Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Megyn Kelly mess

In recent days, Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has been engaged in a running feud with Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly. The feud started after Ms. Kelly questioned "The Donald" during the first Republican debate--hosted on Fox--inquiring about commentary he has made regarding women, both on social media and in person. After seeming allowing the dispute to die down while Megyn Kelly took a 10-day vacation, upon her return the feud flared up again when Trump posted on Twitter about her return, referring to her as a "bimbo":
The media reaction has been in large measure predictable: Donald Trump has been lambasted for being "misogynistic" because of the "bimbo" word. To be sure, most would agree that such language is unnecessarily crude, crass, and generally rude.


While Donald Trump might be fairly reproached for rather ungentlemanly conduct, the hyperfocus on Trump's tweets entirely overlooks two aspects of this on-line feud.



First and foremost, Donald Trump does not advance his candidacy one iota by complaining about Ms. Kelly's journalistic style. Whether her questions as moderator of the debate were fair or unfair is simply not relevant. Ms. Kelly is a news commentator, a "talking head", and no more. She is not an issue to be debated. Even if she shows bias as a journalist--and her lead question to Trump in the debate was absolutely a "gotcha" sort of question about his now-famous trash-talking feud with media personality Rosie O' Donnell--it is a poor demonstration of political leadership for Donald Trump to be distracted from the issues framing his campaign by that bias. 

Trump demonstrated that he is indeed a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 by releasing an immigration plan that even liberal commentators acknowledge is substantive despite their disagreeing with large parts of it.  He wins plaudits from all angles for forcing a serious discussion on a serious issue--immigration reform. Obsessing over Megyn Kelly's "gotcha" attacks during the debate can only prove a distraction to that discussion, and the more substantive that discussion gets nationally the more credible a Presidential candidate Trump becomes. Megyn Kelly has nothing to offer in that debate--not critique, not analysis, not rebuttal.

The other aspect that is getting missed by commentators across the spectrum is that Ms. Kelly is fairly shallow and even trite as a journalist. Harping on Donald Trump's prior crass behavior is hardly a meaningful debate question--even if Trump regrets his behavior in hindsight, as a simple matter of political strategy is does him no good to admit it now. In fact, his unwillingness to make apologies for being blunt, brash, and bombastic during the debate has resonated with potential voters, and contributed to his rise in the opinion polls after that first debate. That Ms. Kelly chose that as her lead question to Trump says more about her journalistic integrity and political acumen than it does about Trump's core values. Arguably, even Fox News regards her as not much of a journalist, depending on how much significance one can ascribe to Fox referring to her as "talent" and not a "journalist" in a post-debate release about her feud with Trump. Never forget that Ms. Kelly has been the source of such classics of journalism as her 2013 on-air statements that both Jesus Christ and Santa Claus were "verifiably white" (whatever that means). Although a lawyer by training, other commentators dismiss her as an "egomaniiacal smart-aleck". To borrow some of Donald Trump's boorish rhetoric, Megyn Kelly is a "drama queen."

Trump's feud with Ms. Kelly is wrong, not because he committed some unpardonable sin by referring to her as a "bimbo", but because it is a political distraction. His feud with Megyn Kelly is as airy and as insubstantial as is Ms. Kelly herself. Trump has the ability to spar with the best, debate with the best--he's shown that time and again. That ability needs to be focused on issues, not pretentious journalists. That is what his campaign, his ambition, and this country require of him.