Somehow, while I wasn’t really paying attention, Shepard Smith has turned into someone I adore. This was not always the case. I used to dislike him. Fine, I thought he was a dbag. After all, he works for Fox News, the network that has provoked uncountable eyerolls from me and I’m sure he was responsible for some of those in the past.
However, for some time, I’ve been noticing a change. I’m not the only one. Gawker wrote last month, “These last few months, Fox News anchor Shep Smith has been acting weird. Liberal weird.” One of the first widely discussed clips was his interview with Joe Wurzelbacher, aka “Joe the Plumber,” after which came the thrilling moment when Smith felt the need to add a disclaimer. It was, at the very least, the gesture of a decent man.
Said Smith in Esquire, “I didn’t decide Joe the Plumber was going to go on a tour for John McCain. They decided it. And once they made that decision, then it is my belief as a journalist that he deserves, now, more scrutiny. And one of my senior writers came over to where I sit and said, ‘Joe the Plumber just agreed with a guy that a vote for Barack Obama is a vote for the death of Israel.’ Okay, he needs to be asked why he believes this. Well, he came on and he said it was up to our viewers to find out why it was that he would say such a thing. When a man representing the GOP says what he said and doesn’t know why he said it, or, if he does, won’t let us know, and then tells our audience to go troll the Internet for reasons he might think that, I don’t think it’s the job of a journalist to further that line of thinking.”
More recently and also hilariously, he openly mocked the live feed of Rod Blagojevich’s press conference:
I might fret about this as a statement of Smith’s character, but Blago sucks so who cares?
Anyhoozle, I think the change wasn’t within the last few months, though. I think I can pinpoint it to September 2005. He, like many reporters, went down to Louisiana to cover the arrival of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath. It was his program I was watching at 5AM, as the storm approached. He stood on a balcony in the French Quarter and reported the mostly good news–the storm had weakened. The coast had been battered, but in New Orleans, the damage was less severe than had been feared. Then the levees broke. And he stayed and reported.
Shep Smith is a Mississippi boy, an alumnus of Ole Miss. I don’t doubt he feels the same way about that part of the country as I do and I don’t have to imagine what it felt like for him to be there and witness what went on. I was working at a hotel in Alabama, with a full house of hurricane survivors. As Dr. John later wrote, “People go crazy when you leave them to die.” In simplest terms, what happened hurt.
The romantic notion of journalists expects them to have all the answers, to give us the information. Maybe that’s why his resigned “I don’t know” hits so hard, because it’s so rare to see someone on TV admit they don’t have the answers.
Or maybe it’s as Shep said: “There is no way to explain how horrible the largest national disaster in the history of the United States really is. I’m from there. I understand it…. You don’t get the kind of attention you’d get if it happened in a media center. This is a region and a culture that needs to be preserved, and it needs the attention of the nation. It needs the attention of all of our leaders, socially, politically and otherwise, and it has not gotten it. I don’t think people know to this day what a scar this is to our nation. It’s too big for the television screen.”