Fox News hosts Hannity, Kelly trade testy exchanges over Trump interviews

Chris Wallace (left) and Bret Baier of Fox News with former colleague Megyn Kelly in 2016. CREDIT: Fox News

A budding civil war between two of Fox News Channel’s leading personalities went public Wednesday night. The object of their dispute: Donald Trump.

Fox’s Sean Hannity publicly fired back at his colleague Megyn Kelly after Kelly said on her program that Donald Trump will only appear on Hannity’s show in order to avoid tough interviews or “unsafe spaces.”

Hannity replied testily to her on Twitter, tweeting “u should be mad at @hillaryClinton. Clearly you support her. And @realDonaldTrump did talk to u.”

The exchange between the two primetime stars was an unusual breach of interoffice decorum and a sign of some bitter jockeying between the two hosts in the final stretch of the presidential campaign.

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Hannity’s remark, in particular, appears to be a professional affront to Kelly, who has never declared her loyalty to any candidate and has tried to maintain journalistic neutrality.

Hannity – who openly supports Trump – has landed a series of recent interviews with the Republican nominee at a time when Trump has all but stopped giving interviews and press conferences.

Among those Trump has stiffed has been Kelly, with whom he had a well-documented feud after she asked him to explain his disparaging comments about women during the first Republican primary debate 14 months ago. Kelly landed an interview with Trump last May for a primetime special, but since then Trump has preferred other Fox programs, such as Hannity’s and the morning show, “Fox and Friends.”

Kelly took a shot at Trump, but indirectly at Hannity, too, on her program, “The Kelly File,” on Wednesday.

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After criticizing Hillary Clinton for doing lightweight interviews with “Entertainment Tonight” and comedian-talk show host Steve Harvey, she said, “Donald Trump, with all due respect to my friend at 10 p.m. (Hannity), will go on Hannity and pretty much only Hannity and will not venture out to the unsafe spaces these days, which doesn’t exactly expand the tent” – that is, reach new supporters.

That elicited Hannity’s reply on Twitter.

Kelly seemed to throw the first punch at Hannity last week after the first presidential debate when she remarked, “We’ve got Trump speaking to our own Sean Hannity. We’ll see whether he speaks to the journalists in the room after that interview.”

Hannity has occasionally disclaimed that he’s a journalist but Kelly’s comment nevertheless appeared to underline his lack of professional standing.

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Fox News did not reply to a request for comment late Wednesday.

The wild card in all this may be Roger Ailes, the Fox News founder and chairman who was brought down by sexual harassment allegations this summer. Ailes is advising Trump’s campaign on media strategy. It’s not known whether he has given Trump advice on his Fox News appearances, including which programs he should appear on.

During his 20-year tenure at Fox, Ailes hired both Kelly and Hannity. But Kelly, pointedly, remained silent as the harassment allegations surrounding Ailes grew.

She was among the few prominent women at Fox who did not offer a supportive statement of Ailes and reportedly told internal investigators that he had harassed her when she was a reporter in Fox’s Washington bureau a decade ago.