The Anti-Anchor: With His Folksy, Down-to-Earth Persona and Machine-Gun Delivery, Fox News Channel Anchor Shepard Smith Is the Antithesis of the Traditional Voice of God Anchor. and He's More Than Willing to Firmly Express Conclusions That Challenge the Views of the Fox News Pundits If That's Where the Facts Lead Him
Ricchiardi, Sherry, American Journalism Review
Fox News Channel's No. 1 anchor--the one with the boyish good looks and Southern charm--joined two colleagues as a guest on "The Strategy Room," a discussion show streamed live on foxnews.com. The hot topic that day was the CIA's rough treatment of prisoners.
The back-and-forth began cordially enough. But then the conversation shifted to the notion that torture might actually work. Suddenly, the distinctive baritone voice that brings "Fox Report," the network's signature nightly newscast, to nearly 2 million viewers, delivered a stunner. "We are America. I don't give a rat's ass if it helps. We are America. We do not fucking torture! We don't do it!" shouted Shepard Smith, slamming his hand on the desk three times for emphasis.
The panel's other members, Fox anchor Trace Gallagher and the network's senior judicial analyst, Andrew Napolitano, continued the dialogue seemingly unfazed by the outburst. Smith repeated, "It's wrong; that's it!" He shoved his chair back from the desk, distancing himself from the conversation.
Almost immediately, video clips of the April 22 incident became a YouTube sensation. Right-wing activists weighed in, calling for Smith's head. A post by blogger TexasFred reflected the tenor of dissent. "Can someone please explain to me WHY this namby-pamby closet liberal ... is still on Fox News after his incredibly childish outburst?" he asked.
The lambasting went on for weeks. Pamela Geller, editor of the ultra-right Atlas Shrugs Web site, thrashed Smith in a June post on World Net Daily that ended with, "He is torturing conservatives. Shepard Smith has got to go." Another blogger dismissed him as a "cowardly narcissist."
Jon Stewart, host of "The Daily Show," must have been chuckling. In October 2008, the faux-news anchor dubbed Smith "the black Shep of the Fox family" for his fair reporting on the presidential campaign. Stewart said the Fox anchor had "gone rogue."
This fall, the Obama administration declared war on Fox News when then-White House Communications Director Anita Dunn described the network as "a wing of the Republican Party." But it's hard to see how that label applies to Smith.
For years, David Shepard Smith Jr. has been an anomaly, often at odds with the predominant Fox world-view and spurring backlashes from the Fox faithful. At times, his reporting clashes head-on with opinions expressed by the network's conservative celebrity pundits, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.
If Fox's news managers were looking for a reason to dump the 45-year-old rebel-anchor, Smith gave it to them that day in "The Strategy Room." Instead, it appears they delivered a rap on the knuckles.
Michael Clemente, Fox News' senior vice president for news editorial, says he has spoken with Smith about the outburst. "You can cross a line with profanity; I think he regrets using it," says Clemente, who oversees at Fox what he describes as the A-section of a newspaper--the space where the most important stories appear. Smith answers directly to him.
Clemente suggests that Smith might have "let his hair down a little bit" because the show was online-only rather than on live TV.
Jay Wallace, Fox's vice president for news editorial and Smith's longtime friend and former producer, puts it more bluntly about the passionate outbursts: "He knows when he's being bullshitted, and I think he doesn't have the fear to call someone out." Wallace, who worked with Smith in Baghdad and during Hurricane Katrina before assuming his current job, adds, "He may know that it may piss the second floor off, the executives off, but if he knows it's a fair comment and he's being bullshitted, he's going to take the shot."
On October 27, Smith took a shot at his own network during a report on his 3 p.m. show "Studio B" about New Jersey's tight gubernatorial race. …