'My Year Of Guards And Guns': Megyn Kelly On Standing Up To Trump And Ailes

Nov 15, 2016
Originally published on November 16, 2016 10:08 am

Fox News host Megyn Kelly became known to many people across the country in 2015, when she moderated the first Republican presidential debate and pressed then-candidate Donald Trump about his disparaging comments about women.

Trump later described Kelly as having "blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever" because of her angry questioning. The feud boiled over several months, drawing threats from Trump supporters. In her new memoir, Settle For More, Kelly calls it the beginning of her "Year of Trump."

Kelly also was one of several women to accuse Roger Ailes, the then-CEO and chairman of Fox News, of sexual harassment earlier this year, allegations he has denied. Ailes ultimately left the company after one of Kelly's former colleagues, Gretchen Carlson, sued him for sexual harassment. That case was settled in September when Fox News agreed to pay Carlson $20 million and make a public apology.

The TV anchor tells NPR's Kelly McEvers that she chose to speak out now because now she has enough power to do so.

But Kelly insists she is not a feminist — she says she doesn't like the word as a label.

"What should matter is whether I stand for female empowerment," she says, "and I don't think there are many women out there who have any doubts about that."

Below are extended excerpts of the interview, edited for length and clarity.


Interview Highlights

On the surreal and scary "Year of Trump"

There were pieces of the new notoriety that were just surreal and a kick. But the truth is that it was a very difficult year.

And my belief is that Trump was genuinely angry with me, but also was trying to bait me into disqualifying myself from covering him. And in no world was I going to allow him to do that. Nor did I want to remain the story. I had a year of trying to figure out how I could get myself off of the playing field and back onto the sidelines where I belonged.

It was my year of guards and guns — you know, thanks to Trump. I was under security threat for most of the nine months he was really coming after me. I had strange people showing up at my house. I had strange people casing my house. I had my children looking out the windows afraid. ... Every time he would come after me, he would release — as I describe in the book — a torrent of nastiness in my life, and I had to sort of just be steady at the helm, because I was going to cover this race come hell or high water.

By far, the tweet that bothered me the most was that of Trump's top lawyer, Michael Cohen, who's a senior executive with the Trump organization. When things were at a fever pitch after that first debate, Michael Cohen retweeted somebody saying, "Let's gut her." That one to me was the most disturbing and visceral. ...

A senior executive at Fox, Bill Shine, called Michael Cohen and tried ... to stand him down on the threatening rhetoric, explaining "Look, let me put it in terms you can understand: If Megyn Kelly gets killed, it's not going to help your candidate." And this guy Cohen didn't seem to care.

On reaching out to Trump for a meeting herself

I don't feel that I did lose face. To me, that was an empowering moment. Because I'd been through this year, in which my boss, Roger Ailes, was not able to stand Trump down. My friend Sean Hannity, who is a big Trump booster as you know, he was not able to stand Trump down. No one was able to stop his antics. And I realized it would be up to me.

And there was no way I was going to go and apologize to Trump, which is what he wanted — he wanted me to apologize for my debate question. That was not going to happen. But I needed him to stop that behavior. It wasn't good for me. It wasn't good for my relationship with my viewers. It wasn't good for my safety, or that of my family.

And so I needed to find a way to put an end to it without compromising my integrity or my journalism. And that interview and my meeting at Trump Tower seemed like a very safe off-ramp to get him off of his behavior, and to get both of us back on solid footing. And it worked.

On whether Trump knew her debate question in advance

No absolutely not. ... I can tell you there is no way Donald Trump knew what my first debate question was going to be. The book tells the story of how he called a senior Fox executive before the debate and said, "I know her first question for me is going to be a very pointed one."

And in the book I say, "How could he have known that?" And then I talk about how leaks would be unthinkable on our debate team. No one outside of my debate team had access to our questions. They are inviolate. At Fox, it's me, Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, Chris Stirewalt and Bill Sammon, the head of the debate team. And Bill Sammon is the one Trump said that to. And my own belief is that Trump was trying to fish.

On speaking out against sexual harassment by Roger Ailes after Gretchen Carlson's lawsuit

I think this was the time to to say to people, "Look, this did happen to me, and it can happen even to somebody like me."... I wasn't a shrinking violet when I joined Fox News. I didn't have any power at Fox, I had no power in the TV industry, but I had been a lawyer for nine years who had practiced employment law.

On dealing with advances from Ailes

He started off [with] just inappropriate sexual comments. And in the book I chose to list a couple just so that people could make up their own minds about whether this was clear or not. It wasn't like, "Hey, you look nice in that dress." It was, "I'm sure you have some very sexy bras," and he wanted to see me in them.

But then he would veer back and forth between that and really useful professional advice. ... So I would try to laugh it off or I would try to just make a comment about work to sort of get back on the straight and narrow. ...

You have to understand that Roger Ailes was a king. He was on the cover of multiple industry publications as the most powerful man in news. And at Fox News, there was no one else with power. So you didn't want to get on the wrong side of, him because he was actually beloved inside the building and very well-liked in the industry. ...

I knew was it would be insane to cross him. And it ultimately culminated in an incident in January 2006, where he did try to get physical with me, and I wound up running out of his office and calling a lawyer. ... I made a record of everything he did and I was prepared if he retaliated against me, because I refused to let him have me and I knew that there might be a price to pay. As it turns out there was not. ...

I did go and tell a supervisor and that supervisor told me that this is a good man, that he was likely just smitten, and that I should try to avoid him, and hopefully it would stop. And that's what I did. And it did stop, and we went on to have nine years of a professional, good working relationship with one another.

On whether she regrets not pursuing a case against him at the time

It's hard to say I regret it because if I had done that, it would have been a kamikaze mission — and not even, because I think the only one who would have been brought down was me. ... It would have been a suicide mission.

There was no one to report to. He placed his former assistants in key roles in the human resources department. He had people who are considered, let's just call them Roger loyalists, in every department in Fox. You couldn't even drop an anonymous note someplace because there were cameras all over the building, and guards, and you had to use your key card to get in on every floor.

But I didn't need any of that because what I did was I told somebody who, for the record, did have an obligation to report it. I wasn't looking to go file a federal lawsuit about it. I was looking to make it stop. And in my experience ... women don't tend to want to make this into some bra-burning moment. They just want to do their jobs. They want to be left alone.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

In August 2015, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly's life changed. It was the first Republican primary debate, and it was when Kelly asked this question of then candidate Donald Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEGYN 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?

MCEVERS: The next day, Trump told an interviewer Megyn Kelly, quote, "had a blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever." And then came the threats from Trump supporters. It was the start of what Megyn Kelly in her new memoir calls her year of Trump.

KELLY: It was my year of guards and guns, you know, thanks to Trump. It was - I was under security threat for most of the nine months he was really coming after me. I had strange people showing up at my house. I had strange people casing my house. I had, you know, my children looking out the windows, afraid of who was coming up, not understanding who was popping up on our porch.

MCEVERS: Yeah, I mean it was people coming after you online - Trump supporters. But then there were also I mean things that people said online that Trump's, you know, own people re-tweeted. I mean talk about that.

KELLY: Well, I mean by far the tweet that bothered me the most was that of Trump's top lawyer, Michael Cohen, who is a senior executive with the Trump Organization. And when things were at a fever pitch after that first debate, Michael Cohen retweeted somebody saying, let's gut her.

You know, I go through in the book about how a senior executive at Fox, Bill Shine, called Michael Cohen and tried to walk him off the ledge and tried to stand him down on the threatening rhetoric, explaining, look; let me put it in terms you can understand (laughter). If Megyn Kelly gets killed, it's not going to help your candidate. And this guy Cohen didn't seem to care.

MCEVERS: And went on for months - I mean you had security. And then at some point you decided to reach out to Trump. You wanted to interview him for a primetime special called "Megyn Kelly Presents." And before doing that, you asked him for a meeting.

The meeting was off the record you write in your book, so you can't talk about, you know, the details of what was said, but you do say that he was very polite and that afterwards, the attacks stopped. Do you think that's because you reached out to him? Like, you had to lose, like, a little bit of face, and then he was going to be OK.

KELLY: Well, I do think it's because I reached out to him, but I don't think it - I don't feel that I did lose face. I mean to me, that was an empowering moment because no one was able to stop his antics. And I realized it would be up to me. And there was no way I was going to go and apologize to Trump, which is what he wanted. He wanted me to apologize for my debate question. That was not going to happen.

But I needed him to stop that behavior. And that interview and my meeting at Trump Tower seemed like a very safe off-ramp to get him off of his behavior and to get both of us back on solid footing. And it worked.

MCEVERS: It's interesting, you know, if you think about a President Trump going forward. And you know, it could be - there could be a lesson in there for someone who could feel like his enemy - that maybe the way to work with him is to work with him, is to come to the bargaining table.

KELLY: Well, I mean I - I'm a little worried about that because not everybody has the opportunity to go to Trump Tower, (laughter) right?

MCEVERS: Right.

KELLY: And so I had a unique opportunity there, and I seized it. I hope in part - honestly I hope that maybe upon hearing in more detail what it does to somebody on the receiving end of his attentions, he - maybe he'll have some more pause because he's more powerful now and can affect far more people's lives actually with far less effort.

MCEVERS: I guess in this weird way, like, this year, your year of Trump, while it was a scary in some ways and difficult in other ways year - has also been a good year for you - I mean a book deal, an offer of $20 million contract from Fox. I mean you're reaching a lot of audience on your show. Is that a contrast that you think about?

KELLY: No because with all due respect to Trump, I was doing just fine without him (laughter). And for the record, my book offer came before Trump. As far as, you know, my Fox offer and my salary and all that, I had no trouble getting any offers or interest from Fox News even before Trump as well.

And Trump spent most of the year trying to destroy my career (laughter), not to lift it up. And it's certainly true that his attentions made me better known. You know, they made me better known. But I would submit to you it was the way in which I handled Trump's attentions that earned me whatever respect is out there as a result of this year.

MCEVERS: There is another big revelation in this book, though, and it's that you say you were sexually harassed by Roger Ailes. He's the founder and former head of Fox News. What happened?

KELLY: My own experience with him - it happened when I was - I'd been at the company for 12 months, and...

MCEVERS: What year was it?

KELLY: It was 2006. He started off - just inappropriate sexual comments. It wasn't like, hey, you look nice in that dress. It was, I'm sure you have some very sexy bras. And he wanted to see me in them. But then he would veer back and forth between that and really useful, professional advice.

So I would try to laugh it off, or I would try to just make a comment about work, you know, to sort of get back on the straight and narrow. And over those six months, it got more egregious. And it ultimately culminated in an incident where he did try to get physical with me. And I wound up running out of his office and calling a lawyer.

I made a record of everything he did, and then I did go and tell a supervisor. And that supervisor told me that this was a good man, that he was likely just smitten and that I should try to avoid him and hopefully it would stop. And that's what I did. And it did stop. And we went on to have nine years of a professional, good working relationship with one another.

MCEVERS: Right. I mean he promoted you. You took good maternity leave during your three pregnancies. I mean you even got promoted I think when you were away for one of them as I recall from the book.

KELLY: Yep.

MCEVERS: But do you regret not taking it further at that time? You told your supervisor you retain counsel, but do you think you could have taken it further?

KELLY: You know, it's hard to say I regret it because if I had done that, it would have been a kamikaze mission and not even because I think the only one who would have been brought down was me.

MCEVERS: Roger Ailes ultimately left Fox News after one of Megyn Kelly's former colleagues, Gretchen Carlson, sued him for sexual harassment. It's only now, Megyn Kelly told me, that she can encourage other women to come forward now that she has power. Megyn Kelly insists she is not a feminist, but she does want to be a role model for other women.

KELLY: I would like to believe that if this were happening to a young woman in the position I was in then, that she would feel comfortable coming to someone like me because I know if somebody came to me now, I'd make damn sure there was an investigation.

MCEVERS: Megyn Kelly, thank you so much.

KELLY: Thanks for having me.

MCEVERS: Megyn Kelly's new book is called "Settle For More." You can hear an extended version of our conversation on npr.org or the NPR One app. We did reach out to Roger Ailes' lawyer, but we didn't hear back. In his statement to other news organizations, he said, quote, "I categorically deny the allegations Megyn Kelly makes about me." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.