Megyn Kelly began her self-titled hour of the "Today Show" on Wednesday by apologizing for her universally-panned suggestion that the use of blackface during Halloween was not racist.
"I want to begin with two words: I'm sorry," the NBC News anchor said in a somber, straight to camera monologue.
"I learned that, given the history of blackface being used in awful ways by racists in this country, it is not OK for that to be part of any costume, Halloween or otherwise," Kelly added. "I have never been a PC kind of person, but I do understand the value of being sensitive to our history, particularly on race and ethnicity."
"This past year has been so painful for many people of color. The country feels so divided, and I have no wish to add to that pain and offense," she continued. "I believe this is a time for more understanding, more love, more sensitivity and honor – and I want to be a part of that. Thank you for listening, and for helping me listen to."
The audience then erupted into applause, rising to give Kelly a standing ovation amid chats of "we love you."
Kelly's public apology followed an internal one to her NBC colleagues, who told Salon they were furious at her comments. "I realize now that such behavior is indeed wrong, and I am sorry," she wrote in an email. "The history of blackface in our culture is abhorrent; the wounds too deep. I’ve never been a 'pc' kind of person — but I understand that we do need to be more sensitive in this day and age."
The NBC News anchor was widely condemned on social media, where she remained a trending topic for most of the day as Americans expressed outrage over her racist statements on the morning show. During a roundtable discussion on appropriate Halloween costumes, a panel composed of four white people – including former "Fashion Police" co-host Melissa Rivers and Kelly's NBC News colleagues Jacob Soboroff and Jenna Bush Hager – addressed what Kelly called the "costume police," or costume choices that have been criticized as offensive in recent years.
"But what is racist? You truly do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween," Kelly said Tuesday. "Back when I was a kid, that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as a character."
After not receiving a warm response, Kelly doubled-down by bringing up "The Real Housewives of New York" cast member Luann de Lesseps, who came under fire for dressing up as Diana Ross with an oversized afro and what appeared to be darker skin.
"She dressed as Diana Ross, and she made her skin look darker than it really is," Kelly said. "And people said that that was racist. And I don’t know, I felt like, who doesn’t love Diana Ross?"
Soboroff said the costume seemed "a little racist," and Bush Hager agreed However, Kelly said that she "can’t keep up with the number of people that we’re offending just by being normal people."
It is far from the first time Kelly has drawn outrage for offensive and racist comments on TV. Most famously, she said on Fox News in 2013, "For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white," adding that Jesus is white, too.
But since moving from Fox to NBC, her tenure has been fraught with controversy and low ratings, and on Tuesday, NBC staff told Salon: "The newsroom was stunned . . . She is now officially a racist."
NBC News covered the controversy Tuesday night, noting that her defense of blackface was not "the first time Kelly has come under fire for comments about race."
Wednesday morning on "Today," Kelly's colleagues on the first two hours of the venerable NBC News morning show continued the conversation, with co-anchor Al Roker saying, "She owes a bigger apology to folks of color around the country." News anchor Craig Melvin described Kelly's comments as "ignorant and racist," as well as "stupid and indefensible."
Roker reminded viewers that blackface minstrelsy dates back to the 1830s, with the purpose of "denigrating a race." "I'm old enough to have lived through Amos and Andy, where you had white people in blackface playing two black characters magnifying the worst stereotypes about black people," he continued. "That's what the big problem is. That's what the issue is."
Melvin poked holes in Kelly's internal apology, which sought to conflate political correctness with something that was so clearly ahistorical and racist. "That's silly, and it's disingenuous. And it's just as ignorant and racist as the statement itself," he said. "In addition to her being a colleague, she's a friend. She said something stupid and something indefensible."
"I guess it was an opportunity for us to learn a bit more about blackface," Melvin continued, "but I think a lot of people knew about blackface."
CNN's Don Lemon had similar criticism. After saying on CNN's Primetime Tuesday night that "there has never been a time in her 47 years that blackface has been acceptable," he added that "politically correct does not mean that you can be racist or say racist things. That's an excuse for people who don't understand the nuances of racism and when they treat people of color one-dimensionally."
Lemon also addressed the all-white panel that Kelly directed on "Today" and questioned how much diversity Kelly has in her staff. He also spoke about how being a black man on prime time TV is a such a rarity in media and the people who are tasked with hiring anchors and commentators "should realize how important diversity is," as well as "how important it is for their talent to know the history of this country."
That was a point that echoed throughout social media. In Kelly's statements on blackface and in her incendiary comments on race in the past, she continues to demonstrate how little knowledge of African-American history and understanding of race is required for correspondents and TV personalities who are given wide platforms to comment on the key issues of this country.
"I think it’s a little bit of the Fox affect, to be honest with you," CNN's Chris Cuomo said. "This all used to be OK where she used to be."