Early on in Megyn Kelly’s Sunday-night interview with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, the anchor tried to get the Russian strongman to say whether or not his country interfered in our most recent presidential election. “This is just another load of nonsense!” is the way the Russian translator rendered Putin’s response. It was a phrase that could also have described Putin’s own answers, as well as most of the premiere of Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly.
Kelly, making her debut as an NBC host, marshaled her trademark steeliness, but it was no match for the insults (“Do you even understand what you’re asking?”) and the weaselly tactics of the KGB master spy. Putin glared, he snorted derisively, he loudly cleared his throat while Kelly was speaking. His intent was to be as dismissive of Kelly as possible. On the outcome of the American election? “It was a surprise to me.” On the charges leveled at him? “Just nuts… We don’t care who is the head of the United States.” Michael Flynn, friend or foe? “I don’t know him.” Jared Kushner and his legendary back channel to Moscow? “I don’t know him.”
There was one moment of flickering interest, when Putin seemed to be extending a helping hand and a friendly wink to President Trump, whom Putin must have heard praising him during Trump’s election campaign. Returning the favor, Putin told Kelly that all this Russian-collusion talk was, in effect, fake news: “You’ve created a sensation out of nothing,” Putin said, referring to the American media, “and turned it into a weapon against the current president.” No wonder Trump likes this guy so much.
And so it went, for what seemed like a very long time but was actually only 15 minutes of Kelly’s premiere. Given the potential to make news here, I’m sure she and her producers had blocked out at least half the show for Putin, had she been able to get something new out of him. The fact that Sunday Night spent as much time rolling in the African mud with elephants (in a report about elephant poaching) as it did with Putin suggests how slim the pickings were in the editing room.
Kelly filled up the rest of her debut by turning it over to other correspondents. Cynthia McFadden did a story about accusations against the pharmaceutical company INSYS Therapeutics, at one point even stealing an old move from Kelly’s time-period competitor, 60 Minutes, in knocking on the door of a suspected wrong-doer for a confrontation. (Like most 60 Minutes segments, this one also ended with nada.)
Harry Smith got to spend two weeks in Africa for his elephant-poaching story, during which time I think he was afflicted with sunstroke, because he asked this head-shaker of a nonquestion: “I’ve watched you watch elephants; what do you see when you see elephants?”
During her time at Fox News, Megyn Kelly acquired a reputation for running a tight ship. She’s going to have to start disciplining her NBC troops awfully quickly if she wants to compete on a broadcast network.
Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly airs Sundays at 7 p.m. on NBC.