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Shepard Smith, an outspoken news anchor on Fox News

Smith's own profile is growing as well, thanks to appearances on such programs as "The View" and a new Web page with behind-the-scenes video that highlight Shep's goofy side, as he banters with his staff. Verizon recently launched a multimillion-dollar arrangement to be the sole sponsor of the "Fox Report" on the first Monday of each month, providing more minutes for news.

A college dropout from Holly Springs, Miss. -- Smith still has a home in the state and regularly returns for family gatherings and Ole Miss football games -- he brings a local-news sensibility to the job, casually addressing viewers like old friends. Although he no longer races through stories at breakneck speed, Smith obviously never went to anchor finishing school.

His blunt style was on display during last year's campaign when he eviscerated Joe the Plumber -- a frequent Hannity guest -- for claiming that Obama's election would destroy Israel. "I just want to make this 100 percent perfectly clear: Barack Obama has said repeatedly and demonstrated repeatedly that Israel will always be a friend to the United States no matter what happens once he becomes president -- his words," Smith said.

During an interview last month with Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Smith was sympathetic to Obama's proposal for a government-run health insurance option. "Every vote against the public option is a vote for the insurance companies," Smith said, complaining about overcharging by insurance companies and adding: "It seems like we, the people, are the ones getting the shaft here."

With his rapid-fire delivery, Smith has slipped and uttered obscenities on the air. In April, during an online Fox discussion about interrogation techniques used on detainees, Smith banged the table and dropped the F-bomb, declaring: "We are America! I don't give a rat's ass if it helps. We are America! We do not [expletive] torture!"

And Smith attracted considerable attention in June, after the fatal shooting of a guard at the Holocaust museum in Washington, when he said the e-mail he receives at Fox "has become more and more frightening" and that some people are "so angry, for reasons that are absolutely wrong, ridiculous, preposterous."

He quoted from one such letter: "Shepard, how dare you tell us to get over Obama not being a U.S. citizen? Where is the birth certificate?. . . . I cannot stand Hussein, he is a socialist Marxist."

Rush Limbaugh chided Smith for "whining and moaning," but the anchor drew plaudits from liberal New York Times columnists Paul Krugman and Frank Rich. "Some figures in the conservative media have refused to go along with the big hate -- people like Fox's Shepard Smith," Krugman wrote.

Smith, whose office is festooned with Ole Miss pennants and paraphernalia, draws an analogy involving his alma mater and its rival, Louisiana State University. "Because I love Ole Miss, I hate LSU," he says. "I want them to lose every game in every sport until the day I die. I might say in a fit of passion I hope it burns to the ground -- but that doesn't mean anything.

"That's how people are with Fox. They decide that Fox is the thing they love or the thing they hate."

Or, in some cases, the thing they ridicule. Despite his independent credentials, Smith found himself unfairly lumped in with the likes of Rove during a "Saturday Night Live" skit two weeks ago. He was portrayed as devilishly smirking while delivering election results that he gloated were a "death knell for the Obama administration."

Smith laughs it off: "My dad -- 81 and the coolest guy who ever lived -- said you know you've made it when you're parodied on 'Saturday Night Live.' "

As 'GMA' turns

George Stephanopoulos, the leading candidate for co-host of "Good Morning America," has let it be known that he is not willing to join the program unless it is significantly changed to suit him.

Recognizing that his strengths are in politics and hard news, Stephanopoulos has communicated to ABC that he would not want to spend considerable time doing fluffy features, network sources say. If the show cannot be reshaped to suit his interviewing talents, Stephanopoulos has argued, the move would be risky and he would prefer to remain as host of "This Week."

But another ABC insider says any new anchor joining forces with Robin Roberts would require adjustments, and the program's essential DNA will not change.

There are also growing questions whether the other candidate, Chris Cuomo, would stay as "GMA" news anchor if Stephanopoulos is tapped to succeed Diane Sawyer. In a meeting last week with ABC News President David Westin, Cuomo, who is being courted by other networks, indicated he enjoys the show and is open to remaining if he is passed over, the sources say. ABC executives told Cuomo they will make him a strong offer to keep him at the network but made no commitment about "GMA." The network plans to make a decision by mid-December.

Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."

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