So far, according to NBC Today show host Megyn Kelly’s accounting, she has worked with four men in television news who lost their jobs because of allegations of sexual misconduct.
Today show star Matt Lauer, who was summarily and shockingly fired Wednesday morning, is only the latest in a club that includes late Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, and Fox News personalities Bill O’Reilly and Eric Bolling, Kelly said Wednesday at Business Insider’s Ignition conference on the future of media.
Kelly, who wrote about her unpleasant encounters with Ailes in her 2016 memoir Settle for More, gave her most detailed public account to date of precisely how Ailes physically assaulted her behind the locked door of his bunker-like Fox News office.
“He was trying to be with me physically,” said Kelly, who initially had tried to laugh off or pretend not to understand Ailes’ penchant for bawdy comments and “inappropriate humor,” not wanting to offend her boss when she was a cub reporter in Fox News’ Washington bureau, but ultimately could no longer let Ailes’ behavior pass.
“The harassment graduated,” she said. “It just got worse and worse” until it became “explicitly quid pro quo sexual harassment—basically ‘you sleep with me and I’ll give you promotions...’”
Finally, in Ailes’ office, “he tried to grab me three times, and make out with me, and I had to shove him off of me. When I shoved him off a third time, he asked me when my contract was up.”
Kelly said when she reported Ailes’ misconduct to a supervisor, she was told simply to “steer clear of him.”
“In retrospect, it was terrible advice,” she said.
In a wide-ranging interview, during which Kelly occasionally cursed and acknowledged that she knows how to “throw a sharp elbow” when necessary, the 47-year-old host of Today’s ratings-challenged third hour said she’d heard rumors about Lauer but didn’t initially credit them.
“No I didn’t,” Kelly answered when asked if she had advance word that the hammer was going to fall on the Today show’s most important—and previously indispensable—franchise player. “So I didn’t have any official knowledge, but because of the work I do, the stories I cover, and the connections I have in the industry, I had a general feel for it.
“I knew the Charlie Rose thing was coming. And I had heard rumors about Matt. But that’s all they were, and my feeling was a rumor is not the same as a reportable fact. I’ve heard a lot of rumors about myself that were completely untrue. And when you’re a public figure, people make up things about you and put them in print.
“I had no inside knowledge at all, but I knew people were sniffing around the issue, and hoped it wasn’t true,” she added, referring to journalism outlets that were investigating the accusations against Lauer.
“The culture is changing meaningfully,” Kelly, a white-shoe lawyer-turned-TV host, told Business Insider U.S. editor in chief Alyson Shontell, adding that more and more women are “finding the courage” to report workplace harassment by powerful male bosses and colleagues.
“Men,” Kelly continued, “now have real skin in the game. Look at the men who have been fired—men who were considered indispensable. We never would have thought Roger Ailes would have been fired by Fox News. Never. Bill O’Reilly—he was considered indispensable. Wrong. Charlie Rose. And on and on it goes.”
Kelly added: “Every time a man, whether it is a president or a news anchor, demeans or diminishes a woman by grabbing her ass or talking about her body or coming on to her instead of asking for her ideas or treating her like a professional, they lose something, too. It’s not a small matter. It’s a huge deal. It’s been happening systemically for far too long.”
Kelly continued: “Maybe we won’t be the nice women and girls we we’ve been raised to be. That is what is prized—nice. Go along to get along. Don’t cause waves. Enough of that!”
Asked if she ever regretted things she’d said on the air—such as claiming Santa Claus is a white man at Fox News, or interrogating Jane Fonda about her plastic surgery on NBC—Kelly confessed: “I regret a lot of what I’ve said. You’re gonna be on the air for several hours a week of live television, you’re gonna say stupid shit.”
During a discussion of her very public ordeal being attacked by Trump and his rabid supporters during the 2016 presidential campaign, Kelly’s interviewer noted that New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd had referred to her as Trump’s “chew toy.”
When several audience members giggled, Kelly shot daggers and admonished: “I know you’re laughing. I really didn’t like that. I really didn’t like that at all. I didn’t like the way she phrased it. It was bullshit.”
Kelly said she will cover politics when appropriate, and will help anchor NBC News’ important election-night programming, but is mostly happy to leave the divisive and toxic political beat to colleagues.
“I do feel that in the era of Trump,” she explained, “you might as well stand at the edge of the Pacific and scream at the top of your lungs all day, every day.”