As a natural contrarian, I often find myself being tougher on people who I like/respect than on those for whom I have disdain. This especially the case when the person I truly loathe is being universally excoriated, and thus there is little need to join the pile-on.
Thus is the case with the battle yesterday between Bill O’Reilly (the obvious bad guy) and Megyn Kelly, who some are saying is worthy of praise for her on-air attack on him. To be clear, I have never liked/trusted O’Reilly, and that was even before I appeared on his shows a few times and he blatantly lied to me in a way that cost me a significant amount of money while I was making my 2009 documentary, Media Malpractice.
Like most people, I am appalled at the news he settled a case of apparent “nonconsensual” sex for $32 million. There is just currently no way for me to logically conclude that such a deal is anything other than a guilty plea.
While it is not politically correct to say it, Kelly, who I had always liked until she made a series of significant missteps in the last two years, is deserving for some criticism here as well. At the very least, she is no hero and her mishandling of this situation is indicative of why this problem of sexual power plays in the media has become, at least until now, such an out of control crises.
My first problem with what she did yesterday is that the way she said that she “complained” to Fox News last year about O’Reilly gave the false impression (to at least some casual viewers and headline readers), possibly on purpose, that she had directly accused O’Reilly of some sort of sexual transgression. In reality, she had written an email to her bosses complaining about how O’Reilly had attacked the portions of her book about disgraced former Fox New chief Roger Ailes while he was a guest on CBS.
It is interesting to note that in the email Kelly reveals knowledge of O’Reilly’s own history of harassment and disparages him as a person, this subject is not what prompted the email. It was O’Reilly going after her book which prompted her to write to her bosses.
Another element which bothers me about what Kelly did, or more accurately, didn’t do, is that she then remained almost entirely quiet about O’Reilly and his role in creating the now obviously toxic environment of female harassment at Fox News.
It is not as if she didn’t have the platform or the clout to make the subject of this email a major news story. She clearly chose not to do so because she didn’t want to incur the wrath of the then still very powerful O’Reilly, and possibly derail her own book tour and the NBC deal, which clearly was already being thought about. While that choice might be understandable, it is obviously not the stuff of which heroes are made.
It isn’t as if we don’t have further evidence to indicate that Kelly has a tendency to withhold important information about powerful men known for sexual harassment until it is in her self-interest to do so. For instance, she says that Ailes acted inappropriately with her and yet she remained largely on the sidelines of that battle until well after it was perfectly safe for her to emerge.
But it is her self-censorship for strategic preservation in the case of President Donald Trump for which I think Kelly’s real motivations here are placed in the harshest of light. According to her book, conveniently published just after the 2016 election, Trump directly threatened her before she hosted the critical first GOP debate, was likely tipped off by someone at Fox (Ailes?) about the all-important first question she asked him, and may have even had her poisoned!
It still shocks me that Kelly was somehow willing/able to never say one word about anyone of this during the campaign, even when she interviewed Trump for a primetime special, and not only managed to maintain her career, but got a huge (though possibly ill-fated) promotion at NBC out of the deal. To paraphrase Adam Sandler in the movie The Wedding Singer, this would have been good information to have BEFORE Trump became the GOP nominee!
In this context, it sure seems like Kelly only decided to reveal this O’Reilly email now because, given the excuse of the $32 million revelation, it was suddenly simply in her self-interest to do so. O’Reilly, disgrace and defanged, is no longer a threat to her, she no longer has to worry about offending his fans at Fox News, this is a narrative which plays exceedingly well with her brand new demographic of stay-at-home-moms on NBC, and she was in desperate need of a conversation changer after her disastrous “dance party” attempt last week.
While on the subject of false heroes, I would like to make one other point on a subject which keeps coming up in this never-ending Weinstein/O’Reilly news cycle. That is the topic of “Nondisclosure Agreements” as a part of settling cases of sexual harassment or assault.
Kelly’s guest on Monday, O’Reilly accuser Juliet Huddy, admitted that she feels regret over signing a “NDA” and thus preventing herself from being able to possibly put an end to O’Reilly’s antics by publicly exposing him. Of course, Kelly never pressed her about how much money she got paid specifically because she was willing to sign her speech rights away, or if anyone ever “forced” her to do so. That would be far too insensitive to the victim!
The reality is that no one in this story was ever “forced” to sign an “NDA.” They did so because they wanted more money in their settlement. It doesn’t necessarily make them bad people by making that decision, but can we please refrain from then giving those who did so, and allowed others to be put at risk in the future because of it, the honor of being called “courageous” or “heroic”?
Life is often very hard and causes people to make extremely difficult choices. When you elect to take the easy way out, that call should come with at least some small price to pay.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at [email protected]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.