The Kremlin’s wily master is well known for keeping his long game under wraps, and that’s putting it mildly. Yesterday morning, however, a dumbfounded America woke up to the Big Reveal about Vladimir Putin’s true agenda. Getting Donald Trump elected, reducing NATO to a bunch of stinky Gauloise butts in hopeless search of an American ashtray, turning our trust in democracy into belief in the Tooth Fairy? All that, we can now see, was just the prelude. Decades ago, on some cold night in East Germany, Vlad the young Russian spy evidently murmured this dark vow: “Someday, I shall team up with sprightly Megyn Kelly to tear 60 Minutes a new one.”
What provoked Putin’s hatred of CBS’s venerable newsmagazine will probably always be a mystery. (“That fucking Canuck, Morley Safer! He’s like Chekhov for people who are dead but too dumb to fall down.”) How he chose Kelly as his weapon when she wasn’t even out of high school in Albany’s suburbs yet is another secret buried deep in the KGB archives. But the announcement that he’s her big get for the June 4th debut of her new NBC show, Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly, undoubtedly caused heart attacks in the corridors Mike Wallace once bestrode like a colossus. Who’s going to stick with 60 Minutes the night Megyn meets Vlad?
Even if Putin decides to go shirtless for his one-on-one with Kelly, the interview itself is awfully unlikely to produce any bombshells. Come on, does anyone expect him to genially admit the pee video is real? Fencing with Western reporters usually brings out his droll side, mainly because he’s so obviously amused by the whole concept of a free press hunting nettable facts, and that’s often accentuated when his interviewer is female. (As dictators go, he’s the biggest flirt since Napoleon.) But none of that has much to do with, you know, actual news.
Come on, does anyone expect Putin to genially admit the pee video is real?
And it doesn’t matter. We’d be the last people to deny that Kelly is a first-rate journalist; she bones up, she can spot an evasion a mile away and she’s totally unfazable. If anyone has ever seen her flustered, they’re probably locked up in insane asylums as they babble their incredible tale to their warders.
But those tools are merely the syntax of her true idiom, which is celebrity. Face it: we don’t watch her because we crave information. We watch her for her demeanor—that is, because she’s Fascinatin’ Megyn, so uncannily poised and savvy that she’s like a Stepford wife who’s just gotten a divorce and a law degree. No woman in the history of Fox News was ever Kelly’s equal at turning unabashed braininess into a vital feature of her attack-blonde charisma, as opposed to something permanently at war with it.
How much do you want to bet she’ll end up turning Putin charismatic by osmosis? Except for news junkies, not many Americans have really seen much of him in conversation; we’re infinitely more familiar with Beck Bennett’s SNL impersonation than we are with the original. He undoubtedly knows this, and not much would tickle him like having us decide he’s got sex appeal. While it’s not exactly Kelly’s fault that her interviews with alpha males nearly always have a sexualized undertow—or anyhow, that her audience reflexively perceives them that way—she’s hardly averse to putting that subtext to work when it suits her.
She’ll be sure to throw him the toughest questions she can think of, because that isn’t only her job; it’s also her brand. But she presumably knows going in that he’ll suavely deflect them, maybe even with charm, because he’s as shrewd a cookie as she is and equally hard to rattle. Whatever topics they discuss, we’re confident that the interview’s real subject will be star power: hers and his. Because Putin’s not going to say anything relevatory unless he’s shot up with truth serum in the green room, the advertisement that she’s got the clout to land him as her leadoff interviewee is virtually the point of the whole enterprise. If his favorability ratings here in God’s favorite country go up as a result, we suspect that she’ll have done the USA a disservice. Whether Kelly cares about that is anybody’s guess.