The mainstream media often develops a fascination with conservative figures who don’t seem quite as bad as the rest. Megyn Kelly, with her bombshell looks and that infamous clear anchor desk that shows off her legs, has been the subject of many a semi-fawning profile. In the New York Times, Jim Rutenberg coined the term “Megyn Kelly Moment” to discuss an unexpected turn by the usually-conservative host.
The Megyn moment has upended the popular notion of how a Fox News star is supposed to behave, and led to the spectacle of a Fox anchor winning praise from the very elites whose disdain Fox has always welcomed. In the process, Kelly’s program has not just given America’s top-rated news channel its biggest new hit in 13 years…
In fact, from what I understand, the Kelly moment isn’t that unpredictable — it usually involves one of two things. Sometimes, it’s Kelly correcting a Republican polling prediction that doesn’t fit the facts, as in her famous 2012 election night “walk” during which she totally schooled Karl Rove about polling results.
At other times, she’s telling her colleagues not to be such sexist asshats. They made fun of her maternity leave, and she went after them. She has gone after Erick Erickson, Lou Dobbs, and even Mike Huckabee. And last week, she went after Donald Trump for his sexism, citing some of the awful ways he’s insulted women, and then stayed firm when he attacked her again, presumably with the implication that she went after him because she was on her period (sigh). A bunch of misogynists like Erik Erickson decided that this was a stone too far. “But there are even lines blunt talkers and unprofessional politicians should not cross,” Erickson wrote. “Decency is one of those lines. I just don’t want someone on stage who gets a hostile question from a lady and his first inclination is to imply it was hormonal.”
There’s no question that Kelly’s rising power is a positive development on a network not exactly known for being anything near progressive on gender issues. And I can personally attest to the fact that Kelly’s shtick makes for compelling TV.
But it’s important not to let the very entertaining media drama and feuds obscure the less zesty reality. As Kelly herself said of one of the teenage victims of the McKinney, Texas, police riot at a local pool, the anchor is “no saint.” She has a history of really noxious race-baiting that pretty much on par with the Fox News norm, a norm which is deeply harmful to women of color.
Victim of sexist attacks but also peddling racism herself? This is conservatism at its core. Many right-wing ideologues will make an exception for an issue that affects them personally. Some will be looser on immigration than others, for instance, while Kelly is better on workplace gender equity, and those with gay kids are better on gay rights. But they don’t apply these principles broadly, or extend their empathy beyond a small circle. Democrats and liberals may struggle deeply with intersectionality, but conservatives thrive on single-sectionality.
And more importantly, even on Kelly’s signature issue, some conservatives’ embrace of their new favorite tough-talking gal obscures the increasingly dangerous and radical position their movement is taking on actual women’s rights, which are stalled or on the decline.
Prachi Gupta at Cosmopolitan points out that the fuss over the Trump/Kelly sexism obscured something really unfortunate about the debate:
If you read a transcriptof the debate, candidates don’t bring up a “woman” or “women” even once when talking about either Planned Parenthood or abortion. It’s as if lady folk are just receptacles made for holding and expelling babies, not real people. Even the narrower category of “mothers” was left out of their reproductive rights talking points, save for two instances.
Which makes this move against Trump seem more than a little disingenuous, and just the latest in a series of tone-deaf stunts that show just how little respect the GOP gives to women. Please ignore the fact that Jeb Bush bragged how his state defunded Planned Parenthood, and that Marco Rubio all but declared that the rights of a fetus are more important that the rights of rape victims. (Also ignore that no one even touched on paid family leave or income disparity.)
When Megyn Kelly speaks truth to the male talking heads on her home network, some women cheer — and sure, they can.
But her popularity, and the media stardom she’s achieving, may be a symbol of something deeper, and more frustrating, about our larger media climate. It’s allowing women and feminism to seem ascendant in pop culture even as we suffer more and more on the ground.