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'Today' Drops Megyn Kelly

NOEL KING, HOST:

Earlier this week, NBC's "Today" show anchor Megyn Kelly caused outrage with some on-air remarks about Halloween costumes.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODAY")

MEGYN KELLY: There was a controversy on "The Real Housewives Of New York" with Luann as she dressed as Diana Ross. And I don't know - I felt like, who doesn't love Diana Ross? She wants to look like Diana Ross for one day. And I don't know how, like, that got racist on Halloween.

KING: Now NPR's David Folkenflik is reporting that the network has dropped Kelly from the "Today" show lineup and that she appears likely to leave the network because of the fallout from those comments.

Good morning, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: OK. So this is not the first time that Megyn Kelly has made controversial comments about race. Here she is in 2013 when she was an anchor on Fox News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE KELLY FILE")

KELLY: For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white. Jesus was a white man, too.

KING: Tell us about her history of making racialized comments.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, these aren't the only examples. There are a number. I remember the Santa/Jesus comments back from 2013. She later said she'd been joking and last year claimed that she regretted those remarks. But I remember back in 2010, she spent a fair amount of time on a tiny, tiny hate group - black hate group called the New Black Panthers. One, I believe, of them ultimately faced criminal charges related to voter intimidation. She spent over 3 1/2 hours in a three-week period focusing on it as though it was a threat to the republic. And indeed, as one of her former colleagues recounted, basically yelled at a white liberal strategist for about 10 minutes, who she felt was failing to take it sufficiently seriously.

One more example, among several - she kept inviting the former LA homicide detective Mark Fuhrman on the air...

KING: Yeah.

FOLKENFLIK: ...To talk about criminal justice issues and to talk about the question of African-American relations with police officers. He, of course, had to admit on the stand he had said racist things over the years during the O.J. trial. Many people saw that as a discrediting thing. She welcomed him on the show.

KING: Do you think that history played a role in NBC's decision to let her go?

FOLKENFLIK: I think it's played a strong role in the reaction of NBC's colleagues, particularly but not exclusively NBC's African-American journalists, in outrage to her remarks about what she felt was the acceptability of blackface.

KING: Yeah. NBC's "Nightly News With Lester Holt" did a whole segment about this controversy on its own network, which seems to suggest something about Megyn Kelly's colleagues and their attitude toward her.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, for you and me, it might be an admirable exercise in transparency - and I think it was that. I think it's worth pointing out also, Lester Holt, the only African-American anchor...

KING: Yeah.

FOLKENFLIK: ...Of any - of the big three broadcast networks. But it's also a sign that NBC was saying, we're not going to protect this star in the way we might, even though she's one of the most recognizable faces in TV news.

KING: Which is really interesting, the fact that she has been dropped - I think it will surprise some people. And I wonder, does the way the network has handled these comments say something bigger about the way networks and companies are tolerating racialized or racist comments?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's hard not to look at this in light of, you know, the reaction - at times, very slow - of major news organizations to the #MeToo movement, which was something that, for a significant time, Megyn Kelly embraced. She accused her former boss at Fox News of sexually harassing her. I also think you can't divorce it from the fact that Megyn Kelly received a very tepid welcome from her colleagues at NBC News - she displaced some popular colleagues - and that her ratings themselves were mediocre and that, even before all of this happened, she had been discussing with the network another role there because she needed to get out of that show. Now the show's gone, and she is negotiating her exit as well.

KING: NPR's David Folkenflik.

Thanks, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.