At Fox News, Shepard Smith emerges as the one anchor unwilling to toe the pro-Trump line
Last week Smith denounced the supposed ‘Spygate’ controversy involving FBI officials who looked into the Trump campaign to see if there was any evidence of Russian involvement
Even for Fox News’ resident contrarian, it’s been quite a week for Shepard Smith. He has called out the Trump administration as lying about a meeting involving the president’s son, punctured claims about the FBI spying on the Trump campaign, dismissed the characterisation of the Russian investigation as a witch hunt and resisted White House characterisations of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Smith’s afternoon news programme has always stood out at Fox News Channel, but perhaps never more so than lately. While most of President Donald Trump’s critics in the media often speak to sympathetic consumers, Smith’s assessments hit ears that don’t always seek – or want – a contrary point of view.
Fox aired a portion of Trump’s White House rally on patriotism on Tuesday that replaced the planned celebration of the Eagles’ Super Bowl win, giving it more time than either CNN or MSNBC. As the last strains of God Bless America ended, Smith came on in Fox’s New York studio.
“We stand to support, we stand to salute, we stand in the absence of the Philadelphia Eagles,” Smith said. “But the thing is, the Eagles stood as well.”
Smith said that Trump had claimed that the Eagles disagreed with him about the need to stand for the national anthem before football games. But the truth is, “the entire team stood for the anthem every game last season,” he said.
He read a tweet from an Eagles player that accused the president of spreading a false narrative that the players are anti-military.
A day earlier Smith, like others in the media, took the administration to task for shifting stories about Donald Trump Jr’s 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, and what hand the future president had in crafting his son’s statement about what the meeting entailed.
“It’s one of those days when somebody is lying,” Smith said following White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ briefing. “We’re just not really sure who is.”
He said that it’s frustrating to get a competing set of facts from people who “work for us”.
“It’s not partisan,” he said. “It’s about facts.”
Smith faces a steady stream of invective from many Fox News fans on social media. One viewer on Twitter said Tuesday he didn’t understand how Smith gets different information than others at Fox like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.
Many posters promise not to watch him any more; yet with an average viewership of 1.4 million people, Smith’s show is like most on Fox News in leading its cable news rivals in the ratings. There’s also no evidence that Fox viewers are rejecting him.
In May, the two Fox hours that preceded his show and the one that followed him all averaged around 1.4 million viewers, too, the Nielsen company said.
There are also frequent calls for Fox to drop him. Fox in March announced a multi-year deal to keep him in place.
Last week Smith denounced the “Spygate” controversy involving FBI officials who looked into the Trump campaign to see if there was any evidence of Russian involvement. It was a story that got a flurry of attention from others at Fox; the anti-Fox lobbying group Media Matters for America circulated video that juxtaposed the words of Hannity talking about the story and Smith cutting it down.
“The president called it Spygate,” Smith said. “Fox News can confirm that it is not. Fox News knows of no evidence to support the president’s claim. Lawmakers from both parties claim that using informants to investigate suspected ties to Russia is not spying. It’s part of the normal investigation process.”
Smith also said there was no evidence to support charges that special counsel Robert Mueller is meddling in the midterm election.
“The so-called rigged Russian witch hunt is not a witch hunt,” Smith said. “It has resulted in charges against four former Trump associates. Three pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about Russia.”
In the past week, Smith was similarly blunt about ABC’s cancellation of the hit reboot Roseanne after its star, Roseanne Barr, tweeted a racist remark about former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. Barr’s show was initially celebrated by many Fox News viewers because the character she depicted was a supporter of the president.
“Racism is not funny,” Smith said to open his show on the day Barr was fired, “and Roseanne Barr is a racist.”