Megyn Kelly and the Changing Face of Conservative News
Megyn Kelly’s contract with Fox News is up in 2017. If she leaves, will Tomi Lahren replace her?
The results of the recent presidential election have brought more hard-line right wing platforms to the forefront: sites like Breitbart and TheBlaze, who once prided themselves on not being part of “the mainstream media” are now very much becoming part of it. They championed Trump during the election, and in the case of Breitbart, its executive chairman is now the Chief White House Strategist. These outlets seem to be rather stealing Fox News’ thunder: they’re louder, more full of invective, and harder right than Fox has ever been, and they’re based more on social media: their success isn’t measured in television ratings but in Facebook likes and internet page views.
For decades, Fox was the conservative news outlet: if you wanted to espouse especially right-wing views on air, that’s where you tried to get an interview. It managed to be very right-wing while still carrying the clout of a major news organization. That’s not to say they were taken especially seriously by many people: John Stewart regularly called them “Bullshit Mountain” on the Daily Show, and they have always been considered an especially biased news source by anyone not a hard line Republican. They were the voices of the Tea Party movement, implying President Obama was Muslim, championing prayer in schools, and pushing religious arguments against abortion.
Megyn Kelly joined Fox News in 2004 as a correspondent after switching from WJLA, abandoning her previous career as a high-powered lawyer at Jones Day. She is one of the three loudest voices of Fox News, alongside Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, and is generally considered “the sane one”; when compared to them, she certainly seems it. Between Sean Hannity joining the birther movement in calls for President Obama to produce his long-form birth certificate and Bill O’Reilly, aside from being an alleged domestic abuser, saying that he would have authorized waterboarding, calling it a “coercive technique” rather than torture, and suggesting that it was okay in the cases it was used because the Geneva Convention apparently doesn’t apply to al Qaeda or ISIL combatants, she looks almost liberal. Not so fast though: she still very much takes part in the invective-filled “War on Christmas” coverage every year, at one point in 2013 saying both Santa and Jesus were white (Santa is a fictional character, but whatever your opinion on Jesus’ existence, if he did exist, he was definitely a Middle Eastern Jew). She may not be as extreme as her counterparts but she is most certainly a conservative: that cannot be disputed.
What she is, however, is a decent journalist, and here is where she is set apart. In 2014, she went on Bill O’Reilly’s show to challenge him on his stance that white privilege is not a factor in America, and suggested that people of colour had a reason to be skeptical of the American justice system, backing it up with research and statistics (not a view that Fox tends to support). She has become increasingly famous for what Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times calls “the Megyn Moment”: when conservative guests come on to her show expecting a friendly, easy atmosphere and she ends up asking them questions or making points that they’re definitely not comfortable with. For example, when Mike Gallagher called her maternity leave “a racket”, she invited him on her show and proceeded to tear him a new one, pointing out that the United States is “the only advanced country that doesn’t require paid [maternity] leave” and asking him exactly why he thought that women should not get time off after giving birth “so bonding and recovery can take place.” These ‘moments’ began to take place more and more often, earning her the attention of the more progressive media outlets.
The most famous of these was when she confronted Donald Trump about his treatment of women at one of the early Republican presidential debates, specifically about the language he uses to describe women that he doesn’t necessarily like. He, of course, complained about the unfairness of the question and suggested that she was menstruating (“She had blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”) His reaction was more of his usual twitter spewing: the harassment she received over that question culminated in threats against her by his supporters earned her a lot of defenders who consider themselves to be very liberal. To her credit, she hasn’t let him or his team off the hook: only the other day, she gave Katrina Pierson a hard time about why Donald Trump is insisting that millions of people voted illegally but is also suing to block a recount in several states.
This, as you can imagine, hasn’t made her very popular with his supporters, many of whom make up a good portion of the Fox News viewership. The end of her contract is coming up in 2017 and there are several people who’d like to see her replaced with the host of Final Thoughts on TheBlaze Network, Tomi Lahren. There is currently a petition on Change.org to replace her because of her “horrific and disrespectful interview[s]” of Mike Pence and Newt Gingrich (these interviews involved a good many ‘Megyn moments’ which didn’t exactly please either man’s supporters).
So, who is Tomi Lahren? She graduated from UNLV after studying broadcast journalism and went looking for an intern job. TheBlaze originally rejected her, but the One America News Network not only hired her, they gave her her own show right off the bat, called on point. It was there she first developed the segment that she is currently famous for, Final Thoughts. In July of 2015, she did a segment criticizing Obama for failing to say “radical Islam” in reference to the shootings on the military base in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It went viral, and brought her to the attention of Glenn Beck and TheBlaze, who now decided to bring her onboard.
She isn’t really what you’d call a good replacement for Megyn Kelly though. There’s a reason she’s been called ‘the next Ann Coulter’ instead of ‘the next Megyn Kelly’. She herself admits this: “I fully acknowledge that I am not a journalist. I clearly have a point of view, I am very passionate about my point of view. I am a commentator.” She’s not wrong: her ‘Final Thoughts’ never include a second opinion and rarely include quotes from anyone, nor are they ever complemented with statistics or verifiable facts: they’re lightning-fast streams of invective against anyone she thinks needs calling out that day. A good portion of the internet understandably hates her, calling her “white power barbie”. In this day and age, though, the idea that all publicity is good publicity certainly applies: her video “eviscerating” (her words, not mine) Colin Kaepernick has over 2,000,000 views and counting, and you can be sure that a good chunk of those views are people hate-watching. In a way, though, that works in her favour, because Fox News is no stranger to ‘commentators’ who offer their opinions on the news rather than actually reporting it (Sean Hannity, anyone?).
That said, there is a significant difference between Miss Lahren and Megyn Kelly, in terms of experience, style, and frankly gravitas. Megyn Kelly brings a lot more to the table: she’s got thirteen years of experience on air, not to mention nearly a decade of legal experience. She’s also become far less likely to rant: she lets her guests do that while she sits back as the reasonable, skeptical anchor. This is a much more effective strategy: there’s a reason that Sean Hannity doesn’t have the primetime slot on Fox. The question here would be whether Fox chooses to prioritize shock and awe tactics over actual (if biased) journalism.
Megyn Kelly’s contract is up in 2017, and she’s being aggressively courted by other networks, most notably CNN. If she leaves, will Tomi Lahren be her successor? My money’s on no.
This article originally published on Odyssey.