‘Kelly,’ Putin tan­gle in show de­but

The for­mer Fox News star finds the Rus­sian pres­i­dent a cagey sub­ject on her first NBC ‘Sun­day Night.’


“Sun­day Night with Megyn Kelly” was many things for many peo­ple. For the for­mer Fox per­son­al­ity, it was her ma­jor com­ing-out party on NBC. For Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, it was a game.

And for view­ers, it was a chance to see if months and months of heavy buildup sur­round­ing the net­work’s new star an­chor would pay off.

The hour-long news show promised to be a “a tough con­ver­sa­tion” be­tween Kelly and the Rus­sian leader. But for Putin, it was child’s play as he dis­played an elu­sive and ul­ti­mately dis­mis­sive de­meanor to­ward Kelly.

The in­ter­view, which was teased for weeks on NBC as a must-see ex­clu­sive, lasted less than 10 min­utes. But that was just about enough time to con­firm that she’s still not a great in­ter­viewer, and he’s still one of the most de­cep­tive in­ter­view sub­jects around.

Short of ask­ing “How many peo­ple have you killed with your bare hands, Mr. Putin?,” Kelly did ev­ery­thing she could to get some­thing out of him other than smirks, huffs and “nyets.”

Who on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s team did U.S. Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak meet with, she asked.

“There were no meet­ings,” Putin said through an in­ter­preter.

“No meet­ings be­tween Am­bas­sador Kislyak and any­body from the Trump cam­paign?” Kelly pressed. He didn’t know. But wouldn’t he know if such meet­ings were tak­ing place, she asked.

“That’s com­pletely non­sense! Do you even un­der­stand what you’re ask­ing, or not?”

“Well, you’re his boss,” she said.

And that’s about as far as

that ex­change went.

It was the most high-pro­file in­ter­view Kelly had con­ducted since sit­ting down with Trump at Fox back in May 2016. It was an an­tic­i­pated event fol­low­ing her de­bate per­for­mance with Trump, in which he felt Kelly had treated him un­fairly.

Af­ter the de­bate, Trump had at­tacked her re­peat­edly in the press and on so­cial me­dia. Their Fox sit-down was a chance to press him on his be­hav­ior and other is­sues. But she failed to seize the moment and was later crit­i­cized for it.

On “Sun­day Night,” Kelly came out of the gate in a much more force­ful man­ner than she had with Trump, and asked much harder ques­tions. But it was a poorly planned match in which to make an im­pres­sive launch for her se­ries. She has to win over a wider au­di­ence than she had at Fox, and Putin ranks as one of the world’s tough­est in­ter­view sub­jects, a proven mas­ter of de­cep­tion.

The in­ter­view took place in St. Peters­burg over the week­end, af­ter Kelly had mod­er­ated the St. Peters­burg In­ter­na­tional Eco­nomic Fo­rum, “Putin’s sig­na­ture event.”

Clips were played from the event that showed Kelly ask­ing Putin in front of 4,000 guests about Rus­sia’s role in the hack­ing of the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Did Rus­sia hack the U.S. elec­tion, she asked, point­ing out that U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies had found am­ple ev­i­dence, “fin­ger­prints,” that it had med­dled.

“What fin­ger­prints, hoof prints, horn prints?,” he an­swered dis­mis­sively. “What are you talk­ing about? … It could come from your home IP ad­dress, as if your daugh­ter car­ried out the at­tack.”

The setup was a recipe for fail­ure, espe­cially for Kelly, who was hired for $15 mil­lion to $20 mil­lion by NBC last year af­ter leav­ing Fox News, the con­ser­va­tive news out­let that had launched and pro­pelled her ca­reer.

To make mat­ters worse, Oliver Stone’s “The Putin In­ter­views,” where the film­maker spent sig­nif­i­cantly more time with the Rus­sian leader for a Show­time spe­cial, will air over four con­sec­u­tive nights next week. They even watched “Dr. Strangelove” to­gether. Poor Megyn Kelly.

Where Stone got more ac­cess, Kelly seemed to have lit­tle. She tried to de­liver some­thing sub­stan­tive in un­der 10 min­utes, and it wound up mak­ing her com­ing-out party more of a fiz­zle than a bang.

The seg­ment was fleshed out slightly with small pack­ages on Putin’s back­ground and a primer on the Rus­sian/Trump in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but not much could be done with the thin in­ter­view that was left.

When Putin de­nied Rus­sia had any­thing com­pro­mis­ing on Trump, Kelly then segued into the next bit of their con­ver­sa­tion the best she could, given that Putin was steer­ing it the way of a bad spy novel: “Then the for­mer KGB agent floated a Cold War con­spir­acy the­ory about U.S. dirty tricks,” she said.

“There is a the­ory that Kennedy’s as­sas­si­na­tion was ar­ranged by the U.S. in­tel­li­gence ser­vices,” he said, “so if this the­ory is cor­rect and can’t be ruled out, then what could be eas­ier in this day and age than us­ing all the tech­ni­cal means at the dis­posal of in­tel­li­gence ser­vices … [to point] the finger at Rus­sia?”

Soon af­ter that, Kelly threw the rest of the show to seg­ments by other re­porters on shady phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies and im­per­iled ele­phants.

Brian Doben NBC News

MEGYN KELLY booked the Rus­sian pres­i­dent for her first guest on NBC.


MEGYN KELLY and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin square off in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view she scored for her NBC show’s launch Sun­day.

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