Megyn Kelly’s Media Moment

Why the Fox host continues to fascinate.

Back in January, before the hosts of the first GOP presidential debate had even been announced, the New York Times Magazine had already called the Megyn Kelly moment. But what reporter Jim Rutenberg was referring to then was a signature move of the Fox host:

For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon, a Megyn moment, as I have taken to calling it, is when you, a Fox guest — maybe a regular guest or even an official contributor — are pursuing a line of argument that seems perfectly congruent with the Fox worldview, only to have Kelly seize on some part of it and call it out as nonsense, maybe even turn it back on you. You don’t always know when, how or even if the Megyn moment will happen; Kelly’s political sensibility and choice of subjects are generally in keeping with that of the network at large. But you always have to be ready for it, no matter who you are.

The appointment of Kelly as a debate host and subsequent standoff with Donald Trump on the night of set off a series of articles and posts that turned Rutenberg’s “Megyn moment” into a media moment for Kelly. So memorable was the exchange (much like her still-referenced 2012 election-night moment with Karl Rove) that the reverberations continued into this month.

There was Brent Budowsky in The Hill calling Kelly’s debate performance not just a Kelly moment, but one reminiscent of legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow:

Many “journalists” treat Trump’s repeated verbal abuses against women as the charming idiosyncrasies of a celebrity, while Megyn Kelly treated them, correctly, as an appropriate question to ask a man seeking the presidency.

By questioning Trump about this behavior, Kelly has assumed the role in the 2016 campaign of Edward R. Murrow, who questioned the demagoguery of Joe McCarthy in the 1950s…

Kelly even got a shout out in Salon:

Say what you will about Megyn Kelly, but unlike her compatriots who “ambush” their subjects with questions for which they have canned answers, she can genuinely surprise her guests with questions that cause them to blather incoherently, and she’s more than happy to stand silently by as they struggle to unburden themselves of the weight of their own palaver.

And in a June profile in Variety, Ramin Setoodeh and Brian Steinberg described how Kelly “is bucking the conventional wisdom of what it means to be a Fox News anchor.”

The take-no-prisoners newswoman isn’t afraid to throw hardballs at Republicans. She recently lectured Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul over his penchant for arguing with female reporters. She poked Jeb Bush about whether he would have invaded Iraq in 2003. She cornered Mike Huckabee for saying it was trashy for women to swear in public. Last year, she told Dick Cheney, “History has proven that you got it wrong” on Iraq. On Election Night 2012, she dared to question Karl Rove for claiming that Barack Obama hadn’t won Ohio, and it went viral.

That is what makes Kelly such a compelling subject for reporters and writers. In a media climate ruled by the speed and volume of production, it becomes easy to create archetypes and preformed narratives out of convenience. But when someone can’t be contained to set expectations, those moments that prove that case–as in Kelly vs. Trump–tend to have a longer half-life.