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Megyn Kelly discusses blackface controversy on-air: 'I was wrong and I am sorry'

Kelly previously apologized for her comments on Tuesday in an internal email to fellow staff -- an apology that even some colleagues thought didn't go far enough.
Megyn Kelly on Today on Oct. 24, 2018.
Megyn Kelly on Today on Oct. 24, 2018.Nathan Congleton / TODAY

NBC News host Megyn Kelly delivered her first on-air apology Wednesday and admitted she was wrong for her comments defending the use of blackface during Halloween.

On Tuesday, during a round table segment on her show “Megyn Kelly TODAY,” the host ignited controversy after she asked panelists “what is racist” about white people wearing blackface as part of specific costumes. Hours later, Kelly became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter with the majority of users deeming her comments inappropriate and offensive.

“I want to begin with two words: ‘I’m sorry,'” Kelly said in her show's open.

Kelly then continued, “I defended the idea [of blackface] saying as long as it was ‘respectful’ and part of a Halloween costume it seemed ok. Well I was wrong and I am sorry.”

Following what she said was a lesson in “sensitivity” and “acknowledging the pain for people of color,” Kelly welcomed “Roland Martin Unfiltered” host Roland Martin and PBS’ “In Principle” co-host Amy Holmes for a roundtable discussion.

The prominent black journalists started the segment by calling out Kelly’s comments as a “blindspot” and saying the remarks hit home given the media’s role in perpetuating black stereotypes throughout history.

“The reason this story boomeranged all around is because media has been the main driver of racist caricatures throughout history,” Martin said.

Kelly, who spent the majority of the roughly 12 minute discussion listening, said she could see how racial portrayals by white people today can evoke a painful past for people of color.

Holmes also addressed Kelly’s comments defending reality TV star Luann de Lesseps, who darkened her skin for a 2017 Diana Ross costume. The PBS host said that the “line is not difficult to draw” when it comes to clothing and racial mockery, comparing it to the difference in wearing costumes from Disney’s “Frozen” and making fun of the Norwegian culture.

“I can play Diana Ross,” Holmes said. “I’m sorry Megyn, you can’t.”

"No, Megyn you can play Diana Ross," Martin interjected. "Just like you can play another character. You just put on a gown, grab a fan and then have big hair, you're fine. But that's the mistake we make when we say 'I want to cross that line.' There are lines and there is history. And pain. As long as we can acknowledge that, we can grow from it."

Kelly previously apologized for her comments on Tuesday in an internal email to fellow staff -- an apology that even some colleagues thought didn't go far enough.

“The fact is, while she apologized to the staff, she owes a bigger apology to folks of color around the country,” said "TODAY" host Al Roker during Wednesday's 7:00 hour. "This is a history going back to the 1830s minstrel shows to demean and denigrate a race. It wasn't right."

“She's a friend, she said something stupid, she said something indefensible,” added co-host Craig Melvin following a news spot about her comments.

The "TODAY" discussion featured four NBC News journalists of color. Critics called out Kelly for the lack of diversity in Tuesday’s panel discussion of offensive Halloween costumes.

“This learning moment really ‘gifted’ us the opportunity to have this conversation in a public discourse," said NBC News correspondent Morgan Radford, who reported the "TODAY" news package on Kelly. “So we now have the courage and we have the platform to have conversations like this even when they’re uncomfortable because we can see they are still necessary.”

Jenna Bush Hager, who was a part of Tuesday's roundtable said Wednesday on "TODAY" the blackface conversation took a “turn none of us expected.”

“I didn’t expect it and I just have to say of course it’s wrong,” she told "TODAY" hosts Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb. “It’s wrong and in a world that is sometimes filled with hate, I think it’s more important than ever that we use our voices toward love.”

Kelly ended Wednesday's roundtable by saying she has been "listening and learning" from her critics and was "grateful" to Martin and Holmes for having the discussion with her.

“And for those who have reached out to me via Twitter. I heard you too,” Kelly said.