What Megyn Kelly Thinks of the Debates — and Why They Shouldn't Be 'a Trip to the Library'
It's not surprising to hear Megyn Kelly has plenty to say about the debates so far — and what she would have done differently.
"I have a lot of thoughts on how to do it and how to do it better in terms of handling interruptions and how to make the system work for everybody," she tells PEOPLE. "But maybe we'll get to that four years from now."
The former Fox News and NBC anchor, 49, recently launched an eponymous podcast, The Megyn Kelly Show, which debuted at No. 1 on iTunes in September. It's Kelly's first major media project since she her controversial exit from the Today show in 2018.
She has also become a regular commentator on Twitter — weighing in on a range of current topics and making some waves as a result — and she's recorded a few news-making interviews on her own platforms.
"I expected a slow build, and so far it hasn't been a slow build," Kelly says of the success of her podcast, where she has interviewed Sen. Ted Cruz, Shark Tank's Mark Cuban as well as journalists and a variety of conservative and liberal personalities.
"But either way, it's so much more authentic because if they come, they come because they want a direct relationship with you," she says. "It's not just because you followed O'Reilly."
"I'm very happy with the results so far," Kelly says, "and I'm thrilled to know my audience is still out there."
And she has plenty more to say, besides: Speaking with PEOPLE, the former news anchor talks everything from life amid the novel coronavirus pandemic to the recent media-world scandal with The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin, who began masturbating while on a Zoom with colleagues not realizing they could see him. ("What a f------ perv," Kelly says.)
Politics, of course, is never far off-topic — though these, days, Kelly is happy to not be a central character in the election.
"I mean, last time around it was bizarre and it was very acrimonious and I was too much of the story," she, referencing her 2016 conflicts with then-candidate Donald Trump, who repeatedly derided her on Twitter and in interviews. "I didn't want to be part of the story, but Trump kept making me part of the story. And I didn't enjoy it, and it was just stressful."
Nonetheless, she says, "I love hosting the presidential debates, so I would've loved to have done that this time around, [during] either [the] primary or general."
Were Kelly moderating the first Biden-Trump debate, in which Trump repeatedly heckled and interrupted Biden, who called him a "clown," she would have utilized a mute button along with some of the skills gleaned from her life as a parent, she says.
"[During the] first presidential debate between Trump and Biden ... Wallace did need a mute button," Kelly says, referring to her former Fox News colleague Chris Wallace. "And more than that, he needed to control the cameras. I would've said, 'I'm not anchoring it unless you make sure I have control of the cameras and the mics.' And it's a tool you only need to, and only should, use maybe once. Twice at most."
"Because as a mom, you only have to show the kid you mean it one time. And then they comply," Kelly continues. "And it's the same with a presidential candidate: You only have to take the cameras off of him and shut his mic down one time, usually, before he gets that you'll really do it."
"But constantly interrupting is too disruptive to the viewers," she says. "That's who I am here representing. So I'm going to keep their backs protected, and when you get out of hand this is what I'm going to do."
In Kelly's opinion, however, the volatility of the first debate was "over-corrected" in the second, between Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence, which was largely interruption-free and saw moderator Susan Page regularly enforce decorum.
"What we saw at the Pence-Harris debate was a snooze fest. It was like — for the love of God it is a debate! He can jump in on the end of her sentence. You kind of want him to mix it up. It was like, [gasp] She still has her two minutes."
Of Harris' response when Pence talked over her, Kelly says: "I like 'I'm speaking.' I've recommended that for women, because we do get interrupted more. 'I'm speaking' or 'I'm not done.' "
But Kelly took issue with how often, she says, Harris relied on it. "Once? Good. Twice? Fine. Eight times? Now, it's a tactic. And it's an obvious one, and we're no longer rooting for you. Unless you're a partisan, but I think as a sort of middle-of-the-road observer, I'm like, 'That needed to stop on number two.' "
She continues: "It's a debate. I don't care whether you're a woman. You don't have a right to not be interrupted at all during a vice presidential debate. And I think the notion that she had a special privilege because of her lady parts is sexist. It's totally sexist. He [Pence] should interrupt her just as much as he would've interrupted a man."
Though Kelly says Trump needed to be briefly muted to learn his lesson the first time, she says she disagrees with the decision by debate organizers to mute the candidates' microphones during part of the final presidential debate, on Thursday night.
"They need to be able to debate. The presidential debate commission doesn't know what it's doing. They have to be able to get on each other a little bit. Just because Trump abused it in debate No. 1 doesn't mean we have to completely wreck the system," she says. "You need a strong moderator there to say, 'The system's fine. I'm just going to enforce it, and it's going to go fine. He's going to learn, he's going to behave and the viewers are going to get a spicy, fun, informative debate.' But not a trip to the library."
Kelly will be "rooting for Kristen Welker," the NBC News correspondent moderating the final debate, who I think is talented and smart and I think she'll do well."
"It's very high stakes for her very first presidential debate to moderate," Kelly says. "But hope springs eternal that it's at least interesting.
Speaking with PEOPLE, Kelly also offered a glimpse into what life has been like since she left NBC two years ago, in the wake of backlash about a roundtable discussion on controversial Halloween costumes that briefly touched on blackface.
"I always understood that I should be nurturing my home relationships, and those should be the most important things to me," Kelly says. "And were. But I wasn't giving them the TLC that they required. And thankfully I was giving them enough that when my world got blown up at NBC, I had these loving relationships in my life to go to and to be nurtured by."
"That's a long-winded way of saying when I look back now I think I should've gotten out sooner," Kelly continues. "I have zero doubts about leaving Fox, and I'm delighted that my time at NBC ended — though not the way it did. And I don't know, I just have been feeling happier than ever in this new iteration of me."
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