January 10th, 2017

Kelly is worth every penny

Here's my latest column for our local newspaper.

Dollar signs danced through my head after news last week about Megyn Kelly, Congressman Tom Reed and Obamacare. Let’s start with Kelly and her new NBC paycheck, with its eight figures to the left of the decimal point.

Fox News wanted to keep Kelly so badly they reportedly offered her $20 million a year to stay. A Newsweek report pegged the offer at $25 million.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Kelly was making $15 million in the final year of her contract with Fox, so let’s assume she’ll make $20 million a year at NBC, give or take a few million.

Is Kelly worth it? She’s certainly worth it to NBC if she can do what network executives hope: increase ratings, particularly among viewers age 25-54. For broadcasters, that demographic is a mother lode of profit.
Is she worth it because of her journalism skills? Certainly not.

What do you imagine the combined annual salaries are for the 200 most recent Pulitzer Prize winners? Certainly nowhere near $20 million. It’s probably the same for the 200 most recent winners of the Peabody Award, which recognizes outstanding broadcast journalism.

Those journalists, though, don’t have the name recognition Kelly does. Her profile skyrocketed after the Aug. 7 Republican presidential candidates debate, where she skewered Donald Trump for sexist remarks.
In October, Kelly (a former trial lawyer) smacked down Newt Gingrich, who always comes across like he thinks he’s the smartest person in the room.

Then came the mid-November release of her memoir, Settle for More, which became news not only for its contents, but also because of the reaction to it by Trump supporters. As The Daily Beast reported, “On the day of its publication, Settle For More garnered hundreds of one- and two-star reviews on Amazon from suspiciously fast readers.”

As I said, I think Kelly is worth $20 million a year to NBC. After all, that’s what Matt Lauer, co-host of NBC’s Today show, makes—and no one will ever mistake Lauer for a journalist after his interview of Donald Trump in September.

The Observer’s assessment of Kelly as a “celebrity news actress” may be harsh, but then again, her résumé is so thin that it’s transparent compared to that of, say, Christiane Amanpour.

■ Kelly hasn’t been the only interesting name in the news. Wednesday’s Times Herald featured a story about Congressman Tom Reed.

The story indirectly quotes Reed, a Republican, as saying a priority for the new Republican Congress is repealing the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). The Times Herald’s Rick Miller wrote, “Reed said it was not clear how a replacement package for Obamacare would be passed or what it would include.”

Fox News reported Saturday, “Congressional Republicans’ years-long mission to dismantle Obamacare is becoming more of an uphill battle, amid a growing concern among some GOP senators about voting to repeal the health care law without a replacement.”

However, the New York Times reported Friday, “Republican leaders want congressional committees to have legislation dismantling much of Obama's overhaul ready by late January. They're hoping Congress can quickly send a measure to incoming President Donald Trump phasing out the law, perhaps a couple of months later.”

I can’t believe Republicans will have an Obamacare replacement plan in place by then. After all, they haven’t come up with an alternative since the Affordable Care Act went into effect nearly seven years ago.
Reed says making sure there’s a replacement is one of his priorities. Let’s watch to see what he does if his priority clashes with his party’s gung-ho repeal advocates.

■ As for the Republicans’ replacement for Obamacare, here’s a question: Five years into the plan, which do you think is more likely—tens of millions of Americans will have better, less-expensive health insurance than they have now, or the insurance and pharmaceutical industries will have made billions of dollars because of the new plan?

I’m hoping for the first option, but consider this: According to OpenSecrets.org, a website run by the Center for Responsive Politics, the insurance industry spent more than $111 million on lobbying last year. The only industry to spend more was the pharmaceuticals/health products industry: $186 million.

Something tells me the money isn’t being spent to ensure people without health insurance get the best coverage possible at the lowest possible cost. I think those industries have different priorities.

I predict they’ll spend higher amounts on lobbying in 2017. The only question is how much more.

(Patrick Vecchio is a former Times Herald managing editor and retired journalism professor at St. Bonaventure University. He is a lifelong Olean resident and may be contacted at PatrickVecchio@roadrunner.com)