Thursday, January 20, 2022
Interviews

“It’s divisive, racist, sexist, and tearing apart the foundation of what America was supposed to be about.” – Brown Interviews Megyn Kelly

Blonde Caucasian woman (Megyn Kelly) sitting against a blurred background of trees.
Image Credit | Peter Kramer for NBC

Megyn Kelly is a journalist, talk-show host, news broadcaster, and political commentator. She has worked at FOX, where she anchored her own primetime show and moderated multiple Presidential debates. She has also anchored at NBC News. Kelly now hosts her own podcast, The Megyn Kelly Show, in which she discusses current political issues with experts and activists.

Maya Rackoff: Over the past two years you’ve spoken out about the dangers of wokeness, cancel culture, and censorship in academic institutions, especially in New York City private schools. To what extent should schools teach about racial disparities—historic and present—and where do they go overboard? 

Megyn Kelly: Teaching history is a good idea and, and the more context that can be incorporated to show what the country has truly been through, the better.  What people like me are objecting to is something very different than teaching history, it is obsession with racial differences, and it is obsession with presenting everything through a racial lens. Everything has been racialized, even if it has nothing to do with race. We’ve morphed into this place where K-12 schools stoke racial division through virtually every lesson plan. Why are you pushing the message that in every classroom where White children learn there is a “future killer cop?” Stop teaching it. When people try to trip up the discussion in semantics, “we are teaching history,” it’s an attempt to change the subject. It’s also an attempt to diverge from the division, the hierarchy they’re trying to push. Woke people believe the answer to racism is more racism, so in order to rectify past racism against black people, we now need to engage in new racism against White people who have equally no control over their melanin. 

Recently, the general public has become more aware of current events and politics. Today, young people engage in discussions about social justice issues on a daily basis. Do you think that the pervasiveness of politics into social and home life is having a positive or negative effect on American culture? 

Negative. People have decided to obsess over their skin color, their heritage, their sexual identity, and their gender identity. They can obsess over these things because we are in the blessed period of not fighting a world war, of not having undergone a terrorist attack where 3000 people were killed in front of our very eyes. We have this beautiful opportunity to devote our energy elsewhere, and people have decided to create problems out of things that we could celebrate. Things should be identified as needing work, but shouldn’t become a source of division between every single student on campus and every person walking the face of the earth. Nobody who has a meaningful job and has devoted their life to a cause, be it medicine or philosophy, religion, poetry, media, or writing has time to navel-gaze and think about their gender or skin color all day. And so, if you find yourself as one of those people, it’s probably time to stop.

What role have journalists played in pushing the ‘woke’ agenda? What role should they be playing? 

Journalists are complicit because they need to be loved by this very vocal, but very small, segment of society. Those on the Brown University campus probably don’t understand what I’m saying, but if you are woke and on the Brown University campus, you are in the political minority in this country. The vast majority of liberals and conservatives agree that wokeism is dangerous, that it’s divisive, racist, sexist, and tearing apart the foundation of what America was supposed to be about: due process, free speech, and equal protection. Some of us feel those are still values worth fighting for, don’t believe the Constitution needs to be re-written, and think the way back to one another is to silence the 10% of people who consider themselves woke.

Do you consider FOX to be as biased as you think CNN and MSNBC are? 

No, but I admit FOX certainly leans right, and more today than it ever has. But I don’t think it is as biased, because FOX will put on people who disagree with the Conservative point of view and not just shills. They’ll put on people who genuinely hold liberal positions and who are able to articulate them well, and this fosters meaningful debate. Look at election night coverage: FOX News will have plenty of liberals and conservatives. MSNBC will not have one conservative- not one republican, the closest they’ll get is somebody like Steve Schmidt of The Lincoln Project or Nicole Wallace, who are the Jennifer Rubins of television. They’re as far Left as they come, but at one point in their past, they were republicans, so they pass. So no, I do not think that FOX is anywhere near as biased towards the Right as MSNBC and CNN are to the Left.

From your experience at FOX News with Roger Ailes to Trump’s harassment of you live on CNN, you’ve been attacked by sexist ideology many times. However, you’ve unfailingly presented yourself to the public as confident and undisturbed, never once portraying yourself as a victim. Given all you’ve accomplished in the face of these challenges, many people view you as a feminist icon. What dissuades you personally from describing yourself as a feminist? 

I think the word feminist is too often associated with hatred and demonization of men, or that somehow we empower ourselves at the expense of men. I reject all of that. Though I won’t adopt that term, I’ve always said I’m all for female empowerment, but I’m for empowerment of all people. I look at my daughter and I want her to go into the workforce and feel that she can do anything.  It could be STEM, or it could be English literature. I don’t want her pushed into the sciences in the name of equality, if that’s not what she wants to do. If she wants to be a housewife and raise children, go for it. 

But, I don’t want her to feel empowered at the expense of my sons. I don’t want them to be the scourge of the world just because they happen to have been born male or with white skin. It’s not a zero-sum game. We don’t have to empower ourselves at the expense of others. That doesn’t work. Coalitions are what work: building together and with generosity towards spirit and human failure. 

I hate victimization culture, I really do. And that’s not to say people don’t get victimized. I have been targeted in the past because I’m a female. I know that to be the case. However, I refuse to say that I am a victim in any way, shape, or form. I’ve overcome a lot of challenges because, like any human male, female, White, Black, you name it, I get knocked down for reasons that are fair and unfair, cruel and unreasonable. The secret to life is getting back up and looking inside yourself for ways you can do better the next time, whether it’s avoiding nasty people, finding a different employer, or filing a lawsuit if somebody’s done you wrong legally. If you see massive injustice, speak up. But when you make your whole life’s work about identity, you forget the privilege of being an individual who can take control of your own life and the circumstances. It disempowers people.

You have been targeted by politicians on social media many times. Are journalists a fair target for politicians?

If you asked me that five years ago, I would have said no, that the politicians are players on the field, and the journalists are supposed to be on the sidelines. However, I think that during the Trump election, Jorge Ramos (and others) suggested journalists should abandon objectivity and should become more partisan and pointed in their personal attacks. He said, “you should call Trump a racist.” And he won that argument. Journalists knowingly shed their objectivity because they viewed him as such an existential threat, and once you do that, once you make yourself a player on the field, you’re fair game. So when Trump would go after somebody like Jim Acosta who was very clearly expressing personal beliefs about Trump on a daily basis, I understood why. I didn’t think it was the same sin as in earlier years if a politician had singled out a journalist and gone after him/her with that sort of vigor.

Do you think  the Republican Party enables the spread of disinformation and conspiracy theories more than the Democratic Party does? For example, do the media organizations like FOX do this more than The New York Times or CNN? 

Definitely not. Look at Russiagate, and at CNN and social media. When anybody tried to talk about whether the COVID virus came from a Wuhan lab, or whether Fauci’s group funded Gain-of-function Research. All of this was considered anathema to say, and now the NIH has admitted it. True conspiracy theories happen on the Right more on Youtube and Reddit and some of these internet sites where people get pulled down  rabbit holes. Before you know it, they’re deep into QAnon, Conspiracy Land. Suddenly, Hillary Clinton and John Podesta are running some pedophile ring out of a pizza shop. 

That’s not something FOX News would push. There is still a standard at FOX. When it came to election integrity, I think FOX toed the line pretty well, just ask Chris Stirewalt, right? He did not submit to any of that, he was helping to run the FOX News decision desk on election night. Ultimately, he got fired. I think FOX has somewhat toyed with conspiracy theories here and there, but I wouldn’t say they’re as eager to promote them as some of the folks at MSNBC and CNN.

In my experience, the more a story confirms one’s partisan beliefs, the more likely it is to be touted. ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos just interviewed Christopher Steele, who claimed there was a video of Trump being urinated on by prostitutes in Russia. Christopher Steele’s dossier has been utterly discredited. He should not have been given a platform, we know that what’s in that report wasn’t true, and we know that the report was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign. Why is he on television? That’s not journalism and it’s not good for the country.

What role are journalists playing in exacerbating division, antagonism, and even violence in America? 

I don’t know if I’m going to use the word violence because I’m a big free speech advocate. The more I’ve looked at these cases, I’ve noticed very few in which journalists’ words result in violence. It’s a really tough case to make. Incitement is basically what you’re talking about, and it’s very rare. However, stoking outreach and pushing false narratives happen all the time. I remember sending out a tweet at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, it was March 2020, and Trump was holding a press conference full of misinformation. He had to correct about four things he said 30 minutes after he was on air. The media was, of course, painting him as a buffoon. They said all of his policies as terrible, and called his travel ban on folks coming into the U.S. from China racist. 

 I remember tweeting out, ‘I’m so frustrated that I don’t have a president whom I can trust, and I don’t have a media whose reports I can trust’. They said, “Trust the CDC, trust Fauci.” Well, we know Fauci lied to us. The CDC has been wrong from the beginning, and we now know they made up things, like the six feet rule, out of thin air. It’s a great frustration that the media’s not trustworthy and that public health has been grossly undermined in the name of politics over the past two years. I have great concerns about the media’s complicity in how conspiratorial and distrustful people have become.

Are both the liberal and conservative media equally guilty of cultivating contempt for the other side, or do you think one is more culpable than the other? 

I certainly would not say conservative media is not guilty of cultivating contempt for left-wing media, that is a fair charge, but perfectly fair the other way too. The media definitely had a left-wing bias for pretty much all of its modern existence, and then you had an entity like Fox come on and start calling them on it. The problems seemed to get worse instead of better. Then the liberal media caught on to the whole routine and started calling out Fox. Then, the two were pointing fingers at one another. I do think it’s probably better that we have the liberal media owning its bias, or at least showing it very clearly, so that it’s pretty much undeniable. And calling Fox News out for its right-wing bent is important, too.

One of the biggest differences between the news in 2021 and the news in 2003 is that, now, consumers watch television knowing that the person delivering the news not only disagrees with their worldview, but can’t stand them. To turn to that person and say, “Well, you should trust this person nonetheless,” is a very tough ask.

Does the business model upon which media networks operate incentivize them to incite outrage more than it incentivizes them to report on the truth? 

If you want to end it at, “Does it incentivize them to stoke outrage?”, the answer to that is 100% yes. I wouldn’t say there’s no commitment to the truth, I just think the truth by these organizations is seen through a partisan lens, which produces misleading reporting. What is truth, right? Rachel Maddow’s still pushing Russia-gate; she still hasn’t apologized. She still would sit down here and tell you that she had it right. She didn’t. So, I can’t say that she believes it’s a lie, as much as it’s her partisan agenda and her ideological blinders. 

But there’s no question that the business of cable news, whether it’s FOX, CNN, or MSNBC, is about stoking outrage, about making you angry so you don’t leave — so you stay tuned in that night and the next. And it’s one of the reasons why I left cable: I felt filled with toxins and separated from my soul. I rescued myself from that, but that’s not to say I don’t have a point of view, anybody who’s listening to me knows I have a point of view. I’m not afraid of expressing it, as your readers are going to know from this exchange. In the end, to be in the business of fomenting anger is just not something in which I have any interest.

Do you think the fact that these companies, like the news networks and Facebook, profit off of anger and antagonism should be restricted?

No. It’s free will, like the off button and the X-ing out of Facebook. People are smart enough, and I think the internet has been around long enough now that people are aware of its business model. You’re either going to wise-up and realize that’s not a smart way of consuming your information, or you’re going to get sucked in, lead an unhappy and toxic life. The light bulb either will or will not go off in your head. It’s up to you. I don’t think the answer is getting rid of big-gulp sodas or getting rid of the e-cigarette—big government basically trying to come in and say, “Let me mother you.” 

Do you think that individuals or the networks themselves should bear more responsibility to find or provide trustworthy news?

I think the responsibility begins with the news organization. But, let’s face it, to my earlier point, the news networks think they’re providing you with the truth. CNN believed that the Covington kid, Nick Sandmann, was an evil racist standing on the steps of the Supreme Court. Did CNN do its homework before it ran to the press with that? No. Did they have ill motives? Did they know he was actually a good kid who wasn’t doing anything wrong when they said the opposite?  I don’t think so.

They were reckless about it. I don’t think we can base our push for reform on the motivations of those reporting the news. They’re partisan operations that have business and dollars as their bottom line, not a noble public service, as I think used to be the case. The consumers are in a “buyer beware” situation as well. However, most consumers now know this and make decisions based on their own politics. When they want to see their worldview affirmed, they go to CNN or MSNBC or FOX. I don’t think we’re in the dark days of thinking CNN is just news. 

And, I think we have Trump to thank for that, in part. Trump didn’t cause the problems of bias at CNN, but he absolutely exposed them, exacerbated them. And I think it was CNN’s ruination. They’ve ruined what was once a sterling brand.

You’ve said that unity is an unfeasible goal in America. In one interview you referred to the prospect of unity as “fools gold.” If it’s naive to think there can be a solution to our division, is there anything at all that we can do to reduce the politically-based hatred spreading across America? 

I think the woke need to be silenced. They’re the most divisive force in America right now, and they’ve seized control of so many institutions that their danger grows by the day. To what? To what end? Once you’ve shamed all of the men or cis-gendered individuals- people who aren’t part of some minority group when it comes to background, heritage, skin color- then what? What’s the plan? It used to be that we didn’t have to demonize individuals based on things for which they had no control.

In fact, we used to consider that unlawful. It used to be illegal to discriminate against people for their immutable characteristics. And that left us time to argue over things like tax policy, the environment, and reproductive rights. We used to enter the conversation with a presumption of the other person’s humanity, and for the most part, fundamental goodness, even though there were disagreements on the issues. Now it’s the opposite. The woke brigade wants to walk in thinking one side is evil and the other side, which is entirely virtuous, needs to be dispensed with. There’s no point in talking to them because they will not be dis-abused of those notions. Anyone reading these comments who’s woke will already be outraged and not worth spending time with. But for the rest of the 90% out there who are either afraid of the woke or can’t stand what they’re doing to the country, there’s plenty of room to talk. 

Enter the room understanding that if you were in the bunker with this person across from you, you’d be holding one another, you’d be talking about your children, about humanity, about what a privilege it is to be on the earth at this particular time in history. We used to enter rooms understanding all of that, and then have good old-fashioned slugfests on issues we care deeply about. Then, at the end of the day, we’d have a beer together and then go home to our families. That’s what I’d like to return to. If we can get back to that place, we have lots of hope. If we surrender to identity politics as being the single and most important driver of who we are and how we relate to one another, we’re doomed.

Do you consider America to be exceptional? 

Absolutely. I think America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. It was in the news this week that China had developed a supersonic weapon, and, reportedly, our Intel officials were surprised. Then, Jen Psaki took to the White House lectern and said, “We welcome the competition.” No, we don’t. Do we welcome the opportunity for China to potentially incinerate millions of Americans? No, we do not welcome that, Jen. But the reason we don’t welcome it, besides that that kind of a weapon is extremely dangerous in the hands of a potential enemy, is because China doesn’t deserve to have a weapon like that. They’re not as noble. They’re not as good. They’re not as committed to morality as we are. We’re not engaged in an ethnic genocide right now and there’s not some mass forced sterilization of women going on. 

We have always strived for a higher ideal; those ideals espoused in that Constitution, Equal Protection, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, due process for those accused, etc are special. While we haven’t always executed those ideals perfectly, we strive, we try, and we’re committed to them. Even on the issue of race: in the course of 200 years we went from enslaving an entire group of people to giving them their freedom and giving them the right to vote. 

Now, you’ve got millions of people of African descent coming over to America because they want to live here. No one is going to Somalia in these numbers. No one’s even going to Europe in these numbers. They’re coming here because this is the land of opportunity, where you can go from rags to riches if you work hard. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect or you’re not going to run into racists or sexists or transphobes. But, it does happen to be a society where it is at least possible to overcome these challenges. Do you think that a White woman or a Black man could go over to China and become the leader? Okay, good luck with that. Why is it possible in America? Because, although it’s not perfect, America is not a racist nor sexist country. It’s a country in which anything is possible, and I still believe in the American dream. I’ve seen it too many times, and I’ve lived it myself in order to cast it out. The country has flaws, deep flaws, and so do we all. It’s part of being human.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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