Ive been basically apolitical my whole life, Kelly says. It wasnt about any ideological issue for me. And eight-plus years later, I still dont feel that way. What I noticed about Fox News, and still feel, is that they tell both sides of the story. A lot of the time in journalism, the Republican side and the conservative side get short shrift. So it can be jarring to somebody raised on the mainstream media to hear the stories of those sides told in a way thats not diminishing.
Backed strongly by Hume and his wife, Kim, then head of the Fox News Washington bureau, Kelly was hired as a reporter. She quickly developed a reputation for concise live reporting on chaotic breaking stories like the Virginia Tech shootings and a willingness to swim against the tide of public opinion on controversial ones like the racially charged rape accusations against members of the Duke lacrosse team. (Kelly was one of the first reporters to note substantial holes in the prosecutors case, long before the charges were dismissed and the prosecutor disbarred.)
A little more than two years later, she got her own show, first co-anchoring a morning newscast with the veteran Bill Hemmer, then flying solo in the 1-to-3 p.m. slot. Kelly found the change of roles disconcerting and even intimidating at first.Conducting a compelling interview is not a reporters main goal, she says. As a reporter you need to extract information. Take half an hour if you need to. But as an anchor, youve got a five-minute bloc to get right to the heart of the matter. And you have to develop the skill to do it in a polite way and not turn off the audience On my show, Ive got eight to 10 guests. Thats eight to 10 different topics you need to know very well. Its a lot more cramming on a lot of subjects.
The challenge, as it turned out, played right into Kellys skill set. An occasional critic attributes her success to her blond good looks. (Shes half of the formula at Fox News, which is crusty old white men and very good-looking white women with incredibly high heels, incredibly shorts skirts, and incredibly long legs, snipes Andrew Tyndall, author of a widely read blog on television news.) But many more praise her ability to quickly sort the journalistic wheat from the chaff.
I think she does a really good job of driving the show, says Terry Anzur, who spent more than 20 years as a television anchor before opening a Los Angeles-based coaching service for TV journalists. I use her as example of great anchoring all the time in my classes. Shes extremely focused, no wasting time she sets up the facts, jumps into the interview, gets to the heart of the topic. People like Barbara Walters used to dance around the point a long time before pouncing, but were not in a one-screen world anymore. The viewer will switch to a cat video on YouTube if you dont keep things moving, and Megyn drives the bus.
Shes also got the perfect personality: casual, comfortable and connected. Anchoring is no longer Moses announcing the news from the mountaintop. Youve got to be the friend across the table at Starbucks, and she does that.
Curiously, letting her own personality emerge proved the most difficult part of becoming an anchor, Kelly says. As a lawyer, the only emotion she showed in the courtroom was ferocity. (I cant wait to kick your ass, she infamously once told an opposing attorney.) As a reporter, she took a just-the-facts-maam approach. As an anchor, her bosses told her she had to let go a little bit audiences didnt want to spend two hours with an automaton.
I was putting up a wall, Kelly acknowledges. [Fox News boss] Roger Ailes told me, Take more risks, dont be afraid of being vulnerable, show who you are. It wasnt easy for me at first. When youre putting up a front and you get rejected, you can take comfort in the fact that its just your professional self. But if its your actual self, then theyre actually rejecting you. Its scarier.
Kelly accepted the advice, sometimes to a surprising degree. She even agreed to do Howard Sterns radio show, where she answered questions ranging from the size of her breasts (my husband calls them Killer Bs) to the old slumber party favorite of name-association with the phrase fornicate-marry-kill (Bill OReilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck.)
Kelly offers no apologies for that one It was a great opportunity to get the Fox News brand in front of an audience that wasnt very familiar with it. And she demurs when its suggested that, once upon a not-so-long-ago time, a television anchor would have jumped into a volcano before appearing on Sterns show.
I think youd be surprised, she says. I know for a fact Barbara Walters did the Stern show a couple of years ago when she was pitching her book. But surely Walters didnt discuss her Killer Bs?
I dont know, Id have to check, Kelly deadpans before breaking into a giggle. It turns out you really can take the corporate attorney out of the gal.