NBC cancels Megyn Kelly’s show after blackface controversy

NEW YORK (AP) – Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News Channel personality who made a rocky transition to softer news at NBC, was fired from her morning show Friday after triggering a furor by suggesting it was OK for white people to wear blackface at Halloween.

″‘Megyn Kelly Today’ is not returning,” NBC News said in a statement. The show occupied the fourth hour of NBC’s “Today” program, a time slot that will be hosted by other co-anchors next week, the network said.

NBC didn’t address Kelly’s future at the network. But negotiations over her exit from NBC are underway, according to a person familiar with the talks who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Bryan Freedman, an attorney for Kelly, said in a statement that she “remains an employee of NBC News and discussions about next steps are continuing.” He did not elaborate.

Kelly is in the second year of a three-year contract that reportedly pays her more than $20 million a year.

The show’s cancellation came four days after she provoked a firestorm for her on-air comments about blackface as a costume.

“But what is racist?” Kelly said Tuesday. “Truly, you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface at Halloween or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid, that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”

Critics accused her of ignoring the ugly history of minstrel shows and movies in which whites applied blackface to mock blacks as lazy, ignorant or cowardly.

Kelly apologized to fellow NBC staffers later in the day and made a tearful apology on her show Wednesday. She did not host new episodes of “Megyn Kelly Today” as scheduled on Thursday and Friday.

Kelly, 47, made her debut as a NBC morning host in September 2017, taking over the 9 a.m. slot at “Today” and saying she wanted viewers “to have a laugh with us, a smile, sometimes a tear and maybe a little hope to start your day.” She did cooking demonstrations and explored emotional topics.

She largely floundered with that soft-news focus, and a pair of awkward and hostile interviews with Hollywood figures Jane Fonda and Debra Messing backfired. Kelly briefly found more of a purpose with the eruption of the #MeToo movement.

She made news when interviewing women who accused President Donald Trump of inappropriate behavior and spoke with accusers of Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Roy Moore and others, as well as women who say they were harassed on Capitol Hill.

Time magazine, which honored “The Silence Breakers” as its Person of the Year, cited Kelly as the group’s leader in the entertainment field. The episode with Trump accusers had more than 2.9 million viewers, one of her biggest audiences.

But strains continued behind the scenes. Kelly last month publicly called for NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack to appoint outside investigators to look into why the network didn’t air Ronan Farrow’s stories about Weinstein and allowed Farrow to take the material to The New Yorker.

And her ratings have been consistently down from what “Today” garnered in the 9 a.m. hour before Kelly came on board. In its first year, Kelly’s show averaged 2.4 million viewers a day, a drop of 400,000 from the year before.

The latest controversy may have tipped the balance. Both NBC’s “Nightly News” and “Today” did stories on her blackface comment, and weatherman Al Roker said Kelly “owes a big apology to people of color across the country.”

A former corporate defense attorney, Kelly made her name at Fox News discussing politics in prime time. During the first GOP debate in 2015, she asked Trump about calling women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” Trump later complained about her questions, saying, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.”

Although Kelly may have attempted a fresh start at NBC, she couldn’t always escape her baggage.

Many of her former Fox News Channel viewers were upset by her perceived disloyalty in leaving and her clashes with Trump during the campaign. At the same time, her former association with Fox caused some NBC colleagues and viewers to regard her with suspicion.

While at Fox, Kelly cultivated a reputation for toughness and a willingness to challenge conservative orthodoxy. Her private testimony about former Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes’ unwanted sexual advances a decade ago helped lead to Ailes’ firing.

She also created controversy with her stance on race. In 2013, while an anchor at Fox, Kelly addressed the ethnicity of Santa Claus by saying: “For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.”

CBS sets aside $120 million for Moonves, but will he see it?

NEW YORK (AP) – CBS revealed Monday that it set aside $120 million in severance for ousted chief executive Leslie Moonves. But whether he sees a penny of it is one of the tough and potentially incendiary decisions the network faces after his resignation over sexual misconduct accusations.

Despite Moonves’ announced exit Sunday, outside lawyers hired by CBS continue to investigate allegations against him and Jeff Fager, the top executive at “60 Minutes.” In a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, CBS said it will release the severance money if the investigation finds there was no cause for him to be fired.

Any payment to Moonves is likely to anger the #MeToo movement that has brought down other powerful men in Hollywood and the media, including Hollywood studio boss Harvey Weinstein, NBC’s Matt Lauer and CBS’ Charlie Rose.

Meanwhile, Moonves’ wife, Julie Chen, did not appear Monday on the season-opening episode of her daytime show, “The Talk,” and co-host Sharon Osbourne said on the air that “everyone here at CBS is nervous about their jobs.” CBS’ stock price slid.

As head of television’s most popular network, Moonves was among the most powerful and richest executives in the TV industry, making a total of nearly $140 million over the last two years.

His exit was announced hours after The New Yorker posted a detailed story alleging misconduct. In two stories posted this summer, a total of 12 women have said they were mistreated by the TV mogul, including forced oral sex, groping and retaliation if they resisted. Moonves has denied the charges, though he said he had consensual relations with some of the women.

The network’s chief operating officer, Joseph Ianniello, is taking over as president and CEO until a reshaped board of directors can find a permanent replacement, CBS said. David Nevins, chief executive at CBS’ Showtime network, was said to be a leading candidate.

Some of the allegations predate Moonves’ working at CBS, which he joined as entertainment president in 1995. A determination on whether there was cause for his firing will focus on whether he violated any company policies while at CBS, said Dan Eaton, an employment lawyer and expert on severance issues as a professor at San Diego State University.

“If it turns that their reporting comes back with inconclusive findings on Mr. Moonves’ conduct, then a negotiated resolution is highly probable,” Eaton said.

CBS Corp. stock ended the day down 85 cents, or less than 2 percent, after rebounding in the afternoon. The stock has fallen more than 8 percent this year, with its biggest drop when the first round of accusations against Moonves surfaced.

On Monday’s “The Talk,” Osbourne said Chen was taking time off to be with her family. Chen, who is also host of the CBS prime-time show “Big Brother,” has been married to Moonves since 2004.

“He’s not been convicted of any crime, but obviously the man has a problem,” Osbourne said.

Osbourne said she was particularly taken by the story of Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, who told The New Yorker that Moonves pushed her head into his lap and forced her to perform oral sex when they both worked at the production company Lorimar in the late 1980s. Golden-Gottlieb said Moonves “ruined my career” when she resisted further advances; Moonves strongly denied hurting the careers of any women.

Osbourne said: “How is it when men get power it goes straight to their testicles? I don’t know why, but it’s true.”

The New Yorker also reported Sunday that a former intern at “60 Minutes” three decades ago, Sarah Johansen, said that Fager groped her at a party. Fager is the gatekeeper for the most influential news show on television, and only the second executive producer it has ever had.

Earlier this summer, six former employees told the magazine that Fager had touched employees in ways that made them uncomfortable. Some women said Fager tolerated a workplace where men were protected.

America’s patchwork system of elections invites voter fraud paranoia. Congress should fix that.

To the editor: Our elections have always been a source of pride for Americans and admiration from many countries throughout the world. But the chaos, voter suppression and gerrymandering of late has put a blight on our reputation. Accusations of voter fraud from the president and others have not helped.

Our midterm election is a perfect example. It is time to have a standardized methodology where every state in the union is equal.

Three states — Washington, Oregon and Colorado — conduct their elections exclusively by mail; most others have a mix of in-person and mail-in voting. Some states have electronic ballots that do not leave a paper trail.

Now is the time to have a serious discussion about action that Congress can take on polling places, ballot configuration and equipment. A citizen in one state should have the same opportunity as a citizen in another to vote.

To the editor: Decades ago, a valid excuse was necessary to get an absentee ballot. It was considered our civic duty to be at the polling place on election day.

In 1978 the lines were out the door and down the block as voters passed Proposition 13 to save their homes from the taxman.

No more. Too lazy to go to the polls? Get a mail-in ballot. Too apathetic to re-register at a new address? Just ask for a provisional ballot.

It could easily be argued that our vibrant democracy died sometime after 1978.

Bob Munson, Newbury Park