Megyn Kelly goes from convention floor to anchor booth

Co-host is rising star at Fox News Channel

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NEW YORK — Four years ago, Megyn Kelly roved the Democratic and Republican convention floors as a reporter for Fox News Channel. This week in Tampa, Fla., she is in Fox’s booth as co-anchor with Bret Baier for the GOP’s main event.

The elevation shows how Ms. Kelly, host of the daytime “America Live” program, is rising at Fox. Her ratings are increasing even in a rough year for cable news. Recently she single-handedly minimized the damage after a Fox flub covering the U.S. Supreme Court health care decision and even had a surprise talk with an old nemesis, Jon Stewart.

Her convention assignment is likely to be her most visible yet. Fox’s ratings bested all of its television rivals, including ABC, CBS and NBC, during the GOP convention in 2008 and 2004. She’s hoping her outside-the-Beltway status provides a good contrast to Mr. Baier, who hosts a newscast from Washington each weeknight. She also appreciates the confidence placed in her by Fox News boss Roger Ailes.

“For many executives in television, there’s still a quiet understanding that the person with the most authority is the male anchor, and I don’t think my boss suffers from that delusion,” she said.

Ms. Kelly was once a Washington insider herself. She handled bankruptcy, anti-trust and contract cases as a lawyer there for nine years. Being a lawyer proved ultimately unsatisfying, however. “I realized I had blown all of my 20s at the office, and I didn’t want to blow all of my 30s at the office,” she said.

Fox News Channel anchor Megyn Kelly. (Associated Press)

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Fox News Channel anchor Megyn Kelly. (Associated Press) more >

She moved quickly upon turning to TV, getting a job at ABC’s Washington affiliate. Noticed by Fox, she joined the cable news outlet in 2004 as a Washington correspondent. After moving to New York, Ms. Kelly co-hosted two hours in the morning with Bill Hemmer and was given her own show in 2010 after returning from the first of two maternity leaves.

“She just has those key ingredients that work for television,” said Michael Clemente, Fox’s executive vice president for news. “She knows exactly how to ask the right question. She can get to the point as fast as anyone, and she’s pleasant in the process and comfortable on the air.”

Jane Hall, an American University professor and former Fox contributor who was occasionally paired with Ms. Kelly for segments on Bill O’Reilly’s show, could tell immediately that Ms. Kelly was good on TV, smart and interesting to watch. The 41-year-old blonde is also attractive, no small consideration for people on TV and particularly for women at Fox, Ms. Hall said. (Ms. Kelly did a photo shoot for GQ in 2010 wearing a black bra, slip and pair of red heels.)

Ms. Kelly’s legal training has translated to television. She once synthesized complex information into something jurors could quickly understand, and now does it for viewers. She learned not to be intimidated by the rich and powerful, which didn’t come naturally to Ms. Kelly, who grew up outside Albany, N.Y. Her combativeness is also evident on the air, leading her astray at times. One conversation with contributor Kirsten Powers over a voters’ rights case turned into a verbal altercation that led Ms. Kelly to later apologize privately.

Ms. Kelly has shown more of her personality in recent months. Sometimes she drops the anchorwoman persona to speak directly to viewers, like when she wrapped up a contentious segment with Democratic and Republican political aides talking past each other about Medicare.

“Was that enlightening?” she said. “Was that helpful? I don’t think so.”

She said she feels more relaxed on the air.

“I finally reached homeostasis, where my on-air persona and delivery is the same as my off-air persona,” Ms. Kelly said. “I want to be able to show who I am to viewers, and I’m not afraid to do that anymore.”

Ms. Kelly was anchoring with Mr. Hemmer on the morning the Supreme Court’s decision upholding President Obama’s health care plan was released. Fox, like rival CNN, initially reported that the law had been struck down. Ms. Kelly sensed the error and called the report from Washington into question within two minutes, ordering producers to remove a misleading graphic. CNN took a much longer time to correct the high-profile mistake.

Afterward, the New Yorker magazine dubbed Ms. Kelly “the brains of the Fox News operation.”

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