Shepard Smith, An Anchor Who Is Never Heavy
Monday, June 20, 2005
NEW YORK -- Slipping into a tracking booth to record headlines for his 7 p.m. national newscast, Shepard Smith bellows: "Bus meets semi in Florida, children critically injured."
Why is Smith trumpeting a local accident as his third major story, before the FBI's blunders in failing to detect the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers?
"Good pictures, and kids are involved," he says.
They call him the anti-anchor here in the Fox News building, the sometimes smirking man from Holly Springs, Miss., whom nobody would confuse with Bob Schieffer or Brian Williams. Smith presides over a breathless, mile-a-minute, graphics-laden, video-saturated program that careens from war to missing women to what Smith calls "goofy things."
"It won't kill us to give 20 seconds of cute dogs," he says.
When he took over the "Fox Report" in 1999, Smith says, "I wanted to do it faster and not waste people's time. If it's only worth 15 seconds, it's only 15 seconds. 'Stocks are up today,' boom, next. . . . Our theory was simple: Give it to me rat-a-tat-tat. Have a little fun. Everything doesn't have to be in-depth."
Indeed, by barreling through 60 to 70 stories in an hour, many of them 20 or 25 seconds each, Smith clearly sacrifices depth. He runs a few of the taped packages that are a mainstay of network newscasts -- which he dismisses as "formulaic" -- but the program is basically Smith as NASCAR driver, racing through the news at breakneck speed.
The 41-year-old college dropout not only hogs the airtime, he uses slang-filled, stripped-down language that he likens to storytelling on Mississippi front porches. Smith's "smart-aleck" style helps to "puncture the pomposity" of news, says media analyst Andrew Tyndall. As for the pace of the program, Tyndall says, "The only place I've seen an equivalent velocity would be on the tabloid entertainment shows."
This has brought box office success. The show is drawing nearly 1.4 million viewers, up 62 percent from 2001 and beating CNN and MSNBC combined.
Unlike a number of Fox anchors, Smith hasn't been accused of pushing a conservative agenda. He says he keeps his opinions to himself and doesn't "bloviate" about the news like Bill O'Reilly, who follows him. "We're under a real microscope here," he says.
Fox News Senior Vice President John Moody says he sometimes pushes producer Jay Wallace to cover such developments as a new president suddenly appointed in Bolivia. "Jay throws me a bone and does a few international stories," Moody says. "There's a certain push-pull. They want to do stories that are going to get people's attention."
As for the show's closing "G Block," which often features celebrity news and gossip, Moody says: "I often suggest we might want to preempt that for news. It's all about things like Angelina Jolie's tattoo."