Fresh from a flurry of sexual harassment allegations that sullied Fox News’ 20-year legacy under network chief Roger Ailes, America’s most-watched cable news channel has a chance to turn over a new leaf with women.
It starts with Megyn Kelly.
Fox New’s leading anchorwoman is pushing for equal pay as she negotiates her next contract with the network, the Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 26, citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter. Kelly, whose current contract expires in July, is reportedly seeking an average annual salary “north of $20 million.” That’s in line with what Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly is estimated to earn, but less than the staggering $29 million Sean Hannity reportedly took home last year. (O’Reilly’s contract also expires next year, but it’s unclear whether he will negotiate a new one.)
The host of the The Kelly File—one of the most popular US cable news shows—has risen in network ranks as her nuanced conservatism and unabashed questioning of conventional Fox News narratives have won over younger and more diverse audiences. This week, she sparred with former house speaker Newt Gingrich, a fellow Republican, about recent allegations of sexual harassment against presidential candidate Donald Trump, highlighting the gender divide within the Republican party. And her tiff with Trump earlier this year garnered national attention—and a nice ratings bump for her show. It also helped her land her first primetime TV special on Fox, the broadcast network, in which she interviewed the Republican nominee.
In September, The Kelly File was the second most-watched show on the network with the key 25- to 54-year-old demographic, behind Hannity’s. Last year, the show ranked just behind Bill O’Reilly’s “The O’Reilly Factor” and ahead of Sean Hannity’s ”Hannity,” in terms of total viewership for the year.
Kelly is on track to take home $15 million for the final year of her current deal with Fox News, the Journal reported. The contract itself was for $10 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Kelly, along with anchors like Chris Wallace, who was praised for his moderation of the third US presidential debate, represents a more moderate approach to TV news that breaks from the hard right tone Fox News struck from its inception with personalities like Hannity and O’Reilly, as the Journal pointed out. But Murdoch has made it clear that he has no plans to actively pull the network in that new direction.
While keeping Kelly around is reportedly a priority for Fox News, the network also has “a deep bench of talent, many of whom would give their right arm for her spot,” Rupert Murdoch, who took the helm at Fox News after Ailes was ousted in July, told the Journal. Murdoch is also a major stakeholder in News Corp., which owns the Wall Street Journal through Dow Jones.
If talks between Kelly and Fox News fall through, reports have speculated that she might land at a daytime-TV show like ABC’s “Good Morning America,” or an evening news magazine program. But Kelly’s steely persona and uncompromising views would be more at home on a cable news channel like CNN, where she could go head-to-head with her former employer during primetime, than interviewing celebrities on a morning talk show. CNN might very well make a bid to poach Kelly, if she becomes available.