He’s 54, a native Mississippian, and a college dropout who is openly gay. He’s a featured newsman on a popular cable network. On air, he’s snide, sophomoric, arrogant and sarcastic. He attacks President Donald Trump at every given opportunity. So which channel is it … MSNBC, CNN, CBS? Would you believe Fox News?
We are, of course, talking about the enigmatic Shepard Smith. He has been with Fox News since 1996. For the past 22 years, most of the network’s overwhelmingly conservative audience has been both flummoxed and repelled by his presence on the network.
Google Smith’s name and you will find a litany of stinging complaints and an assortment of sometimes vile, derogatory comments about him — mostly from Fox’s conservative viewers.
Among these negative postings are a few positive comments, presumably from the rare liberal viewers of Fox News. They gush over what they call Shepard’s extraordinary courage — standing up to his right-wing colleagues. These positive comments represent only a very small, minority view and one would think that Fox News management must surely be aware of the overwhelmingly negative opinions on Smith.
Detractors are bewildered that Smith is even on Fox News in the first place. Some compare Smith being on Fox News to Michael Savage being on CNN. This would never happen on CNN, so why is it happening on Fox?
Some speculate that Smith must have some real “dirt” on either or both Fox owner Rupert Murdock and late CEO Roger Ailes, for them to do something that is seemingly so irrational and detrimental to their own network. Other than blackmail, why else would they knowingly do something that infuriates their loyal audience to the point that many people change channels the moment Smith’s face pops up on the screen?
Conservative Fox fans will probably never give up hope that top management will, someday, see the light and dump Shepard Smith. Early in 2018, with Smith’s contract coming to an end, eternally hopeful conservatives dared dream of a conservative taking Smith’s slot. Their dreams were dashed when, in March of 2018, Murdock announced Smith had been signed to a new, multi-year contract.
Rubbing salt in the newly-opened wound, Murdock said, “Shepard Smith is an exemplary journalist whose skill in anchoring breaking news is unrivaled. His powerful storytelling on both television and digital platforms has elevated our entire news gathering process.”
Smith wholeheartedly agrees with Murdock on this. He thinks he is far from being a liability at Fox and is, in fact, what Fox News should be. He considers himself to be the “truth teller” at Fox.
In an interview with Time, Smith said, “I wonder if I stopped delivering the facts, what would go on in this place that is most watched, most listened, most viewed, most trusted?”
Smith considers Fox commentators like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingram to be mere “entertainers,” while describing himself as a true and serious “newsman,” who simply “delivers the facts,” to the audience.
Watching his “newscast,” however, one would be hard put not notice his frequent and biased view of news stories, through his words, facial expressions and voice intonations. One could fairly characterize his “news,” as being more biased commentary than “a simple recitation of the facts,” as he claims.
Smith’s comments about his colleagues do not go unnoticed. In a recent, on-air rant, Smith chided his “entertainer” colleagues for advancing what he considered a foolish notion that there was a connection between large Russian contributions to the Clinton Foundation and their gaining the right to mine 40 percent of U.S. uranium reserves.
Sean Hannity took umbrage with the remarks and called Smith a “Trump-hater.” Encouraged by his words, Hannity’s fans launched an impressive but unsuccessful social media campaign to fire Smith.
Getting back to the central question: If Smith does not have any dirt on either Murdock or Ailes — and there is no proof that he does — then why have they supported him through all the years of fan outrage and complaints, of which, they must have been well aware?
Perhaps it’s as simple as love and loyalty.
Reacting to Ailes’ death in 2017, Smith spoke on air about his feelings for him. He described Ailes as a media genius who was uproariously funny and said, “I loved him.” Smith recounted the day he introduced Ailes to his gay partner, “Gio,” and how gracious and welcoming both Ailes and his wife, Beth, were to them. Smith said they treated them “like we were family.”
Thus, with Ailes, it seems that early on he developed a deep, personal affection for Smith. Despite all the complaints and liabilities that came with Smith being on Fox News, it was, perhaps, his personal feelings for him that prevailed, and ultimately saved Smith’s job.
As for Murdock, there is no evidence of his having any singular, personal affection for Smith. But with him, it may be a question of history and loyalty. Smith is one of the few current members of the Fox News Team that was there, with Murdock, from the very beginning. It is not unusual for a person to have a sense of loyalty toward someone who began a journey with him, and who never deserted him along the way.
Despite all the drawbacks of keeping an unpopular Smith on Fox News, Murdock could very well have simply kept him on out of an abundance of loyalty and their long, common history together.
Smith’s longevity at Fox News, despite his clear unpopularity, would seem to prove the adage: “At work, the only person an employee has to please is the boss.”
This may be the best explanation for the confounding network marriage of “The Fox and the Shepard.”
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