Opinion: Prepping for tonight’s GOP debate with Megyn Kelly of Fox News
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Megyn Kelly may have graduate and postgraduate degrees, but the homework never ends.
The anchor of FNC’s daytime ‘America Live’ news show, is preparing to grill GOP candidates as part of the panel for the Fox News/Google GOP Debate, starting at 6 p.m. Pacific on Thursday, Sept. 22.
‘The most challenging part of this process,’ Kelly says on the phone while driving home from work earlier this week, ‘has been the two-hour meetings we have in the morning from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., because none of of my colleagues has a 1 p.m. show.
‘Honestly, you should see my morning -- wake up, feed my baby, take care of my son, try to get my house in order, try to get my kids in order, get out of the house, get to the office, do two hours worth of debate prep, try to squeeze in enough prep for the 10 guest interviews I have to do between 1 p.m and 3 p.m.’
Before Kelly turned to journalism, joining FNC in 2004, she earned a B.A. in....
...political science from Syracuse University and a law degree from Albany (N.Y.) Law School -- where she was editor of the Albany Law Review -- and practiced corporate law for nine years. On Thursday, she checks off another box, joining in for the first time with debate veterans and FNC anchors Bret Baier and Chris Wallace for the Orlando event, co-sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida.
‘I was very excited to be asked,’ she says, ‘and honored, to be honest. The absence of women in most of the debates, as far as the actual network-news teams go, had not gone unnoticed by me. I credit my boss [Roger Ailes] for looking at his team with open eyes and recognizing that a woman might have something to add to these debates ... and I do.’
The partnership with Google and its subsidiary YouTube means the debate will include video and text questions from citizens, submitted here through Tuesday.
Click here for a YouTube blog entry that offers some details on what users want to know and who they want to know it from.
The public feedback is also helpful to FNC in other ways.
‘We’re letting [YouTube and Google] be our guide,’ says Kelly, ‘in trying to cut down the subject matters, because they can tell us what has the most interest online. They’ve helped us in terms of selecting what was the most interesting topic and what had the most hits online.’
Asked what the criteria are for choosing user-submitted questions, Kelly says: ‘There has been no magic formula. We have a team that goes through them, both the text and the video questions, and then they get circulated. Somebody is responsible for culling out the most salient, the most interesting, the most provocative, and they will circulate those around, and they’ll be listed by topic.
‘If it’s in one of my areas, I’ll pay particular attention to it. They have to be very good questions, because if you include a YouTube question or a text question in your section, you will be killing one of your own questions. So you have to like the viewer’s question more than you like your own question, and when you’re dealing with three anchors, you know how that goes.
‘So we’ve been getting great questions. If anything, we have too many from YouTube that we want to use. People have done a great job of taking it seriously. Some have even redone it. They submit it, and they resubmit it, and you see they’ve improved the lighting and the wording. They get through the second time, whereas maybe they didn’t the first.’
Although a journalist’s job is to ask questions, Kelly says she doesn’t mind letting ordinary folks pitch in.
‘I love it. You can get to be too much of a policy wonk. It can get even too esoteric. If you know it too well, you can actually wind up doing your viewers a disservice, because then you’re neck-deep in it. You ask a question about Spending 501 instead of Spending 101, whereas your viewers have not just spent four weeks doing nothing other than reviewing the candidates’ policies on spending.’
Kelly says her areas of questioning are debt, spending, social issues and jobs.
‘If you’re going to ask questions at a debate,’ she says, ‘you should know it seven layers deep -- like the dip. We all thought it would work better if we limited the subject matter per anchor.’
Certain issues can be asked about in several different debates, perhaps at the expense of other issues. Kelly says that is a concern.
‘There is one coming to mind, but I don’t know if I should share with you, because I don’t want to let the candidate off the hook. I don’t want this person to read you and know that they don’t have to worry about this issue.
‘But some of the things that have been brought up repeatedly start to feel a little stale. We didn’t want to do anything that felt stale. So we got rid of it.’
But that doesn’t mean the candidates are off the hook for everything they’ve already said.
‘We have the benefit of going into the debate having heard many debates,’ says Kelly. ‘We can put, in our questions, parts of the answers we know we’re going to get. In other words, I can turn to one of the candidates and say, ‘I know you feel this way, because you stated so at the last two or three debates. So, understanding that’s your position, let me now take it a step further ... ‘ and then you ask the question.
‘I think that is actually going to get very focused answers from these candidates.’
Kelly also admits there may be times she interrupts.
‘For me, I’ll take the same approach as I take in my daytime show, which is, if they don’t answer the question, I’m going to jump in. I know it’s considered rude, and people don’t like interruptions, but they also don’t like talking points. They don’t like nonresponsive answers.
‘We only have very limited time, and we’ve worked very hard to come up with the best questions we can, and I think our viewers deserve an answer to those questions.’
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson was added to the debate Tuesday, but candidate Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, who made a swing through the Los Angeles area this past weekend, will again not be asked to participate.
‘No,’ says Kelly, ‘the polling has to be at least 1 percent, and he’s not there. But, you know, he’s got until Thursday.’
UPDATE: Today, Rep. McCotter dropped out of the GOP presidential race, endorsed fellow Michigan native Mitt Romney and announced he will seek re-election in the 11th Congressional District, where he has held office since 2003.
-- Kate O’Hare
Media critic Kate O’Hare is a regular Ticket contributor. She also blogs about TV at Hot Cuppa TV and is a frequent contributor at entertainment news site Zap2it. Also follow O’Hare on Twitter @KateOH.
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