Over the holidays, I read Megyn Kelly's memoir, Settle for More. I'm not proud of this, and I felt weird reading Kelly's book in public—like I should probably have donned Handmaid's Tale lady-blinders, or Chloe Sevigny's chaste outfits from Big Love, the better to signal the shitty politics of my poor reading choices. (Kelly has never publicly taken a position on abortion, for example. Fuck that!)
And yet, I found Kelly's book pretty enlightening when it comes to explaining our dumb-as-a-post incoming president's weird relationship with the media. The Assaulter in Chief, you'll recall, accused Kelly of menstruating (!) when she dared ask him why he is such a dick to women during the first Republican presidential debate, then proceeded to retweet sexist messages about her and generally do his vewwy best to derail her career.
Of course, this didn't work. Megyn Kelly is definitely one of those ladies who embrace feminism only when personally convenient, her record is full of terrible things, and if you call her an unlikely feminist antiheroine I will have blood coming out of my eyes. But if anyone is used to rising above garbage drooled by ignorant babymen, surely it's Megyn Kelly, who spent nine years as an attorney before discovering her love of TV news, then rose among the ranks of Fox, the He Man-Woman Haters' Club of broadcast journalism. Anyway, she definitely got hers in this memoir, taking Trump to task. Here are some choice discoveries concerning Trump's dealings with the media I gleaned from Kelly's book:
Kelly says Trump tried to bribe her for good coverage by paying for a "girls' weekend" at one of his NYC hotels and did not take it well when she repeatedly refused him. Kelly says she wasn't an anomaly:
This is actually one of the untold stories of the 2016 campaign: I was not the only journalist to whom Trump offered gifts clearly meant to shape coverage. Many reporters have told me that Trump worked hard to offer them something fabulous—from hotel rooms to rides on his 757. The few reports that have been made public—veteran reporter Wayne Barrett says Trump offered him an apartment; writer Mark Bowden says Trump tried to win him over with a book deal—are from years ago, but make clear Trump's history of trying to buy positive media coverage.
It seems to have been more effective with other pundits, who Kelly says Trump tried to flatter into giving him good coverage:
When it became too obvious that some media figures were in the tank, certain TV hosts actually took to gaming out with Trump in advance the hits they'd have to do on him occasionally to make themselves appear unbiased. I have been told this directly by more than one TV executive, at more than one network.
One news star would go over the subjects—and even the questions—with which he'd be challenging Trump just before their interview. "I have to give you a hard time on X," the host would explain, softening the on-air blow so the candidate would not get angry and cut off access.
Another very well known host would call Trump up before criticizing the candidate and warn him: "I have to hit you. I'm getting killed on credibility"—and Trump, the famous counterpuncher, mysteriously didn't hit back after those pre-gamed attacks. Why do you think that was?
Kelly says that Trump tried to manipulate her coverage in other ways, telling her to use polling data that was favorable to him (she refused) or to use "all of [his] remarks" from a pretaped interview (she didn't), and calling her boss to complain when she interviewed a Daily Beast reporter who'd been threatened by Trump's lawyer after covering Ivana Trump's rape allegations against her ex-husband. Of his response to that segment, Kelly writes:
He was especially enraged that I hadn't mentioned on the show that in addition to recanting, Ivana had said she through Trump would make "an incredible president." That had not been relevant to the propriety of Mak's reporting, which was the topic at hand...
"You had no business putting it on your show!" he said [of the rape allegations against him]. "Oh, I almost unleashed my beautiful Twitter account against you, and I still may."
"You don't control the editorial content of The Kelly File, Mr. Trump," I said.
And that was when he snapped.
"That's IT!" he shouted. "You're a disgrace! You should be ashamed of yourself. You should be ashamed of yourself!"
And here is my favorite part of Megyn Kelly's book, as she discusses the aftermath of asking Trump about his well-documented woman problem in that first debate:
Immediately after we wrapped, I had to do my show live from what they call Spin Alley in the convention center. At 11:00 pm sharp, I rushed from the debate stage to my set, perched in the middle of a swarm of reporters. During that live broadcast, with reporters wall-to-wall around him, Trump walked by my set. He yelled out, "Megyn Kelly is not nice! She is no good!" I chose not to acknowledge it.
Reading this, it all became clear: In my years writing with a public byline and a functioning email account, I've not infrequently heard from what I like to call Angry Men Who Do Not Understand How Journalism Works. They're not always men, and they're not always angry—sometimes they're just confused, or (I assume) going through Some Personal Shit—but when they write to me (or call me, or hop into my Twitter mentions as if I've cordially invited them), the Angry Men Who Do Not Understand How Journalism Works usually have a complaint that has nothing to do with the accuracy of what I've written or the wording of my headline or even a maddening typo. No, they are mad because I didn't write beautiful, flowery, uncritical prose about them or something they like. They are mad I didn't write a press release. Which means they do not understand how journalism works.
Reading Kelly's book—and watching last week's bastardization of the term "press conference"—it's clear that Donald Trump is an Angry Man Who Does Not Understand How Journalism Works. Whiny pronouncements like "Buzzfeed is a pile of garbage" and "CNN is fake news" and even "I can ask Megyn Kelly for the coverage I want and ruin her if I don't get it"—all objectively incorrect—are pure, unadulterated AMWDNUHJW. It all boils down to this: "Your job is to make ME look GOOD. You didn't do that, so now I'm going to tell you YOU'RE BAD AT JOURNALISM." Yes, that's right: The fuzzy logic at work here is: "(1) My understanding of how the press works is that it is basically my communications director, (2) Ooops, it didn't function that way, (3) Now I'm going to act like I care about journalistic integrity so that I can tell you YOU don't have it."
Angry Men Who Do Not Understand How Journalism Works are very old toddlers, and we can't afford to capitulate to their red-eyed, pouty whims. The good news is we don't have to listen to them, because, without understanding the true function of journalism, their opinions couldn't be less important.
Besides, as any woman who writes for the internet can probably attest: Some dickbag is ALWAYS going to be there to blame your tough line of questioning on your period. You ask anyway.