Megyn Kelly On Trump And The Media: 'We're In A Dangerous Phase Right Now'

Dec 7, 2016
Originally published on December 7, 2016 1:42 pm

As Donald Trump continues to court controversy via Twitter, Fox News host Megyn Kelly tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that the president-elect "really does need to be aware of the power that he has when he releases these tweets."

Kelly felt that power firsthand in August 2015, when she pressed the candidate about his derogatory comments about women during the first Republican primary debate. Trump responded with a Twitter attack, which was quickly followed up by a barrage of insulting tweets and even death threats from his followers.

"What people don't realize about Donald Trump — and I don't even know if Donald Trump realizes it — is that every tweet he unleashes against you ... creates such a crescendo of anger," Kelly says.

The host of The Kelly File says that although she worried for her own safety and that of her children, she and her producers were determined not to let the threats impact their coverage of Trump. Now that Trump is the president-elect, she is especially concerned about his "de-legitimization" of the media.

"I think it's dangerous," Kelly says. "People ... need good, strong, skeptical journalists to be covering whoever it is — whether it's Barack Obama or President Donald Trump — and we're in a dangerous phase right now, where too many millions of Americans aren't listening at all to what the press tells them."

Kelly's new memoir, Settle For More, revisits her feud with Trump, as well as her work as a journalist and her decision to come forward in the sexual harassment case against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes.


Interview Highlights

On how Trump's rhetoric represents a backlash to the notion of "PC culture"

There are a lot of people in our society who have had it with PC culture ... and I, Terry, am one of those people. I think we have gone too far into the PC culture, but there's a limit to how far we can take that. ...

My general sense is [Trump voters] feel they've been lectured to enough on how they're supposed to speak and how things that were very innocuous or innocent over the past several years were spun back to them ... and so when Trump came up as this PC-buster they said, "Yes! He's our champion." He was given a permission slip for everything he said and did because of that. The gradations of what was appropriate or not seemed to get completely lost. ...

But I would submit to you that Trump's history of comments on women go well beyond the line, if you look at them in their entirety, past the normal backlash to PC culture.

On the fears minority groups have expressed following the election

The relative lack of power of certain minority groups and the fear they're feeling in the wake of Donald Trump's election, I think, is something we really need to take a look at, because, while I don't think Trump wants to target any particular minority group, I understand their fear, because he spent many months stoking it. And so I think that's a legitimate thing we're going to have to deal with and ask ourselves how far he can go in enacting certain politics that target specific groups.

On the threatening and misogynist tweets Kelly received from Trump supporters

The c-word was in thousands of tweets directed at me — lots of threats to beat the hell out of me, to rape me, honestly the ugliest things you can imagine. But most of this stuff I was able to just dismiss as angry people who are trying to scare me, you know. However, there were so many that rose to the level of "OK, that one we need to pay attention to," that it did become alarming. It wasn't like I walked down the street in constant fear of someone trying to take my life, but I was very aware of it.

The thing I was most worried about was that I have a 7- and a 5- and a 3-year-old, and I was worried I'd be walking down the street with my kids and somebody would do something to me in front of them; they would see me get punched in the face or get hurt.

On how to cover news from Trump's Twitter feed

It's a challenge, there's no question, because some of these tweets I would submit to you are bait, you know? Maybe an attempt to distract from a news story that Donald Trump doesn't love, and he's holding the shiny object up in an attempt to say: "Look over here! Look over here!"

We saw him do this many times throughout the primary campaign, so my approach on The Kelly File is to try to use my judgment as to whether that's what this is. Is this a head fake to distract from something that's in the news, or is this worthy of us running and chewing on it, like a dog with a bone? ...

Donald Trump and the First Amendment, it's not a beautiful match; it's not a match made in heaven. Between the free speech rights that he has not defended and the freedom of the press, which he has not defended, it's problematic.

On deciding to come forward about Roger Ailes' sexual harassment, more than 10 years later

When it happened to me, I did bring it to a supervisor, which is what you're supposed to do. ... I knew very well what my legal rights and obligations were, but let me just start with this: ... So many ask, "Why didn't you report it sooner?" ... And I would submit to you that the appropriate question to ask a victim of sexual harassment is not "Why didn't you report it sooner?" You don't get to ask me that until you've asked me whether there was a safe avenue for reporting in my company, and only if the answer to that question is "yes" do you get to ask the next question.

The problem that we had at Fox, like so many other companies in America right now, was that there was not a safe avenue for reporting. Here was the CEO and chairman of the board, on industry publications as the most powerful man in news, harassing young women in the company like myself who had been there for 12 months, and who typically were in a vulnerable position. In my case, I was new to the company and going through a divorce, but I know of other cases where certain women had just suffered a death in the family or were also having a divorce, or were on their job interview ... not in a position of power and at their most vulnerable, in a way.

On how Trump's election has empowered white nationalists and the "alt-right" movement

It is also a dangerous game to empower them, as clearly has happened. I mean, Steve Bannon is the chief adviser to our president-elect, and I understand the argument that he's just a provocateur and he comes up with these crazy headlines and they want clicks, but if you look at what's happened to Breitbart [News] over the last three years, it's shocking.

I knew Andrew Breitbart very well and he was great. I loved him. He was a true provocateur who would be fun about it, you know. He'd show up at a democratic protest and engage with the protesters and then he'd go have a beer with them. This is something else entirely, and I don't know that Trump can stop it. I don't know who, if anyone, can stop it. I think right now the answer is for good people to exercise their own voice and their own power.

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who has a cold and lost her voice today. But we're going to listen to the interview she recorded yesterday with Fox News host Megyn Kelly, who also had a cold.

Megyn Kelly spent the past year-and-a-half in the center of a storm - two storms, actually. The first started in the summer of 2015 at the first Republican primary debate hosted by Fox News in which she asked Donald Trump about his disparaging comments about women. That led to Trump tweeting derogatory comments about Kelly and to Kelly being bombarded by hostile tweets and death threats. Last summer, after Fox News host Gretchen Carlson accused Fox News head Roger Ailes of sexually harassing her, Kelly came forward and said he'd harassed her 10 years earlier. Ailes was forced to resign.

Now Kelly's written a memoir, which concludes with chapters about these stories. It's called "Settle For More." Her Fox News show "The Kelly File" is live weeknights at 9. Let's start by listening back to her questioning Donald Trump in August 2015 at the Republican primary debate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEGYN KELLY: You've called women you don't like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals. Your Twitter account has...

DONALD TRUMP: Only Rosie O'Donnell.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: No, it wasn't. Your Twitter account...

TRUMP: Thank you.

KELLY: For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O'Donnell.

TRUMP: Yes, I'm sure it was.

KELLY: Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women's looks. You once told a contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice" it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president? And how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who is likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?

TRUMP: I think the big problem in this country has is being politically correct. I've been...

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: ...I've been challenged by so many people and I don't frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don't win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody. And frankly, what I say and oftentimes it's fun, it's kidding. We have a good time. What I say is what I say. And honestly, Megyn, if you don't like it, I'm sorry. I've been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be based on the way you have treated me but I wouldn't do that.

TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: Megyn Kelly, welcome to FRESH AIR. You've had a year, a year-and-a-half (laughter).

KELLY: Thank you for having me. Yes, I'm still sort of reeling from the amazing 18 months that we've all just gone through. I think a lot of people in the country are feeling that way right now.

GROSS: So walk us through how you prepared that now famous question at the debate for Donald Trump. What did you want to get to with that question and how did you decide how to phrase it?

KELLY: Well, my co-moderators Brett Baier and Chris Wallace and I had divvied up the opening round with those 10 candidates into three, three and four in terms of how many candidates each of us would have. And we understood that we were going to open up the debate with questions on electability, either in the primary or in the general. So, you know, are you too far left to convince these Republicans to make you their nominee or are you too far right to win a general if you get through this primary season? Generally, you know, that's the goal, to figure out whether these guys are electable. And my research assistant prepared big binders for me on all of these guys. I had binders full of men.

GROSS: (Laughter).

KELLY: And I studied them all. You know, and you become a mini-expert. You know, keep in mind, this is August of course of 2015, before this race had really gotten going. And so we didn't know a lot of the things that we now know about these guys and in particular on Trump. No one had focused in on his very controversial history when it comes to women. And if you just had an open mind in reading this binder, it was very clear that this was going to be his Achilles' heel. And I felt like I needed to craft the toughest question I could for him on that controversial history.

GROSS: So you crafted a pretty tough question. One of the things I hear listening back to that clip is that when he says, oh, only Rosie O'Donnell, he gets cheers. People are cheering and applauding. And when he says, oh, the big problem is just, you know, people being PC, people in the audience seem to really be with him. How did you read that?

KELLY: Well, of course I was well aware of his feud with Rosie O'Donnell. And there was a reference to something he had said about her in my question. But I would never have actually asked him that question if it had only been Rosie O'Donnell. Not because his comments about her were fine, but because she gave it pretty good to Trump as well. And they had a vicious back and forth. I probably would have moved on pretty quickly in considering that as a question if it had just been Rosie, with all due respect to her. If you look at what she said about Trump, you'll understand what I mean.

But anyway, it wasn't just Rosie. And so I sort of understood where the audience was going with that. I certainly was not going to laugh. It would have been highly inappropriate, nor did I find it funny. But I understood this is probably a group that remembered the back and forth that they had. And listen, you know, she's probably not a favorite in Republican circles and this is a Republican debate with a Republican audience. So I just sort of held my fire, let it pass and moved forward. But it was very clear to me as well that as I said in the question it went well beyond her.

GROSS: Yeah. And then he said to you, I don't have time for political correctness. I've been very nice to you, although I could probably not be based on the way you treated me but I wouldn't do it. And he gets lots of applause for that, too. So did that surprise you? Did you feel like the audience was siding with Donald Trump against the women who he had insulted?

KELLY: Not in that moment. Not in that moment. I think, you know, my own read on it with a couple of days perspective after it happened was they were applauding him for being not PC and being strong, right? This is what voters related to in him all along, that he was strong and he was not afraid to take on a Fox News anchor even on a presidential debate stage. And I do think there's a lot of people in our society who have had it with PC culture. And I, Terry, am one of those people.

You know, I think we have gone too far into the PC culture. But there's a limit to how far we can take that. You know, you may find somebody refreshing until they drop the N-word on you and then you're no longer feeling refreshed, you're just feeling offended. And where we draw that line as a society is sort of akin to what the Supreme Court said on pornography, you know, you know it when you see it. And it's different for each person. But I would submit to you that Trump's history of comments on women go well beyond the line if you look at them in their entirety past just the normal backlash to PC culture.

GROSS: Well, are you concerned that, you know, being anti-PC is being used as an excuse by a lot of people to justify saying really nasty, racist, sexist things?

KELLY: Well, you have to watch for that. I mean, there's no question that's a risk of the backlash to it. And I'm a Fox News anchor so I understand how these folks feel. I understand how flyover country feels, how Republicans feel about this. And my general sense is that they feel they've been lectured to enough on how they're supposed to speak and how things that were very innocuous or innocent over the past several years were spun back to them as you're racist if you say that, you're racist if you do this, things, you know, that are not racist. And so they've gotten their backs up. And so when Trump came up as this PC buster, they said, yes, you know, he's our champion. And he was given a permission slip for everything he said and did because of that.

GROSS: He famously said about you after your question when he was being interviewed, I think, by Don Lemon, you could see that there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever. She is a lightweight and I couldn't care less about her. So the famous blood coming out of her wherever, did you interpret that as menstrual blood?

KELLY: You know, to be honest with you, I really didn't know. I understood immediately that it might be a reference to that. I mean, I'm not an idiot (laughter). I understood what he might be suggesting. But after the fact, he denied it. But I was stunned when I heard what he said. And if you listen back to that whole interview, it wasn't just those comments. He was so angry. You could just hear how angry he was, which was a little jarring.

I'm used to politicians being angry with me, you know, because I don't work for them. I work for my viewers. So I'll beat up on Republicans and Democrats alike, and they don't like it. And that - I'm used to that. I just wasn't used to the level of vitriol that was already starting to emerge.

GROSS: So you write in your book that four days before the debate, he had threatened you that he could unleash his, quote, "beautiful Twitter account" on you. What was the occasion for that threat?

KELLY: So one week prior to the first GOP debate in 2015, I had a segment on "The Kelly File" that Trump did not like at all. What had happened was The Daily Beast, in response to Trump's presidential campaign announcement, you know, that Mexico's not sending its best people, they're sending rapists and so on, The Daily Beast had dredged up Trump's divorce proceedings from Ivana Trump 30 years ago in which Ivana, in sworn deposition testimony, alleged that Donald Trump had raped her. I mean, just brutally raped her. And it was offered in great detail, and it was a very ugly story. And she gave this testimony under oath. However, she had later recanted it.

And Tim Mak of The Daily Beast was reporting on this, so - and the story had gone everywhere. You know, it was not just The Daily Beast. It was in Politico as well as other publications. And I decided to put him on "The Kelly File" just to ask him why he thought this was relevant. You know, I gave him a hard time. You know, it's 30 years ago. It's a divorce proceeding. People lie all the time in their divorce proceedings, especially when custody is an issue. How did you account for that in your reporting? It was fine. I would say it was a fair and balanced segment. He got to say what he wanted to say, but I tested him on whether this was a fair report.

Well, Trump didn't like it at all. He didn't want me giving it any air time. And he was supposed to come on "The Kelly File" that Monday night before the Thursday debate just as a regular segment, but he refused to come unless I called him personally. So I did, and he was very angry and just kept insisting that I shouldn't have put it on the air. I said, hey, I did you a favor. You know, everybody was talking about that story without even contextualizing it or discussing the fact that Ivana had recanted that testimony and so on.

He didn't see it as a favor. And what he said was, you know, Bill O'Reilly didn't run that story. I said, well, Bill is not my editorial gauge. He said, you had no business putting that on your show. I said, Mr. Trump, you don't control the editorial on "The Kelly File." And Terry, it was like a switch flipped.

I really think that was the first moment that it started to occur to him that that was true, that despite months of attempting to woo me - not romantically, but just, you know, into favorable coverage, which hadn't been successful for him - and then, you know, this moment of trying to threaten me into favorable coverage was clearly not working for him. And he became very angry. And he told me that I was a disgrace, that I ought to be ashamed of myself. And that's when he said, I almost unleashed my beautiful Twitter account against you, and I still may.

GROSS: You did get a lot of tweets. I mean, Trump tweeted about you, people tweeted at you. Tell us what it's like to be on the receiving end of Trump's beautiful Twitter account.

KELLY: Well, listen, it unleashed a chaos in my life unlike any I had ever experienced. And that's saying something because I have been attacked by media critics and just critics of my own for years. And that, unfortunately, is part of the job in 2016 America. I was used to that. And I've developed a thick skin. But this was something of a different order entirely.

I was receiving death threats regularly. I mean, serious death threats against me, against my family. Strange men showed up at my apartment building, demanding to see me in a threatening manner. People started casing my home. Photographers were found on our property. I don't know whether they were private investigators or what they were, but people started digging into my past, bothering my mother, bothering my closest friends, bothering my old high school friends, trying to dig up dirt on me.

GROSS: Were the comments you were getting on Twitter especially misogynist? Were they directed at you as a woman?

KELLY: Well, there's no question that there was a level of that. You know, the C word was in thousands of tweets directed at me. Lots of threats, you know, to beat the hell out of me and to rape me. You know, all - I mean, honestly, the ugliest things you can imagine. But most of this stuff I was able to just dismiss as angry people who were trying to scare me, you know? However, there were so many that rose to the level of OK, now that one we need to pay attention to that it did become alarming.

And it wasn't like I walked down the street in constant fear of someone trying to take my life, but I was very aware of it. The thing I was most worried about was that - I mean, I have a 7 and a 5 and a 3-year-old. And I was worried I'd be walking down the street with my kids and somebody would do something to me in front of them. You know, that they would see me get punched in the face or get hurt because what people don't realize about Donald Trump - and I don't even know if Donald Trump realizes it - is that every tweet he unleashes against you - and maybe this isn't true for everyone, but in my case it certainly was - creates such a crescendo of anger and, in my case, again, threatening behavior that it would send my life into lockdown.

You know, it would lead to meetings at work and strategy calls and meetings with my executive team at "The Kelly File" where we would - we'd have to bear down, Terry. You know, we were not going to change our coverage of him just because my life was being threatened. You know, it was a challenge because I didn't want to have to - I didn't want to hit him too hard, you know, as retribution for what was happening, and I didn't want to go too soft on him out of fear, you know, for what he was creating in my life. But I think as president, he really does need to be aware of the power he has when he releases these tweets.

GROSS: And he's still tweeting.

KELLY: Yeah, I'm aware.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Fox News host Megyn Kelly. She has a new memoir called "Settle For More." We'll be back after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Megyn Kelly, and she has a new memoir called "Settle For More."

Well, how do you feel now that Trump is the president-elect? He's going to become president in a few weeks? There is no evidence as of yet that he's going to be reducing his tweets, reducing his angry tweets about the press. You're going to continue to cover him, I'm sure. But I'm just curious what it says to you that he's president now and what your concerns are.

KELLY: Well, for me personally, I'm not concerned because, you know, Trump and I are in a better place now. I went to Trump Tower. It had been nine months of relentless behavior on his part. Just when you would think he had finally gotten it out of his system, he would start in again on me. And my boss had tried to shut him down. The executive vice president Bill Shine tried to shut him down. Sean Hannity, who is obviously a friend of Trump's, had tried to shut him down. And no one - no one had been able to.

And finally, I just realized by the time we got around to April of 2016 that it was going to be up to me. And so I got a meeting with him at Trump Tower. I went in there, and honestly as soon as he laid eyes on me it was as if all was in the past. He was generous. He was the magnanimous Trump that, you know, you read about. And he could not have been nicer to me.

And, listen, I was not conciliatory toward him nor was he toward me. But we had a good exchange, and then I did this softer-focus interview with him for the special I did. And it was a great reset.

But in any event, as far as the country goes, I don't know, I think that - I hear people say he's going to destroy the country. The country's going to be changed forever. I don't know if I agree with that. I think that Trump is probably a lot more in the middle than he sounded on the campaign trail. I don't think he's an ideologue, so it's not really his policies that I think are going to maybe fire people up. It's his rhetoric and, you know, his willingness to wield power in a manner that can be potentially exploitative and dangerous.

GROSS: I'm glad that you were able to hit reset with him and you now feel like you are in less danger. On the other hand, it doesn't undo the things he said about you. It doesn't undo the danger that you say he put you in and it doesn't change the temperament that he revealed in his comments about you and in his tweets. That exists. That's history. That happened.

KELLY: Well, honestly, that is one of the reasons why I wanted to document it in the book. I felt it was important that there be a historical record of what he did, which was unprecedented in modern American politics for a candidate to go after journalists in the way he did me. And I was not the only one he went after. I was just a particular favorite. We'll put it that way.

Some people have said, oh, well why didn't you come out with all of this before the election? And I've said, look, you have to understand, first of all, nothing I write in this book would have changed the election. If you don't think the "Access Hollywood" bus or the 12 female accusers or the Khan family or Judge Curiel change this election, you think my book would have changed it, you know, you're deluding yourself. But the thing is I was dealing with this not only as a journalist but as a person, you know, as a woman, as a mother. And what I was trying to do was not chum up those shark waters, you know, with more blood to create more attacks. I was trying to get out of that shark tank so I could restore sanity and safety to my life, and I did that.

And so I do worry about the press and a President Trump. You know, I think it's dangerous the entire de-legitimization that he's engaged in against all of the media because the people, as much as it's fun to hate us, they do need us. You know, they need good, strong skeptical journalists to be covering whoever it is, whether it's Barack Obama or President Donald Trump. And we're in a dangerous phase right now where too many millions of Americans aren't listening at all to what the press tells them, and that concerns me.

And the relative lack of power of certain minority groups and the fear they're feeling in the wake of Donald Trump's election I think is is something we really need to take a look at because while I don't think Trump wants to target any particular minority group, I understand their fear because he spent many months stoking it. And so I think that's a legitimate thing we're going to have to deal with and ask ourselves, you know, how far he can go in enacting certain policies that target specific groups.

DAVIES: We're listening to Terry's interview with Fox News host Megyn Kelly. She's written a new memoir called "Settle For More." After a break, they'll talk about what Megyn Kelly faced when she came forward to say she'd been sexually harassed by Fox News chief Roger Ailes. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who lost her voice today. We're listening to the interview she recorded yesterday with Fox News host Megyn Kelly. Kelly's written a new memoir called "Settle For More." When we left off, they were talking about moderating debates with Donald Trump and covering him.

GROSS: In terms of how do you - how does the press cover Donald Trump now, he sent out some really false tweets. For example, he tweeted, in addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally. Absolute - there's absolutely no evidence that millions of people voted illegally. I mean, there's - it's totally unfounded. And he tweeted, nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag. If they do, there must be consequences, perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail.

Well, the Supreme Court said that that's protected speech, burning a flag. So it's - I don't know whether he doesn't know that or he thinks that Supreme Court decision should be overturned. But, I mean, how - everybody in the press is discussing how do you cover things like - false - like, you know, tweets that are just inaccurate. So what's your approach been to that? What kinds of questions are you asking yourself now about how do you cover things when there's misinformation getting sent out by the president-elect himself?

KELLY: Yeah. It's a challenge, there's no question. Because some of these tweets I would submit to you are bait, you know, maybe an attempt to distract from a news story that Donald Trump doesn't love. And he's holding the shiny object up in an attempt to say, look over here, look over here. We saw him do this many times throughout the primary campaign. So my approach on "The Kelly File" has been to try to use my judgment as to whether that's what this is. Is this a head fake to try to distract from something that's in the news or is this worthy of us running and chewing on it like a dog with a bone?

You know, on the, you know, like the flag burning, it's - we did a segment on it, just one segment. It's a no-brainer. The Supreme Court has been very clear on this. The First Amendment - Donald Trump and the First Amendment - it's not a beautiful match. It's not a match made in heaven, you know, between the free speech rights that he has not defended and the freedom of the press which he has not defended. It's problematic. And, I mean, I called him out on this back before he even declared his candidacy because he was going after Pam Geller, who there's no question is a hateful person, who held this Draw Muhammad contest down in Texas. Remember this? And they got attacked by two terrorists. Now she's a provocateur and she's not a fan of anyone who's Muslim from the sound of what she says, but this is America and she has the right to say those things. And she has the right to have a contest like that. And he was one of the ones out there arguing she invited her own attempted murder.

Now, that's just nonsense. This is America. We're allowed to draw whatever we want. And if you're offended, what the Supreme Court has said the answer to speech you do not like is not less speech, it's more speech. There are many people in the country who don't get that. I mean, like, the Westboro Baptist Church is another example - as hateful as they come. But for years I defended them on the air because they have the right to show up at these funerals. It's horrible, but they do - and say the hateful, vile things they say. Now there can be time, place and manner restrictions, but you can't shut down the speech altogether. I don't know that Donald Trump fully appreciates that or cares. I think he is truly a populist. And if the popular thing to do is to say you have to ban flag burning, even if it ultimately means we're compromising a core principle of who we are as a republic, I don't think he really thinks that that deeply into it.

GROSS: Let's talk about Roger Ailes, who is no longer at Fox because of charges of sexual harassment. You decided to go public about how he sexually harassed you after Gretchen Carlson went public. So what was, like, the tipping point for you that made you think that after all these years the time was right and that you needed to say something? 'Cause the overtures he made to you were in 2005 and 2006.

KELLY: Correct. And when it happened to me, I did bring it to a supervisor which is what you're supposed to do.

GROSS: And you're a lawyer so you kind of know about stuff like that.

KELLY: Yeah. I knew very well what my legal rights and obligations were. But let me just start with this. In so many of these interviews, interviewers ask - not you, Terry, but so many ask - why didn't you report it sooner, why didn't you report it sooner? And I would submit to you that the appropriate question to ask a victim of sexual harassment is not why didn't you report it sooner. You don't get to ask me that until you've asked me whether there was a safe avenue for reporting in my company. And only if the answer to that question is yes do you get to ask the next question.

And the problem that we had at Fox, like so many other companies in America right now, was that there was not a safe avenue for reporting. Here was the CEO and chairman of the board on industry publications as the most powerful man in news harassing young women of the company like myself who had been there for 12 months and who typically were in a vulnerable position. In my case, I was new to the company and going through a divorce. But I know of other cases where certain women had just suffered a death in the family or were also having a divorce or were on their job interview, you know, where you - believe it or not, I mean, it takes some sort of guts to do it to somebody on their job interview but, you know, not in a position of power and at their most vulnerable in a way.

GROSS: You know, can I just stop you here? I know you did what you were supposed to do. You brought it to your supervisor. You reported the behavior. What happened after that? Was there any action taken, or did it stop with the supervisor?

KELLY: So the supervisor told me that I should - you know, this person vouched for Roger's character and told me to try to avoid him, just to try to avoid him. Which I really hadn't realized it was an option, you know, this is a time in the company I have no power. I still work in the 5 a.m. and weekend shifts. So I, you know, I did what I - I used that as my out and I started dodging his phone calls. You know, writing "Settle For More" about how...

GROSS: Wait, is that an appropriate answer to an employee who's being sexually harassed, just try to avoid him?

KELLY: Yeah. I - that's the right - you're asking the right question. It's certainly not how I would want to see the young women of Fox News advised now. Let me put it to you that way. But I will say that I think this person, what they told me was earnest, that the person genuinely did believe that Roger was a good man who was likely just having some sort of a difficulty. And so I leave that up to the reader.

GROSS: But that's not an excuse, is it?

KELLY: Well, it's not because if this person had done something more - right? - if this person had done what the - what is required of them, I mean, that - when you tell a supervisor, normally we tell a supervisor something like that, they have to say to you, you need to know I'm going to have to go take this up the line. This is not lawful, and we're going to have to look into this. That didn't happen. And I think if it had happened, Terry, you know, maybe we wouldn't have had 10 years of victims happen thereafter.

And, of course, looking back, I asked that same thing of myself. You know, if I had gone beyond this person, if I had run to the general counsel, if I had run to a lawyer and sued - and I did hire a lawyer, but I didn't want to sue. I just wanted to do my job. You know, I just - like most victims of sexual harassment, I just wanted him to leave me alone. You know, I did not want to make my budding career the stakes for which we were playing. And I think that's the reality of it. You know, people look back now and say, do you wish you had - you wish you'd hired a lawyer and sued? And I have to be honest and say if I had done that, it would have been a suicide mission. I wouldn't have brought him down, and I would have brought myself down.

So it's hard to honestly say, given the way Fox was set up at that time and for years thereafter, that that would have been the best course. And it's hard for me to say to your listeners out there, young women to whom this may be happening - and it can happen to men, too - that they absolutely have to run to human resources and do something about this because we're talking here about the CEO, who had absolute power there. Absolute power. It was like a kingdom. And you know what they say if you're going to take a shot at the king. You know, you'd better kill him.

And that just - it was very clear to me that I would be on the losing end of that if I had done anything more. So I brought it to a supervisor who did have power and who could advise me. And I did what that person told me to do. I avoided him. And within a year, he had stopped. And we went on to have a professional working relationship for over nine years where he did not...

GROSS: Sure, and he promoted you several times.

KELLY: He did. And I included all that in the book...

GROSS: Yeah.

KELLY: ...Because I want people to see the full measure of the man.

GROSS: But for anyone who's thinking, oh, Megyn Kelly just imagined that he was, you know, making an overture, she misinterpreted what he was doing, you write that he said things to you like he would imagine the sexy bras you must have and he'd like to see you in them. He grabbed you and kissed you on the lips. I mean, so this isn't just, like, you reading things into something he said that was ambiguous.

KELLY: Oh, no.

GROSS: Yeah.

KELLY: Listen, I could have gone on for pages about the things that he said, but I wasn't looking to be salacious or, you know, titillating in any way. It's uncomfortable to reveal any of this. I wanted to give people enough evidence that they could make up their own minds about whether this was or was not harassment.

GROSS: Is it your impression that sexual harassment was systemically condoned at Fox News?

KELLY: I don't believe that because I know that there have been some reporters out there saying everyone knew and it was this cesspool where people covered up for him. I just don't believe that because I didn't know that he was a serial harasser, and it had happened to me. You know, when I saw Gretchen's lawsuit - and I write all about this in the book - it wasn't at that moment that I had the light bulb go off and I said, ah-ha, this is who he is. It wasn't until later that day that - when I saw three former Fox News employees come forward to The Daily Beast in a report they filed that I said, he never stopped. It was just so clear when I read their allegations. I believed every word of them. And it was at that point that I knew.

But I picture myself in the shoes of some of these employees to whom it did not happen, you know, the men in particular. And they - and listen, he cultivated the loyalty that he demanded of people. He wasn't all bad. He - your kid got sick, he'd rush to the hospital to pay the bill. You got cancer, he'd go pay for your treatment. Some of the people at Fox would develop a drug or alcohol problem. Most employers would, you know, bounce you to the curb, on-air people. He'd get you treatment. You'd fail out of the treatment, he'd get you another course of treatment and then put you back on the air and support you.

So this - people were very loyal to him and genuinely believed he was like a father figure who would never hurt any of us, you know? That - and Gretchen - this is not to disparage her at all, but she wasn't the most popular person in the building. So I think it was easy for most of the people, when she filed her lawsuit, to say, oh, she's just a disgruntled employee.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Megyn Kelly, Fox News host. Her show, "The Kelly File," is on at 9:00. And she has a new memoir called "Settle For More." We're going to take a short break. Then we'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Fox News host Megyn Kelly. She has a new memoir called "Settle For More."

Your approach to dealing with this after Gretchen Carlson filed her lawsuit was to call Lachlan Murdoch. Is he one of the Murdoch sons, one of Rupert's sons?

KELLY: He is. Yeah, he's...

GROSS: So you called him directly and said, put your general counsel on the phone, too. Why did you take that approach? It - I mean, it was effective.

KELLY: Well, when the lawsuit first hit, Fox News defended Roger and also said that they would be conducting an internal review. And so later that day, when I saw The Daily Beast report, I figured, all right, they're finally going to figure it out one way or the other. If he's a serial harasser, they're going to get to the bottom of it. If he's not, they're going to find that out, too. But within a week or so, something critical happened, which was a source informed me that Roger was working to limit the review to only those people who had worked directly with Gretchen. And I knew very well what that would mean - no on-air talent. You know, not me, not the only other woman I knew about. And he would skate.

You know, it wouldn't be an honest look at who he was, which was all I wanted. I wasn't demanding that he be fired or - I really didn't know. I thought - you know, once I read The Daily Beast, I thought. But in terms of actually knowing, I didn't. There's what I knew and what I thought I knew. So now I had a decision to make because passively sitting by and letting the investigators get to me was one thing, but taking an active role and ensuring that they got to me collectively sitting by and letting the investigators get to me was one thing, but taking an active role and ensuring that they got to me was quite another because Roger had gone on to be very good to me, too. It wasn't just the other people. He did have my back in some difficult situations. He had promoted me on my maternity leaves. He had defended me against some male colleagues who had come after me.

You know, he didn't act as a sexist or a misogynist in his workplace decisions with respect to me outside of that six-month period of harassment. That's just the truth. So it was easy for me to say he wasn't a serial harasser and he was a good man just as my supervisor had suggested. So it was a difficult decision in the moment to decide whether I should inject myself into the process and make sure it was full-throated.

GROSS: You write in your book "Settle For More," my relationship with a few colleagues changed after these events - these events being what happened with Roger Ailes. And I want to quote something Bill O'Reilly said on the CBS morning show after you came forward with your allegations of sexual harassment against Roger Ailes. He said, I'm not interested in litigating something that is finished, that is making my network look bad. If somebody is paying you a wage, you owe that person or company allegiance. You don't like what's happening in the workplace, go to human resources or leave. I've done that, said Bill O'Reilly.

But you did go to your supervisor. And I'm just thinking it must be hard to - you've come forward, you know, talking about - publicly talking about sexual harassment which I'm sure is never easy and a colleague at your station goes after you for saying it and doesn't even acknowledge that you did go through channels.

KELLY: Well, look I'll say this, I can take a sharp elbow here or there. It may not be enjoyable, but I can. And for the record, I had discussed with Lachlan and Rupert Murdoch about whether to include this chapter, and they both felt as I did that it was an important chapter to include, to their credit, to their credit. And I've said before that I don't believe I'm making Fox News look bad. I believe Roger Ailes made the company look bad.

But take me out of it - that kind of messaging is problematic because the real heroes of that story, the Roger Ailes story, are the first and second-year on-air talent, young women who are scared out of their minds but somehow found the courage to come forward and speak with Paul Weiss once Lachlan Murdoch hired that outside law firm and made sure this was a real investigation. No one - no one thought that Ailes was going to get fired. No one. So for these young women to go sit with that law firm and some were - you know, some had been in the company, let's say, four years but had families to support was at great risk to themselves. And they don't necessarily have the ability to move to another company, you know, or another shop in the industry.

Television is a tough business. It's not that easy to jump shops. And so I think that messaging is unfortunate because it ignores the reality that these young women were faced with. And it ignores the messaging that it's sending them now which is you have two choices - you go to HR in a company that where he controlled HR - his former assistant was one of the top honchos there - or quit or you have to give up your job. I will say for the record that is not an acceptable choice for anybody at any company.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Fox News host Megyn Kelly. She has a new memoir called "Settle For More." We'll be back after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Megyn Kelly, and she has a new memoir called "Settle For More."

My producer told me - and I didn't know this myself - that there has been intentionally negative reviews of your book on Amazon as a way to kind of seek revenge against you. Is that right?

KELLY: Yeah, no, that's true. There's been a contingent of, you know, that far-right group of Trump supporters that has tried to sabotage the book on Amazon by giving it, you know, one-star reviews within a half an hour of the second it came out, which, of course, it was impossible for them to have read. And a lot of those reviews just talk about how, you know, Donald Trump is great and I am not (laughter).

So to its credit, Amazon has been trying to separate the wheat from the chaff there and figure out who's a legitimate verified purchaser who's read the book and who isn't, which is I suppose a challenge for them. But at least they've tried.

GROSS: OK, so this is an example of how the alt-right - and the alt-right is a rebranding of white nationalists and people who are misogynist, racist. So the alt-right has kind of gone after you ever since your dust-up with Trump at the debate. Are you concerned that President-elect Trump seems to have empowered these people?

KELLY: Well, I do think that they're a potentially dangerous force. And, you know, even when it comes to the book review, look, I have a powerful platform. I can come talk to Terry Gross for an hour.

But a lot of authors who are on the wrong side of Trump - take Michelle Fields - right? - the one who alleged that Corey Lewandowski had physically assaulted her, Trump's old campaign manager. She had a book. She doesn't have a powerful platform. She worked for Breitbart and left when they failed to defend her. And she got targeted by these folks on Amazon. And they killed her book, and that's not OK, right?

This woman hasn't done anything wrong, anything other than find herself on the wrong end of these folks for whom she used to work. But even that wasn't enough to engender any loyalty or affection for her because she decided to say something about the fact that Corey Lewandowski laid hands on her. This is a man who threatened me explicitly as well.

And, look, Trump's got bigger things to worry about than this particular group. But it is also a dangerous game to empower them as clearly has happened. I mean, Steve Bannon is - he's a chief adviser to our president-elect. And I understand the argument that he's just a provocateur and he comes up with these crazy headlines and they want clicks. But if you look at what's happened to Breitbart over the past three years, it's shocking.

I knew Andrew Breitbart very well, and he was great. I loved him. He was a true provocateur who would be fun about it. You know, he'd show up at a democratic protest and engage with the protesters and then he'd go have a beer with them. This is something else entirely. And I don't know that Trump can stop it. I don't know who, if anyone, can stop it.

GROSS: How do you see your role as a journalist in covering the alt-right?

KELLY: It's precarious because they will come after you. I mean, they will target you and they will be relentless about it. But - so I again have this great platform and I have a powerful company behind me. And I'm lucky to have a company that can look at it with that perspective. I think other organizations need to keep that in mind that it does - when I say you're going to have to steel your spine, you know, to cover this White House and deal with some of Trump's supporters, I mean, it could affect your pocketbook as a news organization. And to some extent you're going to have to be OK with that if you believe in the First Amendment and the principles for which we stand as a nation. It is not just words. You're really going to have to figure out - look at my case, Terry. If somebody gets targeted by this group physically and they have death threats, how much money can a news organization expend to provide that person with a bodyguard? At some point, real dollars get involved here in these decisions. And, you know, that's - that's when these news organizations are going to have to find their inner strength.

GROSS: So one more thing, our listeners may have noticed that both you and I sound a little huskier than usual where (laughter) we each have a cold. What do you do for your voice when you have a cold?

KELLY: I was wondering if they thought they tuned into the wrong channel - a different kind of channel today.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: But no, no, no fee (ph). I would like to tell you that I rest it, but that's a bunch of bull.

GROSS: You've just disproved that you rest it by talking...

KELLY: Exactly. I do like to drink this thing called Throat Coat.

GROSS: Oh, yeah.

KELLY: Throat Coat is actually quite effective. And I also - when I have a cough which I have - right now I have this annoying cough - I like Robitussin DM. I put some 'tussin on it, Terry.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: OK, thank you so much for talking with us, and also thank you for doing this in spite of the fact that you have a cold. I really appreciate that very much.

KELLY: I am grateful to be here. I really am, and I'm grateful to you listeners do for giving me all the time.

DAVIES: Megyn Kelly's new memoir is called "Settle For More." She hosts "The Kelly File" weekday evenings at 9 on Fox News. Terry recorded the interview yesterday when she had a cold but still had a voice.

Tomorrow, we'll hear the interview Terry recorded this morning when she was merely hoarse with Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The New York Times, about covering Donald Trump. They talked about covering his tweets, how the Times chose which Trump stories to investigate, how it dealt with Trump's threat to sue over a story, the Times' meeting with Trump and how to label his inaccurate statements. Hope you can join us.

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DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.