Monday's New York Times Business section contained a favorable Bill Carter profile of Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, "Fox News Anchor Draws Ratings, and Ire of Conservative Critics." This marks the only positive view of Fox News I've seen in the Times, if only because Smith is portrayed as a brave, lonely counterpoint to the network's conservative orthodoxy.
Carter predictably portrayed Smith, host of the evening show "The Fox Report," as a lone balanced journalist under siege from hateful, conspiratorial conservatives, and traced his higher profile to statements he made on air during coverage of the Holocaust Museum shooting, without questioning their validity.
On Monday he wrote:
At various points on his Fox News program, the anchor Shepard Smith irritated Rush Limbaugh, teased Glenn Beck and grilled Samuel J. Wurzelbacher (a k a Joe the Plumber) over his attacks on President Obama. But it was not until he forcefully confronted the topic of hateful e-mail -- some from Fox's own viewers -- that he drew fire over his approach.
On June 10, Mr. Smith was in the middle of three hours of coverage of the killing at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, in which officials identified an elderly anti-Semite as the killer. He then mentioned a prior warning by the Department of Homeland Security about right-wing extremist groups and connected that to the angry e-mail messages he had been receiving.
"When a crazy man has walked into a Holocaust museum and shot the security guard, maybe that's an appropriate time to warn people: you've got a crazy person in your life, keep an eye on him," he said in an interview in his Manhattan office last week.
Mr. Smith said he fully anticipated one result of those comments: the nasty e-mail increased.
"Thousands of them," Mr. Smith said. "And I know they don't mean the things they say. I know they don't hate me and want death on my family."
There's no excuse for death wishes, but prominent conservatives like Jonah Goldberg, Michelle Malkin, and Ann Coulter get this kind of hateful email all the time from compassionate liberals, but don't get sympathetic treatment in the Times.
After recognizing Smith's high ratings (one of the few occasions the Times has actually recognizes Fox's high ratings with approval), Carter asked rhetorically:
So why do some Fox viewers believe he does not belong? Maybe because Mr. Smith has established a record that seems antithetical to the image Fox has earned as a purveyor of conservative orthodoxy. He is the "voice of the opposition on some issues," according to Bill Shine, Fox's senior vice president for programming.
The liberal site Media Matters, a watchdog group that often zeroes in on Fox, seems nonplused by its leading anchorman's apparent break from orthodoxy.
And either reporter Carter or host Smith are operating under the mistaken impression that conservative host Rush Limbaugh is a major driver of the conspiracy theory about Obama being born overseas and/or being a Muslim.
Antipathy toward the Obama administration is certainly not hard to locate on Fox, especially on the network's highly rated evening programs. The president himself said of Fox News last week, "You'd be hard pressed if you watched the entire day to find a positive story about me."
He may not be catching Mr. Smith's newscasts. The anchor has taken an unwavering stand against what he calls the "fantasy land" that some critics of Mr. Obama live in.
"It is the reporting of this news organization that Barack Obama is a citizen and he is not a Muslim," Mr. Smith said, touching on a subject -- Mr. Obama's birth status -- that has animated conspiratorial discussion in conservative circles, from relatively obscure far-right Web sites like Atlas Shrugs all the way up to the loudest mainstream conservative voice, Mr. Limbaugh.
Without specifically addressing Mr. Limbaugh (whom he said he enjoys), Mr. Smith said: "An unreasonable comment to me is beginning with a statement that is contrary to fact and moving on from that premise: ‘Barack Obama is not a citizen; he is a Muslim looking to take down the nation.' When you begin with that premise, you are out of bounds."
Carter provided another clue as to how Smith became so admired among liberals:
He also argued against the imprisonment without trial of the terrorism suspect Ali al-Marri, and memorably banged a desk during another debate, saying: "We are America; we don't torture. And the moment that is not the case, I want off the train."
These positions have hardly endeared him to the conservative base. Mr. Limbaugh criticized Mr. Smith after the e-mail episode; so did Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs, who called him a "pompous elitist" and said on the site that he should be fired.