I’ve never read a book by a woman with so much male ego as Settle for More (Harper) by former Fox TV News anchor Megyn Kelly (who’s soon to go to NBC).
Confident and inspired even in childhood, little Megyn radiates entitlement as she asks the universe, What greatness does my future have in store? (my paraphrase). How will my inner gifts define my destiny?
Learning that girls’ baseball teams don’t exist in her neighborhood, Megyn tells her mother to sign her up for boys’ baseball with no fuss or fights or lawsuits (yet).
She has her vulnerable moments, too. There was a time in school when she was bullied by very cruel kids. But today, Megyn thinks it was a good thing. It toughened her. “Adversity is an opportunity,” she tells us, “and one that has allowed me to flourish. It has made me stronger, my skin a little thicker.“
When Megyn Kelly becomes one of a few women attorneys hired by a prestigious law firm, she refuses to copy case files. It’s not fair, she writes, to charge the client an associate’s fee when a paralegal can do it. What she means: I didn’t compete my ass off in law school to stand in front of a Xerox machine.
Overall, her mantra — “I never say no to hard work” — serves Kelly well as she carves out her path to Fox TV News. We see her prepping hard for interviews into the wee hours, dressing for combat in her fashionable, tight tight tight cocktail dresses. Kelly rises quickly to become the King of TV News with “the most successful news show in all of cable.”
Now readers, please don’t confuse matters by asking, Shouldn’t a woman be called the queen instead of the king in all of cable? Goodness, no. Power has no gender for Megyn Kelly, who with her Womb of Steel seems to have conceived and delivered three children by herself. No wonder their names — Thatcher, Yardley and Yates — sound vaguely like fancy soaps from a hotel called Downton Abbey.
It’s no wonder, too, that Megyn Kelly refuses to be called a feminist. What does being a woman have to do with ambition? She advises women, “the less time talking about our gender, the better.” Take the other path: “Be so good they can’t ignore you,” as a poster advised her news team at their pod at Fox.
Kelly says she wasn’t bothered a bit when an executive showed her into an office decorated with photos of nude women. Quoting Gwyneth Paltrow, who’s said that modern women can be “nurturing, maternal, sexual,” — Megyn Kelly says she, too, can be “playful and sexy,” as she was for GQ Magazine, or when she appeared “sophisticated and feminine” on the cover of Vanity Fair, or when she answered questions about her bra cup size and sex life during pregnancy on the icky Howard Stern radio program. “Even during the third trimester?” he asks as she sits there forcing a smile. Oh yes, that and more, she tells him, but in a YouTube clip she looks more like a sex slave than a news professional.
All that is simply contributing to “a new archetype for women,” she writes, “that thankfully we’re seeing more often: multidimensional.” Or more testosteronal, or something. “I had just one path forward,” she writes.
How do we know this is true? Because Megyn Kelly seems fated to become the one journalist to stand up to Donald Trump in that male-to-male way he can’t tolerate, especially since it comes from a woman.
Seeing her rise at Fox, Trump first tries to woo her with gifts (Megyn returns them), flowers (she refuses them), even a vow to pay for a weekend she spent with girlfriends at the Trump Hotel (she pays it herself).
And so he gets miffed when Kelly is the only news anchor at Fox to realize that it’s wrong for a news program to cover “Trump being Trump: unscripted, unguarded, and fun to watch,” meaning not newsworthy. Too much of that Trump, she realizes, is the equivalent of “television crack cocaine.”
Giving Trump air time might raise ratings, she says, but featuring the crack cocaine Trump on a news show before the Republican primaries became a “questionable choice.” With Tom Lowell, her executive producer, Kelly issues a new directive — “no more gratuitous Trump coverage.”
So that’s good, right? It shows us that Megyn Kelly has standards. Running clips of Trump actually saying something substantive, news-wise, is “a call to remember our journalistic duty, to provide balance and be judicious in our coverage, not to sell our souls for ratings or for our own entertainment.” But there is a price: When she makes sure that her own show, The Kelly File, sticks to that kind of hard news, Trump is furious.
This is where the book turns into a real surprise. For the first time that I know of, we learn the extraordinary lengths to which Trump goes to malign, ridicule and demean Kelly behind the scenes as well as in public; the phone calls he makes to Fox’s chiefs, including his pal, the now-fallen CEO Roger Ailes, to get her removed from the network’s host team at the Republican debates; the Tweets and e-mails he sends out to stir up his followers, who in turn bombard Kelly with hate mail, death threats and obscene texts.
Kelly refuses to relent, and the scary stuff gets worse — cars showing up at her house, strangers approaching her mother, retweets (by Trump Organization VP Michael Cohen) of a Trump supporter saying “we can gut her” — and soon Fox hires body guards for the whole family. When Trump tells her he knows about the top-secret question she’s planning to ask him at the first Republican debate (“You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs’ and ‘disgusting animals’ … “), she realizes he’s infiltrated Fox with undercover spies, and they’re targeting her.
But wait: Is Trump also capable of dirty tricks? On the morning of the first debate, a suspicious case of food poisoning (apparently from the cup of coffee brought to her by an unknown driver) nearly sends Kelly to the hospital. She recovers in time for the broadcast, where she asks Trump the question about women, and after that, he famously goes on the attack: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
More than demeaning Kelly, the comment reveals to millions that Trump is disgusted by natural functions of women’s bodies (Hillary urinating, Kelly menstruating). But he seems to think all men feel that way, so he uses it as bait.
“Trump wanted me to respond, so he got worse,” she writes, “I was a woman with power and couldn’t be brought to heel. I think he believed I could help or hurt him more than Anderson Cooper or Chuck Todd, both of whom also covered Trump with skepticism.”
Kelly “takes the high road” by following a “policy of dignity,” and remains silent. Reporters, however, dog her with questions about her “feud” with Trump. Again Kelly seems capable of focusing on the principle at stake. “I was still covering the news, but I was also being covered. Although I did nothing to stoke or even respond to it, the Trump-vs.-Me storyline was still regularly in the press.”
This is her hard-won truth: When a reporter gets in the way of the story — and in Kelly’s case becomes the story — legitimate news suffers. Kelly insists on following her goal: “To cover Trump fairly and without fear.”
We get the feeling that Fox would have loved Kelly to appear victimized by Trump, but she sees the damage starting when her young daughter tells her, “I’m afraid of Donald Trump. He wants to hurt me.” That’s enough for Kelly. She vows to put a stop to it.
How Kelly confronts Donald Trump personally without telling the Fox bosses makes for an eye-opening chapter. But doubly intriguing is the way she finally acknowledges that for years, Fox CEO Roger Ailes was guilty of sexual harassment.
It ranged from inappropriate jokes and comments about her bra size to chasing her around his office and demanding sexual favors. Facing that familiar dilemma — blow the whistle and get labeled a troublemaker; keep quiet and he’ll get worse — Kelly talks to “a supervisor” who seems to help Ailes see the error of his ways. For the next ten years, “Roger never sexually harassed me again.”
Kelly, then, could keep quiet when allegations by other women at Fox begin to surface. But realizing how precarious their jobs become when Ailes lines up supporters to defend him, Kelly the Gladiator — the Fox star who’s so established she can’t be fired — is born.
It’s Kelly who makes the call to the Rupert Murdoch second-in-command (his son Lachlan) and says, “You need to get your general counsel on the phone. I have something to tell you.” And it’s Kelly’s testimony that pretty much cinches Ailes’ resignation.
I’m not a fan of Fox News so I never saw Kelly in action until I looked up a few of her interviews on YouTube. Heavens. She has an irritating habit of interrupting and arguing when she should be listening and guiding the conversation for the sake of viewer clarity. So it will be refreshing, I hope, to see what Megyn Kelly will do when, freed from the conservative hijinks of Fox News, she takes the reins in a more professional way at NBC.
I finished Settle for More still laughing at Kelly’s king-sized ego, but I came to admire her, too. She believes in her principles as honestly as her ambitions, and she’s got an iron will that functions as delicately as a Sherman Tank.
That’s what we need and should demand from every journalist in the next four years.