Book review: Megyn Kelly on Trump and Roger Ailes of Fox News - a painful and disturbing read
Fox anchor’s memoir reveals how Trump-inspired threats on Twitter forced her to hire armed guard for family holiday and how she learned to navigate around her boss’ sexual advances
Settle for More
by Megyn Kelly
This was supposed to be the Year of the Woman. Instead, 2016 has shaped up to be the Year of Powerful Men and the Women They Demeaned, Harassed or Worse. The charges against Bill Cosby, the fall of Fox’s Roger Ailes and the rise of president-elect Donald Trump all contributed to that distinction.
It’s no surprise, then, that Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly’s new book, Settle for More, gives a behind-the-scenes look at her dealings with two of the most influential men in media and politics – Ailes and Trump.
Kelly’s book is meant to be an uplifting memoir about her impressive rise from middle-class Syracuse, New York girl to one of America’s most successful news anchors. Yet it’s her painful and disturbing account of what it means to be a high-profile female journalist in the age of Fox News, Twitter and Trump that resonates.
Kelly, 46, writes that she became the target of Trump’s “relentless” personal attacks in 2015 after she reported that his first wife, Ivana, testified in divorce proceedings that he raped her (an accusation later retracted).
She explains that his fury was further stoked during an exchange in the August 2015 Republican primary debate in which Kelly, then a moderator, asked Trump about the derogatory way he’d referred to women as “fat pigs”, “dogs”, “slobs” and “disgusting animals”.
Like many before and after her, Kelly became the target of Trump’s now infamous social media assaults. He called her a “bimbo” on Twitter, posted fake photos of her cavorting with Saudi royalty and began referring to her as “crazy Megyn”. Kelly figured it would blow over. It did not.
When Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, retweeted a supporter who wanted to “gut her”, she writes, things turned dangerous. “Most disturbing were the overwhelming and violent nature of the messages (I) was receiving – and the way Trump’s anger was evidently seen by some as a call to action,” she writes.
By the time the mother of three flew to Disney World for vacation, it was with her “family – and our security guard,” she writes. “Yes, we took an armed guard to the Magic Kingdom. More guns, more guards. My year of Trump.”
As a precursor to the four years ahead, Settle for More is unsettling. One has to wonder why she didn’t publicly reveal her bizarre ordeal with Trump sooner, given that he was aiming for the White House.
Would it have changed the outcome of the election? Probably not, but timing the book to come out after the election feels like somewhat of a cop-out.
Still, as Kelly’s personal story, the book is a testament to her resolve, even in the face of Trump calling his good friend Ailes to “rein her in”. To Ailes’ credit, says Kelly, he did no such thing.
Yes, Ailes is the same man Kelly claims sexually harassed her, so his support of her may be confusing to some. Yet Kelly explains what many women already know – turning in a boss, especially one as powerful as Ailes, is career suicide. She complained to a superior, nothing happened, so she learned to navigate the CEO’s unwanted advances.
Of one such incident in 2006, she writes, “I dodged the first two attempts, pushed him away, and immediately went to leave. … As I walked away from him, he followed me and asked me an ominous question: ‘When is your contract up?’ And then, for the third time, he tried to kiss me.” She got out without acquiescing and effectively avoided Ailes until he eventually lost interest.
It wasn’t until former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson filed suit against Ailes that many women, including Kelly, came forward with similar stories. Kelly has caught flak for taking so long to out Ailes – a decision she still grapples with. But as a newbie with little or no power at the network, the reality was that pushing her case to human resources would have likely been a career-destroying move. Kelly is hardly an anomaly; she’s instead one of few women brave enough to admit her shame for not doing something more, and sooner.
In prose that is simple, clean and straightforward, Kelly comes across as casual and warm one minute, formal and stiff the next. It’s a duality that reflects her on-screen personality. In retelling her story, Kelly struggles with reconciling her own experiences, negative and positive, with the narratives of right-wing culture that dominate Fox News.
Though she was hurt by Trump and other bullies in her past – competitive women at Fox, Ivy League snobs in her early law career, mean girls in middle school – Kelly makes it clear that she’s no victim.
Our politically correct culture has created a “cupcake nation” of young people, writes Kelly, who need “safe spaces”, making them unable to deal with adversity like she has.
The only time she comes off as the victim is when she uses the tired Fox rhetoric of being misunderstood and attacked by the mainstream media. Yet Fox, the top-rated cable news network, is the mainstream media.
And though she’s fought for her rights as a woman and is concerned about preserving her daughter’s self-worth when asked by the child what a “bimbo” is, Kelly says she’s not a “feminist” because feminists are “emasculating”.
In Settle for More, Kelly writes candidly about the deception she felt when her colleague Bill O’Reilly interviewed Trump during his attacks on Kelly, yet sidestepped asking the candidate tough questions about his barrage of insults and tweets.
Kelly writes that she was hurt, and even cried, though you would have never known it from the unflappable expression on her face when she returned from a vacation to do her show and later reconciled with Trump in a rather uneventful interview.
Her cool demeanour was described by activist Bill Ayers, whom Kelly took to task on the run-up to Obama’s 2008 White House bid, as “a Cyborg created in the basement of Fox News. She’s striking, but very metallic, very cold”.
But if you believe her admissions in the book, Kelly is a mix of many emotions – they’re just wrapped in a more well-groomed package than most.