Journalist Megyn Kelly, who is under armed guard after receiving death threats, has accused Donald Trump’s social media director of stirring hatred on the internet.
The Fox News host urged Dan Scavino, a member of the presidential transition team’s leadership staff, to stop encouraging hostile and abusive elements online.
“The vast majority of Donald Trump supporters are not at all this way,” Kelly told an audience in Washington. “It’s that far corner of the internet that really enjoys nastiness and threats and unfortunately there is a man who works for Donald Trump whose job it is to stir these people up and that man needs to stop doing that. His name is Dan Scavino.”
Scavino was director of social media for Trump’s bitterly divisive election campaign. He is devoutly loyal to the billionaire businessman who reportedly first spotted him as a 16-year-old cleaning golf clubs, got him to caddie and eventually promoted him to general manager at one of his courses. Now in his 40s, Scavino has speculated that he might become the White House photographer or run its Twitter account.
He and Kelly have clashed in public before. In October, after a heated exchange between the presenter and Trump ally Newt Gingrich, Scavino issued an ominous tweet: “Megyn Kelly made a total fool out of herself tonight – attacking Donald Trump. Watch what happens to her after this election is over.”
Scavino did not reply to a request for comment from the Guardian.
Members of the audience at Monday’s night’s event, organised by the Politics and Prose bookshop, were required to undergo body and bag searches by security staff.
Kelly said: “The worst part is the security threats that I’ve had to face and, as much as I try to avoid some of that online vitriol, I get lots of it and I really hate it. I find that stuff just soul killing.”
The journalist has had an up and down history with Trump. She recalled that she had been “friendly” with the New York property tycoon until August last year when she aired allegations about his divorce from Ivana Trump.
She said Trump raged at her over the phone, quoting him as saying: “You’re a disgrace! You ought to be ashamed of yourself! You’re a disgrace! I almost unleashed my beautiful Twitter account against you and I still may.”
A few days later, as a moderator at the first Republican primary debate, Kelly asked Trump about past comments he had made disparaging women. He subsequently launched a social media blitz against her, branding her “overrated,” “angry,” “crazy” and “a bimbo”. In an interview, he later implied that she had been hostile to him because she was menstruating, saying she “had blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever ”.
Kelly described it as “an attempt at bullying” that failed, thanks to the support of her team at The Kelly File. “It was hard to hold the line night after night after night and not cover him too harshly, because my life was being threatened, and not cover him too gently, because I wanted him to stop the nonsense or to please him.”
She received death threats and obscene phone calls, she continued. “When Donald Trump comes after you, it isn’t just a tweet – ‘oh wow, he’s tweeting about her’, and I understand he’s a fighter, he’s a counter-puncher, I get all that – but even then he has such power that a single tweet can unleash hell in somebody’s life.”
“I’ve been under armed guard for 16 months and my children have been under armed guard and it’s not an appropriate price to pay for hard-hitting journalism.”
Kelly’s new memoir, Settle for More, has received particular attention for its account of Roger Ailes, the longtime chairperson of Fox News, who was forced to resign in July over allegations of sexual harassment by several women. Kelly writes that, in 2006, Ailes made numerous sexual comments to her and tried to grab her and kiss her on the lips.
She has since done numerous “annoying” interviews, she said, in which she is challenged over why she did not speak out against Ailes sooner. “It’s like, why didn’t you come forward earlier? And it’s like, you know what, can I swear here? Fuck you for saying that!”
Ailes, she recalled, was a mentor and often a positive influence on her career, but also made “highly inappropriate sexual references” which she tried to shrug off.
“In the book I could have filled four pages with the comments he made. I didn’t want to go there. I included enough so you can decide for yourself whether it was sexual harassment. I submit to you that it was unambiguous.”
Kelly described a “terrifying” six months in which she understood that her career at the conservative cable news network was on the line. She claims that eventually, Ailes made a physical advance in his office. “I’d been with the company for 18 months by that point: I’m not the Megyn Kelly of today, I have no power, I mean zero, and he was on the cover of industry magazines as the most powerful man in news.
“As soon as we had that physical confrontation in his office and I did not do anything, I ran out of his office, I hired a lawyer and, for the record, I did tell a supervisor which is what you are supposed to do.”
But years went by and Ailes remained unassailable. “I had convinced myself, based on what my supervisor had told me, that he’s not a bad man, he’s just smitten, he might be having a marital difficulty.”
Then anchor Gretchen Carlson went public with an accusation of harassment against Ailes. Kelly, sensing that he would seek to shut down the investigation, decided to come forward. “Honestly, I just said, this will not happen to one more woman at Fox News ever.
“I told them the good and the bad about my relationship with him. I didn’t want them to think he was some monster. I just wanted them to know this is real and you need to take an honest look into his behaviour. That’s all I wanted, just an honest review. I figured if there was nothing there, they would exonerate him, and if he went down, he would only have himself to blame. And I believe that’s where things wound up.”
Several other women broke their silence to accuse Ailes, leading to his resignation. Kelly condemned observers who have sought to blame the victims. “To the haters who look at those of us with our false eyelashes and our cute little dresses and say like, ‘you asked for it’, again, fuck you for saying that. It’s nothing to do with how we dress.”
During the election race, according to Kelly, Ailes was in daily contact with Trump, whose similarly faced allegations of sexual assault, harassment or unwanted advances from a dozen women, threatening to derail his campaign.
Kelly’s contract at Fox News is up next year. The 46-year-old admitted she is considering a change due to a desire to spend more time with her husband, Douglas Brunt, a novelist, and their three children, aged seven, five and three. “They mean too much to me. I refuse to miss their childhood just so I can do a job that I love.”
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