Up until about a year ago, Donald Trump was but a minor figure in Megyn Kelly’s life. He’d made a couple of appearances on her Fox News show, “The Kelly File,” but beyond that, Kelly’s interactions with the real estate mogul had been minimal at best.
Then, shortly before he launched his historically unconventional presidential campaign in June 2015, Trump started reaching out to Kelly directly. He’d call to compliment segments of her show that he’d enjoyed or send autographed clips of newspaper articles that mentioned her.
In retrospect, Kelly told Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric at Tina Brown’s seventh annual Women in the World summit Wednesday, the candidate was likely “trying to curry favor” with the Fox News anchor. She also told Couric that she later found out Trump had made similar overtures to other journalists. But at the time, Kelly said, she didn’t think much of it.
It was only after she hit the brazen billionaire with a hardball question during the first Republican presidential debate of 2016 — prompting Trump to boycott the following Fox News debate and launch a stream of attacks against Kelly that Fox News recently deemed “extreme,” “sick” and “beneath the dignity of a presidential candidate who wants to occupy the highest office in the land” — that Kelly said she recognized Trump’s newfound friendliness for what it was.
“I think he felt betrayed,” Kelly said of Trump’s reaction to her question, which prodded him on his record of making disparaging and degrading comments about women. His immediate response, she noted, was, “I’ve been very nice to you.”
“But I didn’t ask him to call me or send me those clippings,” Kelly told Couric. “It was a nice gesture, but it’s not going to stop me from asking tough questions.”
Fox News Channel anchors and debate moderators, from left, Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier, begin the Jan. 28 Republican presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)
Couric and Kelly later discussed whether the appeal of high ratings influenced the way the press covered Trump as compared to other candidates.
“If everyone had stood up from the beginning and asked very tough questions — which is what we get paid to do — there wouldn’t have been this issue, because we would have all been shoulder to shoulder asking tough questions so you couldn’t cut off access,” Kelly said.
“You can’t, as a presidential candidate, shut down everybody. You can’t shut down Fox, CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, you can’t,” Kelly said. “There is strength in numbers on our side too, and this was a moment, an opportunity for solidarity among the press that I think we missed.”
It was no doubt Kelly’s willingness to take on perhaps the country’s biggest bully that earned her a spot among the headliners at Brown’s annual gathering of female journalists, activists, world leaders and celebrities at Lincoln Center.
Still, Kelly admitted Wednesday, being in Trump’s crosshairs isn’t always easy.
“I’m not going to say it doesn’t bother me,” Kelly replied when Couric asked how she deals with the “onslaught of nastiness” from Trump. “It has bothered me and at times it has gotten very ugly. But I also understand that it’s part of the job.”