By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A decade ago Megyn Kelly was practicing law and moonlighting as a local TV reporter before Fox News Channel came calling, starting a relationship that would take her career from newbie legal correspondent to the host of her own prime-time gig.
Currently ensconced behind colleague Bill O'Reilly's "The O'Reilly Factor" at the No. 2 spot on U.S. cable news ratings, Kelly's "The Kelly File" draws about 1.9 million viewers nightly on average, more than double her nearest 9 p.m. competitor.
Known for her lawyer's poise and tenacity, Kelly has also chiseled out a role at the network popular among conservatives as someone unafraid to call out her older male colleagues on issues like gender.
Kelly, 43, who recently was named to Time magazine's 100 most influential people list, spoke with Reuters about the network's role in the news media, sexism in the workplace and what happened when she called comedian Jon Stewart "mean."
Q: Do you see the Time magazine distinction, where you are placed alongside the likes of pop singer Miley Cyrus and Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as a notch in your belt?
A: I wouldn't say it's an accomplishment so much as it's an acknowledgement of something I felt over the past six or seven months since I've taken this job, which is just a growing market power, and that's good. I guess that's to be expected when they give you the microphone at 9 p.m. on the Fox News Channel. You're going to have a bigger profile. You're going to have a bigger voice.
Q: You and your network have often been a favorite punching bag for Jon Stewart on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."
A: Stewart doesn't bother me as much as he used to. He used to do these segments on me all the time, and then one day on the air I said he was mean and then he called me up, and we had an hour-long talk. He explained that he didn't mean to be mean and that he does satire and that he claimed I was 'one of the three journalists he respects.'
I said, 'Well, it sounds like you're looking for absolution, and I'm not giving it.' We had a good laugh. He was very good-natured. But I understand what he does.
Q: Have you run into any sexism as a woman in TV media?
A: I had more sexist encounters as a lawyer than I had as a journalist. There are so many of us (women) in broadcast journalism that we have more power. It's not to say that there's no sexism or discrimination against women, but I think we have more power. In law, especially back in '95 when I was breaking in, it was much more of an old boys' network.
Q: You also have a reputation for challenging your colleagues on air, specifically on sexism.
A: I was always a strong personality. I was never an introvert. But I think that ability to control an interview and stand up to strong, powerful people was developed in my legal practice. I was a small-town girl who wasn't surrounded at all by any powerful people or anybody with any connections growing up, so I had no practice nor was I ever at the top of my class or being told that great things were ahead of me. I was popular and I enjoyed that, and my mother kept telling me I better take typing so I'd have something to fall back on. I didn't know what the future held, but once I got my law degree I started to feel like, 'OK, I'm a serious person.'
Q: Your colleague Shepard Smith has said he believes the network is an underdog despite being atop the ratings. Do you feel the same way?
A: I don't know if I would sign on to underdogs. I know what he means. I guess I would say, 'outliers.' Oftentimes it feels like Fox stands alone in the media on certain stories. Benghazi is a good example where we've been covering that story because many of us believe that it is a story and that we haven't gotten the full truth on what happened. And then, lo and behold, several months will pass something will come out to prove that we were right. ...
So, I don't mind being one of the outliers. Sometimes I think there's value in that and some of these stories get completely blown off by many in the mainstream media ... but that is like as (colleague) Brit Hume used to say, 'Like picking money up off the street,' because it's a story that's just waiting there for somebody to grab it and tell. And if we don't tell it at Fox News, in all likelihood some of these stories won't get told.
(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Mary Milliken and Ken Wills)