MeToo movement. Indeed, her accusation in July 2016 that Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes had sexually harassed her in addition to former Fox host Gretchen Carlson ensured Ailes' dismissal.

Yet her history at Fox News tailed her. In the summer of 2010, Kelly made a meal of a menacing but very small hate group called the New Black Panthers, saying a campaign of voter intimidation had occurred. Several of them faced criminal charges for an incident in 2008, but the charges against the group were dropped after U.S. Justice Department officials said there was no compelling evidence the group itself was involved. One member was legally sanctioned. But no voters appeared discouraged from voting.

Kelly devoted hours to the New Black Panthers over a three-week period, attacking other media for failing to cover the story — and shouting down a colleague who disagreed. She apologized for that, too.

Yet she was serving red meat to the core Fox News viewer, and those programs were part of a record that helped propel her in short order from reporter to daytime host to prime-time host. And she was never able to turn the corner to offer the softer fare required of morning hosts.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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