Today Hosts Call Megyn Kelly’s Blackface Comments Indefensible

Megyn Kelly came under fire Tuesday for wondering aloud on her morning show why it was inappropriate for white people to dress up in blackface for Halloween. “You do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween,” the anchor said during a panel discussion. “Back when I was a kid, that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as a character.” Kelly later apologized to her fellow NBC News staff members via e-mail, which the organization subsequently made public.

Today addressed the controversy around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, with Morgan Radford recapping the initial story and the backlash Kelly received. Radford noted that some viewers had noted people of color were not “represented in that panel,” arguing that it showed a “conversation that people generally have in private space where there are no repercussions.”

Radford said it was a “learning moment” for Kelly and for viewers, as it “really gifted us the opportunity to have this conversation and a public discourse. We now have the courage and we have the platform to have conversations like this, even when they’re uncomfortable, because we can see they’re still necessary.” Anchor Savannah Guthrie appeared pained, but ultimately agreed, telling her, “It is uncomfortable, obviously, because Megyn is a colleague at NBC News.”

“The fact is, while she apologized to the staff, she owes a bigger apology to folks of color round the country,” Al Roker said. “This is a history going back to the 1830s minstrel shows to demean and denigrate a race. It wasn’t right. I’m old enough to know have lived through Amos ‘n’ Andy, where you had white people in blackface playing two black characters, just magnifying the worst stereotypes about black men—and that’s what the problem is. That’s what the issue is.”

Craig Melvin was similar bothered by Kelly’s comments.

“There was some criticism yesterday online that this was political correctness run amok. That’s silly. It’s disingenuous and it’s just as ignorant and racist as the statement itself,” the anchor said. “In addition to her being a colleague, she’s a friend. She said something stupid. she said something indefensible. A lot of folks don’t realize that Jim Crow is shorthand for the racist laws that have existed in this country for much of the last century, especially in the deep south; they termed Jim Crow from a minstrel show in the 1830s. I guess it was an opportunity for us to learn a little bit more about black face—but I think a lot of people knew about black face.”

Hoda Kotb, who remained mostly silent, nodded and said, “Right.”

“You know,” Roker said, shaking his head in disbelief. “You know that no good comes from it.”

Turning to Radford, Melvin said, “Thank you for helping us have that conversation.”

In her e-mail, Kelly apologized to her colleagues and vowed to do better. “I realize now that such behavior is indeed wrong, and I am sorry. The history of blackface in our culture is abhorrent; the wounds too deep. I’ve never been a ‘PC’ kind of person—but I understand that we do need to be more sensitive in this day and age,” the Megyn Kelly Today host wrote. “This is a time for more understanding, love, sensitivity and honor, and I want to be part of that.”

(E! and NBC are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)

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