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Economy & Business

Rising Star Megyn Kelly To Leave Fox News For NBC

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: All right. One of the biggest names at Fox News is now leaving for NBC. Anchor Megyn Kelly is a journalist who has made a number of headlines herself recently. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, Kelly has now won a prize she long sought while Fox News is going to be scrambling to reshape its primetime lineup.

FOLKENFLIK: The move allows Megyn Kelly to shed Fox's conservative ideological baggage and its rhetorical combat. She'll be hosting a daytime weekly show and a Sunday night newsmagazine on NBC. Think of Diane Sawyer or Barbara Walters instead of Bill O'Reilly. On Fox News, Kelly, a former lawyer, periodically through red meat to her jury, that is, core Fox viewers. In 2010, for instance, Kelly took authorities to task for their handling of a minor Election Day incident involving a menacing but very small hate group.


MEGYN KELLY: I'll tell you because you clearly don't know the facts of this case. They got out an injunction...

KIRSTEN POWERS: I actually do know the...

KELLY: Let me finish. They got an injunction against Samir Shabazz.

FOLKENFLIK: A liberal media watchdog estimated she devoted three and a half hours over a two-week period to the New Black Panther Party.


KELLY: They then...


KELLY: ...Got rid of that injunction altogether.

POWERS: Megyn...

KELLY: So don't tell me that they did all they could.

FOLKENFLIK: Kelly later apologized for the tone of that exchange with liberal Fox News pundit Kirsten Powers. In 2013, Kelly took up rhetorical arms in the so-called war on Christmas.


KELLY: This is so ridiculous - yet another person claiming it's racist to have a white Santa, you know. And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.

FOLKENFLIK: After an outcry, Kelly said she had been joking. Despite such moments, Kelly has largely sought to carve out a role rejecting partisan pieties. On election night in 2012, the Fox News analyst and Republican strategist Karl Rove rebuffed the network's projection, a re-election win by Barack Obama. Kelly sought to inject some reality.


KELLY: Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better? Or is this real, and you genuinely...

FOLKENFLIK: At the first Republican primary debate in August 2015, Kelly famously asked Donald Trump about the insults he had hurled toward women, calling them fat pigs, dogs, slobs, animals.


KELLY: 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?

FOLKENFLIK: Trump returned fire on CNN.


DONALD TRUMP: Well, I just don't respect her as a journalist. I have no respect for her. I don't think she's very good.

FOLKENFLIK: And Trump denounced her for months. After the election, Kelly spoke to NPR.


KELLY: I think that many people thought I enjoyed my year of Trump because they saw me on the cover of Vanity Fair. And they thought - wow, she's got it made. And that's fine.

FOLKENFLIK: Kelly said she had received death threats.


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 not understanding who was popping up on our porch.

FOLKENFLIK: Other Fox hosts gave Trump kid-glove treatment. Kelly told associates that Fox News chairman Roger Ailes failed to defend her adequately. It turned out that Ailes, a former Republican strategist, had been privately offering political advice to Trump for a year. As Ailes was swept up in allegations of sexual harassment last summer, Kelly added her voice, saying Ailes had sexually harassed her a decade ago.

Again, Kelly on NPR.


KELLY: He started off with 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. I mean, it was not ambiguous. Trust me.

FOLKENFLIK: And the Murdochs, the controlling owners of Fox, did - forcing Ailes out, seeing Kelly, not Ailes, as the future of Fox. Kelly's ambitions ranged farther afield. She had gone to meet Trump privately at his offices in late spring to smooth over their differences. And Trump appeared on her primetime special for the Fox broadcast network.


TRUMP: I have great respect for you that you were able to call me and say, let's get together and let's talk. To me, I would not have done that.

FOLKENFLIK: The night was intended to showcase her human touch. Other guests included one of the O.J. Simpson's lawyers and two Hollywood stars, the kind of mix she'll presumably chase at NBC.

The move does carry risks for Kelly and for NBC. Will her skills translate? Will viewers take to her? Will her history at Fox color their perception of her? And Fox News now confronts a yawning chasm in its primetime lineup. Yet, it can now recalibrate for the Trump years and could reinforce the Fox News brand by picking someone less inclined than Kelly to challenge the new president and more likely to champion him.

David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOUR TET'S "PLASTIC PEOPLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.