LONE BRIGHT SPOT
The Year Shepard Smith Went Rogue at Fox News
While his network daily parrots every absurd Trump talking point, Shep Smith has turned into Fox News’ vestige of fact-based news reporting—much to the chagrin of Fox viewers.
In the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, we witnessed Fox News’ right-wing morning gabfest turn into the most politically influential program in America, its prime-time lineup transform into three hours of non-stop Trump sycophancy, and its own contributors and supposed “hard news” reporters dabble in conspiracy theories that would make Alex Jones proud.
While the rest of his network bends over backward to appease a Republican president who religiously views their programming—and an audience that views “mainstream media” as a personal affront—Shepard Smith and his midday news show, appropriately titled Shepard Smith Reporting, has, in some sense, gone rogue.
It’s no surprise, given Shep’s long history of unfiltered, un-Fox-like on-air banter—“We are America! We do not fucking torture!” he famously shouted during a 2009 digital show—but in an era where the president and his most devoted followers constantly screech about “fake news” while praising Fox News’ loyalty to Trump, Smith stuck out like a sore thumb in 2017.
Days before Trump took office, Smith came to the defense of CNN reporter Jim Acosta, who engaged in a shouting match with Trump during an early press conference. The then-president-elect refused to answer the reporter’s questions about the Russia dossier, repeatedly calling CNN “fake news.”
“Though we at Fox News cannot confirm CNN’s report,” Smith snarked from his studio, “it is our observation that its correspondents followed journalistic standards and that neither they nor any other journalists should be subjected to belittling and delegitimizing by the president-elect of the United States.”
Several weeks later, in February, Smith couldn’t contain his frustration with a Trump press conference, in which the president dodged multiple questions about Russian government’s election interference and alleged ties to his campaign.
“It’s crazy what we’re watching every day,” Smith said following a presser that yielded no information, but contained more of the usual Trump combativeness. “It’s absolutely crazy. He keeps repeating ridiculous, throwaway lines that are not true at all and sort of avoiding this issue of Russia as if we’re some kind of fools for asking the question.”
When it was revealed that a Kremlin-connected lawyer had met with more Trump associates than previously disclosed, Smith delivered a lengthy outburst, outright calling the administration “liars,” and leaving fellow consummate newsman Chris Wallace speechless.
“We’re still not clean on this, Chris. If there’s nothing there—and that’s what they tell us, they tell us there’s nothing to this and nothing came of it, there’s a nothingburger, it wasn’t even memorable, didn’t write it down, didn’t tell you about it, because it wasn’t anything so I didn’t even remember it—with a Russian interpreter in the room at Trump Tower? If all of that, why all these lies? Why is it lie after lie after lie?”
He continued: “My grandmother used to say, ‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.’ The deception, Chris, is mind-boggling. And there are still people who are out there who believe we’re making it up. And one day they’re gonna realize we’re not and look around and go, ‘Where are we, and why are we getting told all these lies?’”
“I don’t know what to say,” Wallace replied. “I think there’s a lot of truth to everything you said.”
At one point this past year, Smith took to serving as Fox’s ombudsman when an unsubstantiated allegation, made by a Fox commentator, sparked an international incident.
During a briefing, President Trump gleefully parroted that unverified Fox & Friends claim that the British government aided former President Obama in wiretapping Trump during the 2016 campaign.
In response, Smith issued a blunt rebuttal during his own afternoon newscast: “Judge Andrew Napolitano commented on the morning show Fox & Friends that he has sources who say British intelligence was involved in surveillance at Trump Tower... Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano’s commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now president of the United States was surveilled at any time in any way—full stop.”
And when a far-right meme or hoax made its way into Fox News programming, Smith was there to debunk it.
For example, in late September, Fox anchor Julie Banderas claimed “the truckers, the Puerto Rican employees, are on strike,” during a segment taking aim at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz for her feud with President Trump amid a disastrously slow relief response to Hurricane Maria.
Turns out that “strike” was a lie pushed by far-right blogs Conservative Treehouse and The Gateway Pundit, eventually making its way to Fox News and the president. Several days after Banderas’ report, and a day after the president referenced the story during a presser, Smith flatly told viewers: “Reports that a union truckers’ strike added to the problems are not true. They are, in fact, fake news, spread largely, it appears, by a website called Conservative Treehouse and then over Twitter and Facebook. Again, there is no trucker’s strike. That’s fake news. The truckers in Puerto Rico are victims too.”
Perhaps no fact-checking of his network’s own talking points made bigger waves than when Fox News incessantly ran with a new Hillary Clinton “Uranium One scandal”—that she engaged in a pay-for-play uranium deal with Russia—and Shep was there to methodically dismantle it.
The accusation that then-Secretary of State Clinton approved a sale of uranium to the Russians in exchange for donations made to her foundation was touted across Fox News platforms—often to deflect from news that Trump associates were in legal trouble—and was frequently cited by President Trump as unimpeachable evidence of corruption.
“The accusation is predicated on the charge that Secretary Clinton approved the sale,” Smith noted toward the end of his lengthy Nov. 14 probe of the supposed scandal. “She did not. A committee of nine evaluated the sale, the president approved the sale, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and others had to offer permits, and none of the uranium was exported for use by the U.S. to Russia. That is ‘Uranium One.’”
Yet, hours later, Uranium One was labeled “the real Russia scandal” by prime-time host Tucker Carlson. And in the next hour, Hannity stood in front of an elaborate chart connecting various companies and organizations to the “Clinton crime family”—a stunning callback to the days when Glenn Beck’s fever-dream conspiracy theories dominated the network’s ratings.
“We know laws were broken. We know crimes were committed,” Hannity ranted. “The evidence is overwhelming. It’s incontrovertible.”
When asked by The Washington Post how the network’s prime-time hosts can so glaringly flout the journalistic rigor of their “hard-news” colleagues, a Fox spokesperson offered this jaw-dropping excuse: “We support both of our talent. Shep is an outstanding journalist, and Sean is an outstanding opinion commentator.”
Despite Fox’s glossy spin on that disparity, Smith’s tendency to defiantly fact-check or buck his own network’s narrative has drawn the ire of several colleagues.
“He’s so anti-Trump,” Hannity said of Smith, whom he called a friend, in a radio interview with Sebastian Gorka. Shep’s stoic response: “Sometimes facts are displeasing. Journalists report them without fear or favor.”
And days after the deadly Charlottesville white-supremacist rally, Fox News reporter Doug McKelway retweeted one user telling Shep Smith to “keep some comments to yourself.”
The offending remark? After McKelway waxed platitudinous about how Charlottesville residents of all colors likely couldn’t wait for the national media to leave town, Smith interjected, “Yeah, they probably can’t wait for the neo-Nazis to leave either.”
When asked for comment on the retweet, McKelway offered this writer an autographed picture instead.
And throughout 2017, Smith has undoubtedly stoked the anger of Fox’s own audience.
Multiple news outlets have chronicled the viewer outrage aimed at Shep: “Fox News viewers are gunning for Shep Smith,” The Week wrote in March; “Fox News viewers declare war on Shep Smith,” wrote Salon; he has “angered viewers,” added the New York Daily News; and “Fox News Viewers Demand Shep Smith Be Fired,” pro-Trump outlet Breitbart recently blared.
Luckily, for those who still care about sober, fact-based journalism, Shep’s ratings apparently haven’t suffered at all. Last quarter, for example, Shepard Smith Reporting was up 20 percent in the key ratings demographic.