It was a gorgeous night for baseball in Durham – and a pretty good night for stargazing, too.
Megyn Kelly, the latest star in the NBC News lineup, was in Durham on Thursday promoting her new daytime news show “Megyn Kelly Today,” which debuts Sept. 25. Part of her whirlwind tour, which includes time Friday filming promos in Raleigh, started with throwing out the first pitch at the Durham Bulls baseball game.
Kelly stood just in front of the mound – still, a respectable distance – and her pitch made it all the way to home plate.
Moments after the pitch, Kelly said she was ready for her favorite ballpark snack: a hot dog and a beer.
Kelly is familiar with Durham, having spent time here as a Fox News journalist in 2006 covering the Duke lacrosse case. Kelly describes the experience as “amazing.”
“It was the most memorable experience of my young journalism career,” she said. “That case erupted ... it had every element of a good story. It had mystery, it had crime, it had intrigue, it had race, it had class, it had politics.”
In that case, a dancer from Durham named Crystal Mangum accused members of the Duke University lacrosse team of sexually assaulting her at a party. The case was ultimately dropped.
Kelly was assigned the story by her boss Britt Hume, who gave her one great piece of advice: “Keep an open mind,” Kelly recalled. “And that is all it took to cover that case fairly.”
Kelly was one of the first national journalists to entertain the notion that perhaps Mangum wasn’t being truthful. “I took a lot of flak for that,” Kelly said. “Because people thought I was being sexist, or anti-victim, I guess; racist, because the accused were white and the accuser was black. People were saying all sorts of horrible things about me, and that was my first taste of that as a young reporter ... it was jarring and alarming.”
Kelly said she and her photographer and producer worked all day and then, well, worked a little more each night.
“We used to go out for barbecue, virtually every night – and we went to a lot of strip clubs.” Looking for people who knew Mangum, of course. One club bouncer gave her a memorable nickname: Sugar. “I said, ‘like confectionery sugar?’ Because I’m super pasty.”
Kelly, who married a Duke grad in 2008, also has fond memories of the people of Durham. “Very kind people,” Kelly said. “The town was amazing.”
After taking care of promo work in Raleigh on Friday, Kelly and her team will work on a segment for her new show, about African American female police chiefs who have been trailblazers.
She describes “Megyn Kelly Today,” an interview show with a live audience, as a place to talk about issues but in a more human way. It could have some policy and politics, but it won’t be all about that.
“If I never have to say ‘Mitch McConnell’ on the show it could be OK, it could work,” she laughed.
Kelly cites North Carolina’s recent controversy over HB2, dubbed “the bathroom bill,” as an example of a way she would talk about hard news from a more personal perspective. The recent tweet from President Trump about not allowing transgender people to serve in the military is another example.
“If we’d been on the air when President Trump issued the tweet about transgender military service, we absolutely would have covered that,” she said. “But not by talking to a reporter, but probably with somebody who is transgender, and probably with somebody who supported the president. A human discussion.”
Kelly wants her new show to be a place where all the anger and outrage in the world can be sidelined.
“There’s so much more that binds us together than divides us,” Kelly said. “It’s not that we aren’t going to tackle difficult issues, because we are, but respectfully, intelligently. In a way that people understand they’re not gonna get a punch in the face. ... Sometimes it’ll be fun, sometimes it’ll be bawdy, sometimes it’ll bring a tear. But it’ll always be worth your hour.”
“Megyn Kelly Today” debuts at 9 a.m. Sept. 25 on NBC. Her show will replace “Today’s Take,” which was hosted by Al Roker and Tamron Hall. It will be sandwiched each weekday between “Today” – hosted by Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker – and “Today’s Talk,” which airs at 10 a.m. and is hosted by Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford.
Kelly came to NBC from Fox in January, reportedly turning down a $100 million 4-year contract to stay. Her salary at NBC is reported to be between $15 million and $20 million per year.
Her first outing at NBC, “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly,” ended its limited summer run last month. It is scheduled to return in the spring, after the NFL season and after NBC’s coverage of the 2017 Winter Olympics.