After finally getting around to watching Megyn Kelly’s interview with Donald Trump — it’s surprisingly hard to find the full video, and most copies online appear to be edited hack jobs for either supporters or haters of Trump — I can say that, despite Kelly’s assertion that “it’s not about me” when asking Trump about his nasty retweets in which he called her a “bimbo,” that statement certainly seems like a microcosm of the entire interview: It was absolutely, 100 percent about her.
Kelly obviously has no shortage of talent. She hit the ground running at Fox News in 2004 and her celebrity has been on the rise and growing ever since, arguably reaching or eclipsing that of her long-time associates Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.
To her credit, she claims to be an independent on a conservative network that doesn’t even pretend to be “fair and balanced” anymore, and she hit Donald Trump as hard as anyone during the August 2015 debate when she questioned his character in making numerous “disparaging” comments about women:
But that Megyn Kelly — detached, steely eyed, uncowed — was far from the person who sat across from Trump earlier this week. This Megyn Kelly was soft, amicable, introspective and almost psychoanalytical in her attempts, mostly unsuccessful, to unearth the inner crust of Donald Trump. She asked him about his alcoholic and now dead brother, his perceived mistakes on the campaign trail, his regrets and his emotional wounds. Watch the interview with closed eyes and you may, for a second, forget this is a conservation between two highly privileged celebrities and imagine a psychiatry patient laying on the couch talking to his shrink.
There is no psychoanalyzing Donald Trump. Donald Trump gets out of bed every morning based on the strength of three simple things: his wealth, his power and his own aura. That’s it. Yet, in this interview, Kelly, in pure Barbara Walters wannabe form and not half as probing, asked few follow-up questions and even minimized moments when Trump, seemingly unapologetic and unrepentant as ever, was at his most obnoxious.
During what was probably the most memorable part of the interview, Kelly alerted Trump to the fact that he had called her a bimbo multiple times on social media, to which Trump just donned a boyish grin, leaned in and issued an almost mocking “excuse me,” as if he had just cut her off at the checkout line. Kelly, failing to use that opportunity to reclaim some of her earlier fire and ask a tough question, just recoiled and smiled. After an awkward pause and a creepy, sustained grin from Trump, he continued, noting that he, using ethical discretion like a true gentleman, did not retweet some of the harsher comments on Twitter.
Indeed, the only time Trump revealed anything interesting about himself was when he commended Kelly for coming to him and seeking reconciliation after the imbroglio last year. “I have great respect for you that you were able to call me and say let’s get together and lets talk,” Trump said. “For me, I would not have done that. I don’t say that as a positive. I think it’s a negative for me.”
Aside from that admission, this was, as Poynter Institute’s James Warren noted, far from Frost-Nixon. Here is Warren:
Why might a cynic have wondered if Megyn Kelly’s primetime Fox network interview with Donald Trump would fall short of David Frost’s evisceration of former President Richard Nixon? Might it have been the afternoon tweet and photo from a beaming Trump himself, his arm around a grinning Kelly, her arm around his back, and the declaration, “I will be live tweeting my interview with @megynkelly on the Fox Network tonight at 8! Enjoy!” (@realDonaldTrump) Or was it the night before, on the Bravo cable channel, when she conceded that she’d once not just touched his hair but “run my fingers through it” to see if he wore a wig.
So no, despite the “big fight feel” implied by advertisements leading up to the interview, this was not Kelly’s breakout moment as a long-form interviewer.
This was simply theater masquerading as a hard-hitting interview. I don’t know if Trump and Kelly went over some of the questions she was going to ask beforehand, but did anyone really think that she was going to walk into Trump Tower, recreate a working relationship with the real estate mogul just to pepper him with a relent barrage of questions a la the August 2015 debate? They both realized that to make the interview seem genuine, Kelly was going to have to ask an uncomfortable question or two, but this was never going to be a whole-cloth take-down of Trump.
It was not even about policy or Trump’s character. It was almost exclusively about Trump and Kelly, and as Trevor Noah brilliantly summarized recently, amounted to little more than high-profile “couples therapy” after a breakup. Frankly, if people Connie Chung, Katie Couric and Barbara Walters are the benchmarks, Kelly’s interview looked rather pedestrian by comparison.