MIAMI — Having mastered two careers — television journalism and the law — Megyn Kelly will embark on a third when she sits down at the Fox News anchor desk Tuesday evening: acting. Part of her job, at least until the polls have closed, will be to pretend she knows a lot less about what voters are up to than she really does.
"One of the dirty little secrets of election night TV coverage is that when the anchors come on the air, they know more than they can say," Kelly says.
"We've seen some data from exit polls, we have some clues about which way the voting might be going, but under an agreement by all the networks, we don't reveal it until the polls have closed. We all have to be very careful about disclosure."
That's just one of the tricks of the trade Kelly and her colleague Brett Baier will have to ply as they steer the Fox News ship into uncharted waters: a presidential election night without Brit Hume at the anchor desk.
Hume, one of the first big names in broadcast news to sign with Fox News, anchored every presidential election from the network's 1996 debut until his 2008 retirement. He'll be around Tuesday, working as an analyst, but he'll no longer be the face of Fox News coverage.
Kelly's co-anchor role marks the apex of a dizzying ascent.
It took Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric decades in television news to work their way up to anchor jobs. But less than 10 years ago, Kelly (whose 11 a.m. MST show "America Live" has more viewers than its CNN and MSNBC competition combined) wasn't even a journalist — she was a corporate attorney whose closest brush with the news business had been her failure to get into Syracuse University's journalism school.
She was making a lot of money, but spent a good deal of time thinking about blowing out her brains.
"I grew up with no money," says Kelly, who turns 42 this month.
"We were very middle class, didn't have any dough at all. And at some point in college, I decided I would like to make some money. I had never known money. It sounded great. So I put myself through law school, took $100,000 in debt on my back, and went to work as a lawyer.
"And I did very well. I paid off my debt, bought some clothes, got some furniture. But I realized, I have never been more unhappy. I loved making an argument, presenting a case to a judge or a jury. But what most people don't realize about the law is it's a ton of paper-pushing. The vast majority of the job is arguing with the opposing counsel over minutiae. And you work very, very hard.
"The hours in this job can get long, too — especially now, with the hurricane coverage and the election approaching. But on an ordinary day here, it would be extraordinary to be at the office 16 hours. I did that every day as a lawyer. ... I never had a holiday off. I never went anywhere without my laptop. On vacations, I'd be sitting on a beach in the Caribbean trading nasty-grams with opposing counsel."
Choosing to believe in a high school career-aptitude test that said she should go into broadcast news over the Syracuse admissions office that said she should not, Kelly audited some college journalism classes in Chicago, then quit her law firm in 2003 for a one-day-a-week freelance gig at a Washington, D.C., TV station.
It wasn't long before she was on the air every day, and barely a year later she sent an audition tape to Fox News — and not, she says, because of its conservative reputation.
"I've been basically apolitical my whole life," Kelly says. "It wasn't about any ideological issue for me. And eight-plus years later, I still don't feel that way. What I noticed about Fox News, and still feel, is that they tell both sides of the story. A lot of the time in journalism, the Republican side and the conservative side get short shrift. So it can be jarring to somebody raised on the mainstream media to hear the stories of those sides told in a way that's not diminishing."
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