Since she wrote it, Megyn Kelly knows that her new book Settle For More—which was strictly embargoed until its release a week after the election in which America voted an autocratic baby carrot into office—is full of dirt about Donald Trump’s internet invective against her, and about Roger Ailes, the one-time CEO of Fox News ousted for sexually harassing numerous network employees.
Which is why—although it is largely an exercise in celebrity memoir writing, blending just the right amount of constructed humanizing details from her childhood in upstate New York and her time in law school with what amounts to an itemized resume of her rise through Fox News—the book leaves a sour taste in my mouth. It’s baffling to watch a person who considers themselves a news professional withhold news from a reading public.
In the book, sold for a reported $10 million, she offers the stories we expect her to offer, but the whole thing reeks of disingenuousness. Kelly knows exactly how much to offer to be controversial, but not permanently damaging to herself or her colleagues. She suggests that various networks would call Trump to go over interview questions beforehand, and that other journalists would openly accept gifts from the now President-elect—both major breaches of ethics. If only a member of the media with a national platform had known about these breaches during the election.
Kelly is currently on a major media tour, granting interviews to the Hollywood Reporter, Good Morning America, and CBS, among others, and she has yet to explain exactly what was barring her from reporting fully on the Trump and Ailes situations during the election. From the book, it seems clear that to do so would to be going against the Fox News ethos, which seemed intent on calming Trump down, rather than protecting its employee and reporting on an unhinged candidate who had threatened to and then followed through with a highly-public misogynistic smear campaign. And, of course, Kelly hadn’t even intended on writing about Ailes negatively—she tacked on a chapter about Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit against him and the network in October.
Surely the anecdotes in her book couldn’t have taken Trump down, but they certainly could have helped exposed the terrified, placating media machine that built him up. (The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple has repeatedly asked Kelly and Fox News why they did not report on Trump’s tactics earlier.) In her book, Kelly, who seems extremely smart and passionate about her work, demonstrates that the media’s dealings with Trump and Ailes are just business, not news.
Midway through the book, Kelly talks about a now infamous segment she did on women breadwinners which prompted Sheryl Sandberg to call her and say, “I love you!” During that call, outlined her attitudes regarding women:
We had a long talk, the first of many, and she has become an inspiring force to me. I love how her brand of feminism highlights the things we can all agree on as women—empowerment, advancement, equality, sisterhood—and steers clear of the more divisive issues.
I told her I am not a feminist. Sheryl—one of the preeminent female role models in America—passed no judgement on my feelings about that term. An example for our younger generation, some of whom openly booed me on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show for saying I do not consider myself a feminist. I almost scolded the young women then and there. Is there no room for ambivalence about that term? We need more women in this sisterhood tent, not less. Who gives a damn what label we use, so long as we are living a life that supports other women?
My problem with the word feminist is that it’s exclusionary and alienating. I look at a lot of the self-titled feminists in this country and think, If that’s the club we’re talking about, I don’t want in. Feminism has become associated, de facto, with liberal politics. Call me crazy, but Gloria Steinem proudly wearing an “I Had an Abortion” T-shirt might be a little off-putting to some. This is not to take a position on abortion. It’s just to ask, why do we have to make the most divisive issues a key part of the feminist platform? Wouldn’t we do better to simply unite on female empowerment?
I also reject the feminist messaging that treats gender issues as a zero-sum game—that assumes that to empower women, we must castrate men. You see the beginnings of this even in the schoolyard, with affirmations like, “Girls rule and boys drool.” As the mother of two boys and the wife of a loving, supportive man, I object. I don’t want Yardley’s empowerment to come at the expense of my sons. Isn’t that what we’ve been complaining about men doing to us?
Kelly ends her short treatise on the ills of feminism with a fairly abrupt paragraph about the death of Sandberg’s husband.
On workplace harassment and sexism:
In a later chapter, Kelly discusses her views on workplace sexism and her approach to do and be undeniably better. “I’ve never worked at a place where some star employee—man or woman—was unknown to everyone, toiling away unnoticed,” she writes. “If you believe this is happening to you, ask yourself if you have worked as hard as possible, studied extensively, and made yourself invaluable.”
My general approach when hitting a sexist glass ceiling is to try to crash right through it with stellar work product. Bosses tend to be mercenary. If you are great, he’ll likely promote you. If he doesn’t because of sexism, the options get tougher. Filing a legal complaint is a potential option, but gender-discrimination cases tend to be protracted and very nasty. Some women choose to find a new job, as unfair as that seems...
Sexual harassment is even more dangerous. Interrupting you because you’re a woman is one thing. Trying to shove a tongue down your throat is another. Unfortunately, I’ve been there too....
I know very few women who don’t have stories like this. Remember: I practiced employment law. What I learned was that some men are absolutely still doing the things you heard would happen in the 1950s. You would not believe how many bosses are still grabbing their employees’ breasts, or leaving X-rated images on their assistant’s chair, or chasing their young female employees around the desk. It happens all the time. And it needs to stop happening, now.
Of course, anyone who paid attention to the news in 2016 know that she experienced far more than that, which she doesn’t mention until the second to last short chapter in the book.
On Donald Trump:
Kelly says she always had a congenial relationship with Trump, who once told her, “I could never be a better moderator than you, Megyn.” In winter 2015, Kelly writes that Trump began reaching out to her “often,” which she views as a way to “charm” her in advance of his campaign.
When the New York Times Magazine ran a cover story about me by Jim Rutenberg called “The Megyn Kelly Moment,” Trump mailed me a copy of the article, which he’d personally signed. The accompanying note read: “Great article, especially from the source.”
Once, he forwarded me a Christmas card he found amusing.
Another time, he sent me a note about his high speaking fees...
One time Trump invited me and Doug to Mar-a-Lago, the historic oceanfront mansion and club he owns in Palm Beach. He followed up by sending me pictures of the seventeen-acre property and estate. It was an invitation I would never accept, though plenty of others who hold themselves out as journalists have.
She also recounts a time in April 2015 when she was going to be staying in a Trump hotel. Trump’s assistant called hers to say, “Mr. Trump is going to take care of Megyn’s girls’ weekend.” After her refusing multiple times, and Trump continuing to insist he pay, Kelly writes that he became irritated, and she had to send an email officially noting that she would be paying for everything. Kelly writes she had a copy of the email during the debate she moderated in case he tried to discredit her.
This is actually one of the untold stories of the 2016 campaign: I was not the only journalist to whom Trump offered gifts clearly meant to shape coverage. Many reporters have told me that Trump worked hard to offer them something fabulous—from hotel rooms to rides on his 757. The few reports that have been made public—veteran reporter Wayne Barrett says Trumo offered him an apartment; writer Mark Bowden says Trump tried to win him over with a book deal—are from years ago, but make clear Trump’s history of trying to buy positive media coverage.
She says that other media personalities were in the bag for Trump and actively tried to convince others to get on board:
One pro-Trump host called up a conservative writer who had been critical of Trump and told him: “You understand where this is going, right? He’s going to be president. It’s not too late for you to get on board. Get behind him.”
This host tries to be pass himself off as unbiased, as objective. But his behavior raises the question: How many other phone calls like that took place?
When it became too obvious that some media figures were in the tank, certain TV hosts actually took to gaming out with Trump in advance the hits they’d have to do on him occasionally to make themselves appear unbiased. I have been told this directly by more than one TV executive, at more than one network.
One news star would go over the subjects—and even the questions—with which he’d be challenging Trump just before their interviews. “I have to give you a hard time on X,” the host would explain, softening the on-air blow so the candidate would not get angry and cut off access.
Another very well known host would call Trump up before criticizing the candidate and warn him: “I have to hit you. I’m getting killed on credibility”—and Trump, the famous counterpuncher, mysteriously didn’t hit back after those pre-gamed attacks. Why do you think that was?
“This is an egregious breach of journalistic ethics,” Kelly writes. “It’s absolutely inappropriate, whether they consider themselves ‘journalists’ or not. You don’t ‘act’ the part of an independent, objective host and secretly rehearse your exchanges with a candidate. Ever.”
Kelly’s advice seems like common sense—supposedly objective journalists in the tank for a candidate, and that candidate actively bribing others for good favor seem like major election stories. Then why did Kelly, someone who repeatedly asserts her dedication to objective news coverage, refrain from reporting on these stories during the election? Even in the book, she fails to report on them fully, instead offering hints at whose objectivity might be compromised.
Later, she describes being called by Roger Ailes after doing a segment on the Ivana rape accusation that upset Trump. She also says Trump called her to personally threaten her with his “beautiful Twitter account,” and how that threat was carried out with his “blood coming out of her wherever” and “Crazy Megyn” tweets that spurred thousands of hate messages and death threats, that take up several chapters in the book.
And then, all of a sudden, the two are reconciled.
Kelly describes going to meet Trump in his office and having an off-the-record “friendly talk about the race so far and in general the dynamic between us.” They laughed and hugged and took a photograph together.
“Despite his nine-month rage against me, Trump seems to have immediately let it go, if it was ever real to begin with.”
On Roger Ailes:
Kelly doesn’t mention the sexual assault and harassment allegations that led to one-time Fox News CEO Roger Ailes’ eventual ouster until page 300 (the book is only 320 pages) in a hastily-added chapter, and it’s hard to not read it as the afterthought that it was.
As leaked before the embargoed book was officially released, Kelly describes a period in 2005 when Ailes would push “the limits well beyond humor... introducing explicit sexual innuendo into our conversations,” and eventually making physical advances towards her.
I would be called into Roger’s office, he would shut the door, and over the next hour or two, he would engage in a kind of cat-and-mouse game with me—veering between obviously inappropriate sexually charged comments (e.g., about the “very sexy bras” I must have and how he’d like to see me in them) and legitimate professional advice. This is part of what made it so complicated—it wasn’t all a come-on—he also gave helpful work-related counsel, such as his suggestion about showing the audience my real self. But there would always be a stinger—and they got more explicit and disturbing over time. I kept a record of Roger’s behavior, and have since shared the facts with those who investigated the case against him. I see no point in making all of the details public, but suffice it to say, he made sexual comments to me, offers of professional advancement in exchange for sexual favors, and, eventually, physical attempts to be with me—every single one of which I rejected.
Months later, she writes that he tried to “grab me repeatedly and kiss me on the lips.”
I dodged the first two attempts, pushed him away, and immediately went to leave. His office was large and it took me a beat to get to the door, which was closed. As I walked away from him, he followed me and asked me an ominous question: “When is your contract up?” And then for a third time, he tried to kiss me.
Kelly writes she reported him to her supervisor, and for the next nine years she managed to have a professional relationship with him. She’s made it clear in interviews promoting the book that, like a good lawyer, she told another lawyer at the time about what Ailes had said to her (so it was “all well-documented contemporaneously”) as well as a supervisor, whom she won’t name, even though they had “an obligation to bring it to the company and deal with it.” She’s argued that she understands why it wasn’t handled—because that supervisor was also aware of Ailes’s power—and that since she was so new at Fox, that was the extent to which she feels she could have done anything. Until the Gretchen Carlson lawsuit, when she finally decided to share her experience. There is a lack of acknowledgment that Ailes was more than a person, but part of a culture, as there are many people who have been alleged to have allowed his behavior to go on who remain and have been promoted since he left Fox.
Kelly ends the book with advice to those being harassed: “No is an available answer.”
“Roger tried to have me, and I didn’t let him. I got out of his office with my self-respect intact, even if I felt demeaned. Most women I know have had to do this dance with a male superior at one point—trying to reject inappropriate behavior while also trying to avoid explicitly calling him out. But when push comes to shove, no is always there for you. It is not foolproof—as, sadly, any sexual assault or rape survivor can attest—but when dealing with a boss whose goal is not to forcibly overtake you but instead to see how far he can push you, it may offer you an escape hatch.”
Megyn Kelly’s Settle for More is available in bookstores now, if you must.