You know, one could make a strong argument that the misadventures of a richly compensated morning TV host is not worth thinking about, arguing about, or even paying attention to. The problem is that in trivial events vital enlightenment often reside. We ignore the Megyn Kelly mess at great risk. There are many ethics lessons there.
The Megyn Kelly fiasco started long before her self-immolation over the now-radioactive topic of Halloween costumes, but let’s begin there. In case you missed it (that is, you have a life), Kelly was using her special segment of the “Today Show” to moderate a round-table discussion of how, as she put it, “the costume police are cracking down” on Halloween costumes. The former Fox News host and Donald Trump irritant decided to emulate the President and blunder into a political correctness minefield.
“What is racist?” she mused. “You do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid, that was O.K., as long as you were dressing up as a character.” Then she talked about the travails of Luann de Lesseps, a member of the cast of the Bravo reality show “The Real Housewives of New York,” who was criticized for dressing up as Diana Ross, complete with skin-tone. Megyn found the criticism passing strange.
By the end of the week, Kelly had issued a tearful on-air apology and others on social media. She had been condemned by “Today” colleagues and NBC News chairman Andrew Lack, went even further at a midday staff meeting, saying,“There is no other way to put this, but I condemn those remarks.There is no place on our air or in this workplace for them.”
Then NBC announced that “Megyn Kelly Today” was cancelled, and so was Kelly’s 19 million dollar a year employment, subject to the result of negotiations between her lawyers and NBC’s.
- Should Kelly have been fired for her statements? Let’s begin this way: she never should have been hired, and her eventually firing was inevitable. NBC is a hard-left partisan culture, and Kelly is an outspoken conservative iconoclast. She didn’t fit in with the insular sensibilities of the staff and management; her instincts and attitudes were anathema to everything NBC projects and has become. If the idea was to broaden “Today’s” audience and diversify its one-note culture by adding a single conservative voice, the idea was ignorant. Either the NBC culture was going to change Kelly, or at least her public persona, rendering he addition pointless, or she was going to be in a constant adversary stance within the network.
Should she have been fired for her statements about Halloween costumes alone? Of course not. And I doubt that this was anything but an excuse to jettison her while reaping the benefits of progressive virtue-signaling to its core audience.
- Kelly’s opinion was not “racist” by any definition, nor did it indicate that she hold racist view. Lack’s words were wildly excessive. Kelly’s statement, if anything, indicates a desire to get past racial “gotcha’s” and taboos, which in a society not obsessed with race-grievances should be possible and desirable. This was a round-table discussion, and she uttered a provocative point of view. The statement wasn’t that blacks should be mocked by whites using minstrel show-style blackface, but that an African American should be able to dress up as a white character—requiring make-up, and a white (or Asian-American) person should be able to costume themselves as black character or historical figure, with make-up if necessary. It’s an opinion that should be able to to be stated to open up a meaningful discussion covering many topics: sensitivity, historical context, theater, the concept of Halloween, double standards, and more. Lack’s response, echoing the majority, is “Shut up! How dare you challenge political correctness cant and lazy knee-jerk attitudes?
I will argue Kelly’s basic point with anyone, and have, right here, from a theatrical perspective. Should a white actor be able to play Othello. requiring dark make-up? Absolutely, and that’s not “blackface.” Should any American child, white or black, be able to portray a black U.S. President? Again, absolutely. In the current oppressive, bullying and hypersensitive environment, can a white child do this safely and without fear of reprisals?
That’s a different question.
- Kelly’s manner of raising these issues, however, was ham-handed, inarticulate and destructive. It is an important, nuanced and complex issue that deserves careful dissection and critical thought, especially because most people just shift into emotional responses and tune out anyway. If a TV host is going to raise such an issue, she has an obligation to do it in a way that opens minds and encourages enlightened discourse. That requires a lot better than, “Gee, when I was a kid, we dressed up as Aunt Jemima and Super Fly and nobody seemed to mind!” I’ve moderated academic discussions on this topic, and it’s difficult. Kelly’s framing and presentation was incompetent, and she obviously didn’t do the necessary background research.
She deserved to be fired for that.
- All parties are at fault here, and the end result takes one more bite out of freedom of thought, opinion and expression. For Kelly’s blandly unsophisticated and poorly thought-out remarks to be characterized as racist and used to justify her firing based on their “offensive” content chills speech, which is something news networks should not be a part of.
Kelly was astoundingly naive to not know that she, of all people, was in peril if she approached this particular cultural third rail, that activists would pounce and seek her hide to reinforce their own power, and that nobody on the Left—only the Right, and we all know they’re racists—would have the integrity to defend her. (Well, maybe Bill Maher. I haven’t checked, and won’t.)
- Worse was her groveling apologies to keep her job. I am about to modify my official position that Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harman in “NCIS”) and Nathan Brittles (the Duke in “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon”) are ethically off base when they say, “Never apologize, it’s a sign of weakness.” Apologizing for a controversial but legitimate and defensible statement or opinion in the face of threats, bullying and intimidation is a sign of weakness. If you are not capable of defending own opinions and taking the heat, then you shouldn’t be making your opinions public.
At this point I have little sympathy or respect for Kelly. She appears to lack integrity, common sense, and perspective, and isn’t as smart as I once thought she was.