Yahoo’s Katie Couric and Fox News’ Megyn Kelly talked about politics, power, Hillary Clinton, the paradigm shift in broadcast journalism, and the challenges in their respective careers in separate interviews at Fortune’s “The Most Powerful Women” summit on Monday and Tuesday.
Couric, who joined Yahoo in 2013 as global news anchor, declared it has been liberating to work in the digital news space at Yahoo, after spending several years with the major networks, including a 15-year stint as coanchor of NBC’s “Today” show.
Fortune’s Pattie Sellers led the discussions with Couric, asking her at one point how big of a risk it was to leave the broadcast networks and go to Yahoo. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that we are undergoing a massive transformation, not just in media, but really in every aspect in society when it comes to technology,” Couric said. “I think television is still incredibly important and great work is being done in television. I thought this would be fun and challenging.”
Couric said she has had her own learning curve in adapting to the new tech world.
“They speak a whole different language,” she said. “They say ‘white boarding and dash boards and dog fooding,’” explaining that “dog fooding” is a term referring to sampling new tech products internally.
“I’m like, ‘Who are you people?’” she said. “But it’s really fun for me. First, I get so much creative freedom. I do everything from an 18 minute mini-documentary on Harper Lee’s new book [‘Go Set a Watchman’]…to an explainer video on the Iranian nuclear deal or on Benghazi, which has really resonated with young people.”
Couric said she traveled to Monroeville, Ala., for her documentary on Lee and interviewed a professor emeritus who has visited the reclusive author more than 100 times. She said the professor asked Lee if she would be willing to meet Couric, to which Lee reportedly said, “Hell, no.”
Asked if she still has the same kind of access to luminaries working at Yahoo as she did working at NBC or CBS, she said “most young staffers are recognizing how powerful the digital audience is, what a long tail many of these stories have…When Carly Fiorina [a Republican presidential contender] comes on, she can talk for 25 minutes and really make her views known on a whole variety of issues versus maybe four minutes on a broadcast platform.”
Documentaries are also a new path for Couric, who was executive producer and narrator for “Fed Up,” a documentary on childhood obesity. A new documentary on gun control that she has produced, with the working title of “Under the Gun,” is in the pipeline.
“I find that working in the documentary space is so exciting because…networks don’t take substantive issues and examine and explore them because they won’t rate,” Couric said.
Kelly, who is anchor of Fox News Channel’s “The Kelly File,” discussed her dustup with Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman and Republican presidential contender, as well as her views on Clinton and the Republican presidential field. Trump has been locked in a one-sided public feud with Kelly since she asked him a question at the first Republican presidential debate about previous derogatory comments he made about women.
“It’s clear we may have overestimated his management skills,” Kelly joked. She said she is paid to “anticipate candidates’ weaknesses and poke them.”
“That’s our job. It does require a certain amount of fearlessness,” she said. “You don’t want to personally embarrass anybody about their weaknesses. But by the same token, these guys want George Washington’s job. You have a tough job to do, which is to answer tough questions, and I have a tough job to do, which is to ask them.”
Kelly called Clinton a “flawed” presidential candidate and said the former Secretary of State should be asked why she did not follow the standards she set in a memo to staffers, instructing them not to do work business on their personal e-mails.
She said the Republican presidential field is winnowing but also noted the candidates have not figured out how to deal with the three nonpoliticians who are outsiders and dominated the early polls — Fiorina, Trump and Ben Carson.
“What I don’t think they anticipated was they were going to have outsiders and nonpoliticians get in and start slinging insults around in the way that hasn’t been allowed in some circles in the gentlemanly practice of politics, which is really quite ugly,” Kelly said.
Asked if she would like to have the number-one, most watched cable news show, she responded “Hell, yes.”
She said the “gap is getting smaller and smaller” between her show and Bill O’Reilly, host of “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox.
“I have heard his next book is called “Killing Megyn,” she said about O’Reilly.
“Believe it or not, Bill and I are friends. We have a healthy competition,” she said, adding that he is the “King of cable,” and she is not taking anything away from his numbers.