January 7, 2017 - 9:00 pm
Did you know that Megyn Kelly, the Fox News anchor who just announced she is moving to NBC, is a racist?
Neither did I. And in fact, I’ve seen zero evidence that she is.
Yet the idea that Kelly is basically a Ku Klux Klansman disguised in a sleeveless mini dress turns out, notwithstanding the lack of evidence, to be a widely held belief on the left. It is the latest example of how, in the Trump era, standard liberal anxiety has transmogrified into partisan, paranoid panic, untethered to truth.
“Don’t forget that Megyn Kelly Is a Racial Demagogue,” instructed a headline at Slate, over an article in which that online publication’s chief political correspondent, Jamelle Bouie, wrote, “Another thing Kelly has demonstrated is racist demagoguery, which defined much of her tenure at Fox News.”
He added, “It is misleading to discuss Kelly’s work and future without grappling with her willingness, and occasional eagerness, to spread racist conspiracies and racial fictions.” Slate is owned by Graham Holdings, controlled by the family that used to own The Washington Post.
“Will Megyn Kelly be less racist now that she’s on NBC?” asked a headline in the Root, an online publication owned by Univision Communications, which competes with Fox and NBC in the television business. “Kelly has proved that you can continue to move up the network ladder if your racism comes in a snarky, blond-white-woman package.”
Alternet, a website that has been supported by wealthy foundations such as the Craigslist Charitable Fund and the Nathan Cummings Foundation, headlined its article, “NBC hires Megyn Kelly, racist attitudes and all.”
I scoured these articles, and even another one headlined “Megyn Kelly’s Top Five Most Racist Moments,” for genuine evidence of Kelly’s supposed racism. All that was marshaled was some stuff she said on television, mostly while covering black people in the news. Not one of the articles gave Kelly a chance to respond to the smear. Not one considered the possibility that she might have disagreed with the news judgments, but that her job wasn’t to write the news but to read the script someone had written for her. Not one considered that one of the comments she is criticized for — an on-air claim that Santa Claus is white — was meant humorously.
The speed with which participants in the political debate assume the worst motives for everyone — even journalists — is, unfortunately, one of the defining characteristics of contemporary public life. Say something even mildly critical of Michelle Obama, or probe as a devil’s advocate in an interview about black victims of police violence, and risk getting permanently labeled as a racist.
The novelist Tayari Jones posted on Facebook: “Kelly is moving from Fox to NBC? There’s a word for this: normalization.”
I don’t know whether it’s normal or not to think that just because someone worked for a center-right television news organization such as Fox they can never ever be permitted to work for a “mainstream” news organization such as NBC, or to think that because someone worked for Fox News that they are therefore a “racist.” But I would venture that it’s not healthy, or constructive, or good for the country.
Kelly’s critics may respond that the problem isn’t with the labeling of racism, but with the content of sensationalist news coverage that emphasizes stereotypical black violence. That’s certainly an issue to work on. But the chances for progress aren’t helped by rushing to slap the “racist” label on every vaguely right-of-center or even just middle-of-the-road-not-reflexively-leftist “blond white woman.”
In applying it, Kelly’s critics are guilty of the divisive, thoughtless stereotyping of which they have imaginatively accused her.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of “JFK: Conservative.” His column appears Sunday.