Fox News' Shepard Smith Explains What's 'Right' About His Network (Q&A)
After 10 years on top of MSNBC and CNN, the anchor tells THR his reporting never has a conservative slant -- it's just bankrolled by Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly's commentary.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Today marks 10 years that the Fox News Channel has been No. 1 in cable news. Bill O’Reilly may be its face of opinion broadcasting, but the host of The Fox Report With Shepard Smith and Studio B With Shepard Smith has become its face for hard news. Smith, who has worked for Fox News since its launch in 1996, spoke -- reluctantly, as it turns out -- to The Hollywood Reporter’s Paul Bond.
The Hollywood Reporter: What was it like in those early days at Fox News?
Shepard Smith: It was lame and confusing. And, thankfully, not a lot of people were watching, because we were practicing on air. It took a while, but we figured it out.
THR: You usually show up in polls as one of the most trusted journalists. Why?
Smith: I try to get it right. When I don’t, I am duty bound to correct it immediately and in the same placement in the newscast, and to apologize for it. When I make an error, it’s a very bad day in my house.
THR: What’s the most interesting story you’ve covered there so far?
Smith: I like stories that affect families. I once chased a roof scammer in Orlando who pretended that old ladies’ roofs needed a $200 fix, then he’d realize that there was a $3,000 problem and scam em out of a bunch of money. Interviewing politicians and movie stars, you know what you’ll get. I like the people-stories better.
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THR: Why has Fox dominated for 10 years?
Smith: We don’t pretend it’s not interesting; we don’t take ourselves too seriously; we have a vibrant screen and a lot of attitude. And, in large part, we have people from regular places who had regular lives who ended up in Roger Ailes’ world. I’m not a liberal elite who was educated in the northeast, for example, I’m just a kid from Mississippi.
THR: Sounds easy. So what are MSNBC and CNN doing wrong?
Smith: Well, if I knew that, I wouldn’t tell you. But I don’t think they care to hear from me. Everybody has a different plan, and ours is to have a bunch of opinion programming that makes a bunch of money so that our journalists can spend it gathering information.
THR: You watched the execution of Timothy McVeigh. What was that like?
Smith: Very organized and clinical. People who are upset about capital punishment because it’s cruel and inhumane would think otherwise, and people who are for capital punishment because these people need to die the way their victims did, these people would be disappointed, too.
THR: And which side of that debate are you on?
Smith: I’m on the side of gathering information and trying to report it without bias. It’s not to say I don’t have an opinion on things, but to clutter the area with them would be counterproductive. We have a house full of people who do opinion around here. My job is to not do opinion, so I don’t.
THR: Does Fox lean right?
Smith: Our opinion programming does. Look at Sean Hannity. He’s a conservative pundit, but that’s how we label him. That’s not a bad thing. The facts are the facts, and we’ll report what they are. But Hannity will figure out a spin on anything. That’s his job. Go, Sean, go!
THR: Do you personally lean right or left?
Smith: My mother doesn’t know the answer to that question, so I’m certainly not going to tell The Hollywood Reporter.
THR: You Serious? Your own mother doesn’t know?
Smith: She has no idea. No one in my family knows who I voted for – ever! You can’t be in a place like this and talk about your own politics publicly. People will say, ‘oh, he’s a left-wing nut,’ or, ‘oh, he’s a right-wing crazy.’ Let em say it. They’re much more interested in this left and right thing than I am.
THR: How about your ex-wife? She know your politics?
Smith: Ain’t no way.
THR: Rush Limbaugh and Dennis Prager said on their radio shows that news reporters who dig up personal skeletons on politicians, as they did with Newt Gingrich, should be similarly scrutinized, since they wield just as much influence.
Smith: Oh, that’s silly. I’m not running for anything. It’s important for someone who is running as a values candidate to have that sort of information out there.
THR: So then you covered the John Edwards scandal as much as you did the Gingrich scandal?
Smith: John Edwards whose wife was dying of cancer while he was having a love-child with Rielle Hunter? Absolutely!
THR: Critics say Fox News didn’t cover the News of the World hacking scandal sufficiently.
Smith: I’m sure they would. I was horrified by the scandal. Everyone I know was horrified. Mr. Murdoch has said he was.
THR: Even though it didn’t happen there, did that scandal dent the reputation of Fox News
Smith: There are 58,000 employees in this company. Some bad people did bad things. It’s being handled, to my understanding. No one from Fox News has ever been accused of anything remotely like that.
THR: Some Fox shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy make fun of Fox News. That bother you?
Smith: I don’t care. Look, when you skyrocket to the top, when you overtake a category leader for the first time in the history of cable news, when you dominate to the point you beat all of the competition combined, then you’re on the top of the hill above the tree line and open to incoming fire, just as the boss said we’d be 11 years ago.
THR: Some of my liberal friends in Hollywood think your boss -- Roger Ailes -- is the devil. Is he?
Smith: Roger Ailes is like my second father. He’s one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. I respect and admire him infinitely. If they knew him the way I know him they’d feel differently. I love him.
THR: Does he ever complain about something you’ve done on air?
Smith: He’s a master communicator and a genius producer, so I’m always excited to get advice from him. But our conversations are more about me as an individual than what’s on air. He can see the air – he watches it all the time. If he misses a moment of TV in a day, I don’t know about it.
THR: You said you don’t like to give your political opinions in public. But in a clip of The Strategy Room that’s all over the Internet you give your opinion that America shouldn’t torture terrorists for information.
Smith: That America doesn’t torture isn’t an opinion, it’s the law.
THR: It’s opinion whether-water boarding is the same as torture.
Smith: I didn’t offer an opinion on that. Check it out.
THR: I will again. You miss Glenn Beck?
THR: What’s the biggest mistake you made on air?
Smith: We all make mistakes.
THR: No anecdotes?
Smith: Can’t think of any.
THR: There was a clip of you in Fahrenheit 9/11. You a fan of Michael Moore?
Smith: I don’t know. I didn’t see it.
THR: You always this guarded in an interview?
Smith: No, man. I’m always open.
THR: Should I ask you anything else?