You don't have to like it, but until now, the feud between Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly has consisted entirely of people doing their jobs. Fox News broke that pattern Tuesday, and not only justified Donald Trump's decision to skip their debate, but left him no other choice.
How well each of the parties did them is a matter for debate, but when Megyn Kelly asked Donald Trump this question back in August, she was doing her job as debate moderator:
“Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?”
As a matter of fact, Kelly was taking it easy on Trump, framing his anti-woman rhetoric only as a cold political liability, not an issue of character, which she certainly could have done. She maintained her professionalism, and projected the strength and intelligence that she's known for.
Donald Trump's response, whatever you thought of it, was also well within his purview as a private citizen running for office. He attacked Kelly on her skills as a journalist and her demeanor, and did it in a way that most people insisted had something to do with her menstrual cycle:
Trump said he wasn't talking about that, and I believed him even before he denied it because context isn't just for people we like. Besides, if Trump had wanted to say that Megyn Kelly was on the rag, he would've just said that Megyn Kelly was on the rag, and even if he had said that, he gets to do that. He's a private citizen running for office, he is free to say whatever he wants.
Beyond that, though, Trump had a substantive point, because however fair you think Megyn Kelly's question was, the Fox News moderators did not shop a bunch of crazy talk to the other candidates. No one asked Ben Carson why he likes to crack Holocaust jokes. Nobody asked Mike Huckabee why he wanted to shower with the girls. He had a good argument that he was being singled out.
Fox News has defended Megyn Kelly all along, and she has defended herself, and when they have attacked Trump, it has been on the merits of his attacks on Kelly. I have other issues with Megyn Kelly, but there is no arguing her professionalism and grace under fire. Trump could have accused her of "bias" until he was blue in the face, and they would have remained just that, accusations. Megyn Kelly was never going to crack and give Trump what he needed: proof of that bias.
The Fox News PR department, however, did begin to crack, first accusing Trump of being afraid to face Kelly, and then crumbling yesterday with an all-out attack on Donald Trump that crucially serves as the official Fox News position. As Mediaite first reported:
We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president — a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.
Now, however awesome or clever you think that response was, it was clearly outside the bounds of a network defending its employee. In leveling that attack, Fox News simultaneously disproved their own point, and disqualified themselves as debate hosts and moderators. Megyn Kelly's role as moderator, and Fox's as host, is not that of opponent, it is as referee. The other candidates are the opponents. Trump's efficacy against the Ayatollah remains to be seen, but he would be a fool to enter into any dealings that cast his enemy as final arbiter. That's not cowardice, that's just common sense.
In making that point, Fox News turned itself into Trump's enemy. Any other Fox personality could have made this attack and it would've been fine, but the official voice of the network that will govern this debate cannot now claim that they will be fair and balanced with this Putin-blowing pansy. Trump would be a fool to show up for it, and as a matter of principle, none of the other candidates should, either. Such a display of naked hostility toward one candidate demonstrates the potential for hostility toward any of the others. The RNC should demand an apology, and if Trump cannot be assuaged, they should cancel the event entirely.
cross-posted from Mediaite