Michael Wolff is an excellent media reporter. He has better sources than I do. Yesterday he reported on the Megyn Kelly saga, especially on how ineptly she handled the negotiations of her new contract. It shows a woman who was full of herself and whose strings were being pulled by friends who wanted to make her the great feminist heroine. And it shows how she bought the narrative and the role.
Kelly leaned in and, as often happens when people put ideology above loyalty, she compromised herself, her position and very likely her career.
Wolff describes the debacle that ensued when Kelly negotiated her new contract in public:
She bargained to be the biggest voice of the dominant news channel in America — and, as well, the best paid on-air personality in the history of television news. Instead, she’s become merely a contender among the knives-out egos in the contested (and ever dwindling) territory of network news—and at a steep discount to the brass-ring salary she might have had.
In my view the presumption of disloyalty severely damaged Kelly’s reputation at Fox News. It damaged her relationships with her colleagues and made her persona non grata in the building.
Wolff describes how she made herself into the network’s Eve Harrington:
There is at any given time in the television news business invariably one person more mistrusted and reviled by all the other mistrusted and reviled people in the business. This is what’s called the Eve Harrington Syndrome, after the amoral and unscrupulous showbiz heroine in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1950 film All About Eve (the syndrome, of course, is not gender specific). At Fox, for star colleagues down to make-up artists and, seemingly, by common agreement throughout the television news business, Megyn Kelly is the era’s most hardcore Eve Harrington case—soulless, heartless, shameless, avaricious, etc.
If there were resentments and guardedness before, by this past autumn she was all but shunned, showing up only for her segment and largely talking to no one. The Murdochs’ offer of $100 million and leadership of the network had become a hopelessly poisoned chalice, with Fox an environment in which it would have been impossible for her to work.
Wolff believed that from the Fox perspective, the negotiation were about the future of Fox News. Rupert Murdoch’s sons wanted to make the network more mainstream, despite the fact that in its current incarnation it generates something like $1.5 billion in profit. They wanted Kelly to become the new face of the network.
And yet, Kelly’s inept negotiating style—she should have lowered her head and kept it all private—alienated so many people, Wolff argues, that she would not have been able to function at the network at all.
The result, Wolff concludes, was a considerable loss for Kelly. Was it a tragic fall, brought on by hubris? Or was it simply what happens when you take advice from Sheryl Sandberg?
Fox News will undoubtedly survive. Kelly’s future does not look as bright as it did two weeks ago:
For Megyn Kelly, at a price one person familiar with the negotiations put at $17 million-$18 million (practically speaking it would be hard for NBC to let anyone exceed Today show star Matt Lauer’s recent raise to $20 million), there was a prospective daytime show, with few models of success; a Sunday evening show, typically a loss leader; and a possible move for the hard-news Kelly into the soft hour of Today’ s 9 a.m. hour. Some observers see her inevitable destination as MSNBC—from the top-rated news network to the lowest.