This piece from New York Times Magazine wouldn’t be all that remarkable were it not for who was writing it and who the subject was. It’s a rather rare moment when anyone from the elite enclaves of their Manhattan offices comes down to Earth and actually has something nice to say about any of the Fox News crew, and it’s a surprisingly candid and positive piece about evening desk host Megyn Kelly. But even for the honest appraisal, the author can’t seem to help acting surprised that Kelly actually takes people to task from both sides of the aisle in what he calls a “Megyn Moment.”
For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon, a Megyn moment, as I have taken to calling it, is when you, a Fox guest — maybe a regular guest or even an official contributor — are pursuing a line of argument that seems perfectly congruent with the Fox worldview, only to have Kelly seize on some part of it and call it out as nonsense, maybe even turn it back on you. You don’t always know when, how or even if the Megyn moment will happen; Kelly’s political sensibility and choice of subjects are generally in keeping with that of the network at large. But you always have to be ready for it, no matter who you are. Neither Karl Rove nor Dick Cheney have been spared their Megyn moments, nor will the growing field of 2016 presidential aspirants, who can look forward to two years of interrogation on “The Kelly File.” The Megyn moment has upended the popular notion of how a Fox News star is supposed to behave, and led to the spectacle of a Fox anchor winning praise from the very elites whose disdain Fox has always welcomed. In the process, Kelly’s program has not just given America’s top-rated news channel its biggest new hit in 13 years; it has demonstrated an appeal to the younger and (slightly) more ideologically diverse demographic Fox needs as it seeks to claim even more territory on the American journo-political landscape.
The article also notes that the work of Roger Ailes has really paid off for the parent company in terms of return on investment. Fox News Channel accounted for 18% of the revenue of 21st Century Fox last year while only supporting less than 8% of their total employee head count. Kelly’s lack of ideological predictability seems to earn her a wider audience than liberal media stereotypes would lead one to believe, and prompts more than a bit of jealousy from competitors. One former CNN executive expressed regrets that Turner’s outfit didn’t try to snap her up when she was available.
Competing network executives I have spoken to agree that Kelly could have gone from WJLA to any of the major networks. Jonathan Klein, the CNN/US president from 2004 through 2010, told me it was one of his big regrets that he did not snag Kelly early on. “If you’d have asked me who was the one talent you’d want to have from somewhere else, from another network, I would have said — and did — Megyn Kelly,” Klein told me. “She just hits the right notes.”
But does it pay off for the viewers? A quick look at one snapshot view of the ratings from last week can pretty much tell that story. In the 9 o’clock hour, Kelly’s P2+ score (measuring total viewers over the age of two rather than any sub-demographics) came in at more than 1.74 million viewers. By comparison, that other woman over at MSNBC managed to garner … barely 600K. I know that Fox tends to outperform Phil Griffin’s stable on a regular basis, but Maddow is supposed to be their flagship offering. When you’re getting handed a nearly three to one loss, well… that’s the kind of beating which is generally reserved for red headed stepchildren.
Perhaps somebody should send Jon Stewart a copy of that article. It might make for an interesting entry in his ongoing war with Fox.