And yet NBC—there is a creaking inevitability to every element of this—is now trying to get ahead of the story that happens to be, once again, about itself. It is attempting to frame Kelly’s departure as a matter of morality rather than a matter of money. (I condemn those remarks. Very unfortunate.) And, thus, the network—the one that reportedly restrained Ronan Farrow’s reporting about Harvey Weinstein; the one that reportedly held onto the Access Hollywood tapes of Donald Trump until they were leaked to The Washington Post; the one that protected Matt Lauer; the one at which, per one recent report, many more sexual harassers “thrived”; the one that hired Megyn Kelly, knowing very well what it was buying—has this week gone through its own ritual of attempted public conversion. NBC, too, is apolitical, the network is suggesting on its own behalf, as it reportedly prepares to pay Kelly a massive sum to take her act elsewhere. It, too, it is insisting, is innocent. After all, couldn’t the newscaster who insisted that Santa is white have changed her attitude, under NBC’s warm influence? Can’t a tiger change its stripes? NBC, too, was just asking questions.
Here is another question, though: What if, when Megyn Kelly wondered aloud why blackface is bad, her ratings had been high? What if she had been a darling of advertisers? What if she had proved better able to return on the massive investment NBC had made in her, and for her? Here is the answer: NBC would very likely, right now, be selling a line about the relatability of Megyn Kelly’s confusion—about how so many Americans have more to understand about their shared history and shared culture, about the ways Kelly’s questions, innocent if ignorant, represent, in the end, a learning opportunity for all. Megyn Kelly, right now, would very likely be undergoing another time-honored American ritual, this one anchored in the sweeping demands of celebrity: the solemn ceremonies of “moving on.” Apology, forgiveness, forgetfulness—the prodigal daughter, returned to 30 Rock once more.