Fox News host Megyn Kelly had of course already engaged in a high-profile battle with the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump. Back in August during the first Republican debate, Ms. Kelly asked Mr. Trump a pointed (and to my ears fair) question about his past interactions with women and he responded aggressively, plus followed up in the ensuing days with gross suggestions about how she had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” Then he skipped the next debate that Fox hosted just before the Iowa caucuses.
That all seems kosher to me—and immensely fun to watch unfold.
But something happened last night that was way out of bounds and because I’ve yet to read a single accurate reflection on it, I once again wade into treacherous territory on an issue that the Observer knows better than any other outlet—the battle for narrative regarding Trump University.
Megyn Kelly said of the school, which has become a talking point for Mr. Trump’s opponents, “The rating from the Better Business Bureau was a D-minus. That’s the last publicly available rating.”
Mr. Trump replied, “It was elevated to an A.”
Ms. Kelly argued with Mr. Trump, saying, “That’s never been publicly available.”
Then she proceeded to shush both Mr. Trump and Mr. Rubio, who was clearly delighted that Ms. Kelly was doing his bidding, as he’s made Trump University the centerpiece of his knocks on Mr. Trump.
She said, “Let me just set the record straight and then you can have at it.”
At this point, Ms. Kelly walked through the substance of the case, noting that there were 5,000 plaintiffs, and all the rest, even comparing Mr. Trump to Bernie Madoff and putting on screen an incendiary quote from the judge that certified the class action case for the Ninth Circuit. All of this is fine, if a bit over the top in its detail, considering that no other candidate was subjected to this kind of produced set piece (Mr. Trump also got the TV-clip mashup treatment that he missed when he skipped the last Fox debate).
But the problem is two-fold. First, Ms. Kelly appointed herself fact-checker here, exactly as Ms. Crowley had done four years ago. By correcting Mr. Trump in saying, “That’s never been publicly available,” she is no longer simply refereeing but awarding points, as well. Second, she’s wrong. And she had to have known it.
Just three days earlier, NBC News ran an extensive exploration of the “ratings” question. It was a fact-check piece based on Mr. Trump making the same “A Rating” claim on Meet the Press. In a story headlined “Better Business Bureau: Trump Right on ‘A’ Rating — Mostly,” NBC concluded that the rating did indeed fluctuate, as he indicated at the debate.
The story reads, “In fact, according to the rating agency, Trump appears to have undersold things—at times in the past, his ‘university’ had an A-plus rating.” It goes on to say, “But it’s not all good news for the Republican front-runner. The BBB’s ratings are ‘dynamic’ and are based on a constantly shifting algorithm, meaning they’re changing all the time. And over the years, the company’s rating had fallen as far as D-minus—an assessment Trump chose not to mention Sunday.”
Should debate moderators really be “wiping the floor” and “going for the jugular” with candidates? Even when—especially when—they’re wrong on the facts? Moderators should not debate the candidates. She and Wallace way over stepped boundaries.