In September 2013, Fox News rejiggered its prime-time lineup to accommodate the talents of Megyn Kelly, who had been hosting an afternoon show. To clear out an hour in the packed schedule, Fox News eliminated the 7 p.m. show anchored by host Shepard Smith. Or, more accurately, the network “incorporated” the show “into a breaking news unit where Smith will dedicate his anchoring, reporting and presentation acumen as domestic and international events unfold,” promised a press release.
That sounded like a lot of mumbo-jumbo at the time.
Yet the plan appears to be bearing out. Take last night as an example. As rioting broke out in West Baltimore, Smith’s breaking news unit — complete with its fancy, oversize technology in the Fox News Deck — sprung into action across the network’s schedule. Not only did Smith broadcast the news during his 3 p.m. show, he also put on a collaborative presentation with the cast of “The Five” during the 5 p.m. hour, fed news to Bret Baier’s “Special Report” during the 6 p.m. hour, preempted the “O’Reilly Factor” during the 8 p.m. hour and filled out the 11 p.m. hour.
Some of Smith’s coverage got some coverage. Folks took note, for example, when he brushed back “The Five’s” Eric Bolling, who wondered, Where are the civil rights leaders? Why aren’t they calling for calm? “I’m confident they’re all watching and will, on your instruction, do exactly that,” responded Smith. Greg Gutfeld asked where the parents were. “Well, you know, I’ve not been on the phone with them. But if we want to sit here and indict the civil rights community and indict the parents for what we’re watching right now, instead of for now, just covering what happens and then later talk about whose fault it is, because we don’t know whose fault it is,” responded Smith.
The back-and-forth continued, with Smith talking above the fray: “We’ve got a major American city that has decades of turmoil within this neighborhood,” riffed Smith as he approached a giant screen depicting Baltimore. “Decades — you heard the stories…of people being arrested for nothing, of a violent crackdown for years and years, of them feeling powerless and hopeless and nobody listening to what they were saying. One quarter of the youth locked up — clearly there is a big problem.”
On one level, the hour boiled down to Smith schooling “The Five.” Stacey Dash, for instance, asked whether the “negative national spotlight” explained the sluggish response of the police to the disturbances. Smith: “Well, I would have to guess on a matter like that, which is what here on the News Deck we do not do.” And when Bolling talked about the “predominantly African American” makeup of the crowds, Smith riffed, “It is a predominantly African American community and predominantly African American people here, but if we want to create larger racial tensions on the heels of this and all the recent African American problems that we’ve seen, then we can do that.”
Later in the coverage, Smith related the goings-on to his own upbringing in Mississippi. After showing footage of a peaceful group singing, “I’m going to treat everybody right,” the anchor said:
Like something you might have heard in an A.M.E church back in Holly Springs when I was a kid when racial tensions were at a high that we had never seen, when blacks and whites couldn’t live well together, when they rioted on the streets of those towns. Probably much like it was back in 1968, when the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis and these same streets and this same historic community erupted and burned and neighbors turned on neighbors and a community was lost and that community is lost on this day and tonight these people come back to reclaim this territory, saying, ‘I will treat everybody right, I will treat everybody right until I die.’ You know, the complaint from the beginning has been that people have not been treated right.
As Smith’s give-and-take with “The Five” reflects, he doesn’t necessarily commune with his colleagues on racial issues. The differences in orientation don’t just make for compelling television; they also lend weight to Fox News’s arguments that their broadcasts feature a diversity of viewpoints. This is, after all, the network’s managing editor and chief news anchor.