TV NotesFor Anchorwomen, Family Is Part of the Job
By Pamela Paul, The New York Times
- December 11th, 2011
When Megyn Kelly was starting out in television, a prominent TV newswoman told her, You're going to need to choose: you can either have a family or you can be a major anchor.
Ms. Kelly now a Fox News anchor, ex-Jones Day lawyer and blond GQ pinup with the alabaster good looks of Katherine Heigl and the can-do-ism of a former aerobics instructor decided to ignore her. It was terrible advice, she said, recently speaking from her studio.
Ms. Kelly, 41, is part of a new generation of TV anchors Erica Hill of The Early Show on CBS, Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC's Morning Joe and Soledad O'Brien, formerly of American Morning on CNN who have juggled their careers and family life full-throttle in front of millions of viewers in a way that Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer notably did not. Rather than hide their pregnancies, they flaunt them; rather than cover up their off-hours role as mothers, they turn it into part of their on-air persona.
In the 1960s, when Ms. Walters was on the Today show, she had several miscarriages, returning quietly to work within days in each case. Her adoption of a baby girl went unannounced, and in keeping with the times, she took no time off.
There was no having it all, Ms. Walters said in an interview with Jane Pauley in 2003. I never thought about it. I didn't think, Can I juggle both?' I probably should have.
Ms. Kelly, who returned from maternity leave in August after the birth of her second child, had no such qualms. Widely viewed as the most golden of Roger Ailes's protégées, she moderated her first presidential primary debate in September to positive reviews, and was chosen to be a moderator at the Republican debate in Iowa this Thursday.
Soon after her return, however, Ms. Kelly broke out of anchor mode when she asked Mike Gallagher, a conservative radio talk-show host, onto her afternoon show, America Live, for a faceoff over comments he had made disparaging her three-month absence. (What a racket that is! Mr. Gallagher had told Chris Wallace, a Fox anchor, in an interview.)
She chastised Mr. Gallagher on air.
The United States is the only country that doesn't require paid maternity leave, she said, citing the Family and Medical Leave Act, which, while it mandates time off, does not require employers to pay parents during their leave.
A Fox news journalist promoting federal social programs? We're populating the human race, she said later of women on maternity leave. It's not a vacation. It's hard, important work.
That evening on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart crowed, Never get between a mama grizzly and her maternity leave! He then broadcast an earlier clip of Ms. Kelly lamenting the tentacles that government has placed into our lives with massive entitlement programs.
Mr. Stewart, referring to Ms. Kelly's new short bob, said he knew what had happened: When you cut your hair, it sapped your conservative strength like a right-wing Samson.
Ms. Kelly calls herself apolitical, a characterization echoed by several friends and former colleagues, though one former Jones Day colleague said people had the sense she was conservative. Still, I don't think she was plugged into the G.O.P. the way certain people at the Jones Day Washington office are, said the ex-colleague, who would not give his name because he still works at the firm.
What most of her legal colleagues remember is how hard she worked. Gregory A. Castanias, a partner at Jones Day who considers Ms. Kelly a friend, called her one of the most intense and driven trial lawyers I've ever worked with.
Her current job may not be so far removed from her former life as a corporate lawyer. Ms. Kelly said she believed the two jobs are similar: We take large amounts of information and try to tell a story in the most persuasive way, whether it's to a jury or to an audience. Anchors and trial lawyers are both performers at heart.
These days, Ms. Kelly is up at 6 a.m., after two nighttime nursing sessions with 6-month-old Yardley, to begin the morning round of e-mail catch-up, work preparation and intermittent care of the baby and her older brother, Yates (whose baby pictures Ms. Kelly displayed on air soon after she returned to work).
One October morning, Ms. Kelly was zipping around her Upper West Side rental in skinny J Brand jeans with a baby crooked in one slender arm and a toddler underfoot, chatting with her nanny and her husband, Doug Brunt, a former entrepreneur who is now a novelist.
Soon she was headed to the studio in a livery car, tapping furiously on her BlackBerry and strategizing with Tom Lowell, a producer of the show.
That's good, our viewers know him and will be interested, she said, referring to Mark Fuhrman, the O.J. Simpson murder-case police officer turned commentator, who was booked to talk about Michael Jackson's doctor. She checked in with her assistant, Abby Emerson, who culls and highlights online articles usually off newspaper sites, the Drudge Report, the Huffington Post, the Daily Beast and Ms. Kelly's favorite, RealClearPolitics.com (Ms. Kelly is not a print news reader).
At Fox, a makeup artist quickly adorned her eyes with individual lashes before Ms. Kelly joined the show's 10 a.m. production meeting. She corrected a staff member's figures on Egypt's Christian population and wrote the tease for one of the day's stories: Geithner says Obama has been relentlessly focused' on jobs is that true? A fair and balanced report, next.
Afterward, she caught up on reading, pumped milk (she's still breast-feeding her daughter) and dressed. If you want to see me in something nice, tune in between 1 and 3 p.m., she said, when she wears an outfit from her Fox News wardrobe: options include pumps from Jimmy Choo, Prada and YSL, and shifts by Theory, Elie Tahari and Trina Turk.
On air, Ms. Kelly toggled easily between political stories about Herman Cain and Occupy Oakland and tabloid fare: a nudist running for city council, the case of missing Baby Lisa.
Here's a question for you, she said, mocking a PETA lawsuit. Do whales have rights? SeaWorld says the suit is a publicity stunt. Ya think?
It's a very different approach from the traditional female anchor attitude: supportive, empathetic, searching.
As an attorney, you have an adversary whose mission it is to make you sound like an idiot, she said. You have to know everything and be prepared for some left-wing I mean left-field argument.
In many ways, switching careers in her 30s was a return to her roots. Rejected by Syracuse University's journalism school, she majored in political science instead, getting involved in student government, which then propelled her to law school.
Ms. Kelly practiced at the Chicago and New York offices of Jones Day before she transferred to Washington, where her first husband, a doctor, got a job. Unhappy with law's grueling hours, she took classes in journalism, ultimately barging into the office of Bill Lord, vice president and station manager of the ABC affiliate in the capital.
She was confident and very bright, he recalled. She was also, he said, very aggressive. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out there was a lot of horsepower there.
I said I'd put a stiletto through his eye if he didn't put me on air, is how Ms. Kelly described the exchange. She got the job.
Shortly thereafter, her marriage ended and Fox News hired her away. She and Mr. Brunt met on a blind date, and it was at that point that Ms. Kelly, who had considered herself a career girl, decided she wanted children. Yates was born the year after they married.
Confident is the adjective most used to describe Ms. Kelly. Though she said she cried after online commenters made fun of a photo she posted of Yates, and abandoned Twitter as too vitriolic, Ms. Kelly can also come across as impervious. She said that Brit Hume once told her, Your problem is you're just as vulnerable as anyone else, but you project zero vulnerability.
Her fans cheer her every personal moment in comments online; her detractors are equally impassioned. An interview on The O'Reilly Factor in November, in which Ms. Kelly characterized the pepper spray police used to disperse nonviolent protesters at the University of California at Davis as a food product, essentially incited a torrent of mockery on Gawker. (Megyn Kelly on tasers: It's static cling, essentially!' )
Though she read critical e-mails from viewers aloud during commercial breaks on her show, the comments do not bother her, she said: They come from a place of hate. Mr. Stewart's show, she continued, is just comedy. She said she often hears on the street, I hate Fox News but I love you.
When Ms. Kelly goes home around 5 p.m., she feeds the children, and her husband feeds her. Sometimes they watch an episode of Boardwalk Empire or Downton Abbey. The only news show she watches occasionally is Bill O'Reilly's; she shares with him a kind of home-and-hearth populism.
I was a small-town girl, she said. I didn't go to private school. I had to learn how to deal with people in power.
Also like Mr. O'Reilly, she loves the political horse race. The last Republican debate was the one time Ms. Kelly remembered feeling nervous. Most of the time, she looks as if she is having fun.
Guilty! she said, I really am. Before I did this, I had everything going for me on paper. A great law firm job, a doctor husband this middle-class girl had arrived. But it was not fun.
Ms. Kelly said she was looking forward to Thursday's debate. The challenge, she said, was to make sure the candidates do not deflect her questions.
Candidates who evade look weak, she said. You should be stronger and smarter than that. You've got to have the courage and confidence.http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/11/fa...ref=television