After Whoopi Goldberg couldn’t even bring herself to look at Bill O’Reilly last week on The View’s Halloween episode, Fox News today sent their star news anchor, Shep Smith, to talk to the ladies. This was a very wise move. For one thing, Smith doesn’t come across as immediately smarmy. Instead, he presents himself as thoughtful and evenhanded — which is exactly how the network is trying to present all of its news programs. Ever since the network was attacked by the White House for being the “communications arm” of the Republican Party, FNC execs are taking great pains to distinguish what they call “news programs” from what they call “opinion programs.” When Shep turned up — with Yankees gifts for the ladies, aw! — Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s first question was about the White House’s refusal to deal with his network. “It’s not a new thing,” Smith said, reasonably and calmly. “Administrations have been fighting news organizations since time began.” Compare this to when Bill O’Reilly was asked the same question, and he called the White House “dumb” last week.
After that, the ladies played right into his hands, having a conversation that could have literally been written for them by Fox News publicists:
Sherri: Now you’re the No. 1 newscaster over in cable, and you’re not opinion-driven. What do you think about that?
Shep: Well, I mean, I think those who say that are not always telling the truth. I mean, against us in my time slot at seven o’clock is Lou Dobbs, and that’s an opinion show. The other night we had an election. That’s a huge news story. We doubled everybody combined. I think more Americans watched Fox News that night than the other three cable stations combined.
Joy: Why do you think that is?
Shep: They’re coming for the news. I mean, I think that people, through all of this talk, people have come and sampled us, and they’ve said, “They are giving us the news, when say they it’s opinion, it might be right-wing opinion. But when they say it’s the news, it’s the news.” It’s truth in labeling, and I feel good about that.
They let him off at that and continued on with another conversation, even though some FNC shows, like the morning program Fox & Friends, on which anchors read the news and deliver opinion, rather confusingly blur the line he described. But The View did exactly what Fox wanted them to do, as they have no time to futz with nuance (for example, today they also propagated the myth that Goldman Sachs is stealing swine-flu vaccines from your children). Because Shep is so reasonable-seeming compared to his more hysterically oriented colleagues Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity, anything even approaching logic and pleasantness feels like a breath of fresh air.
It’s not new that Fox is plugging Shep in this role, but they’ve amped up their efforts since the kerfuffle with the White House. Why don’t they push their other news personalities on this front, like Megyn Kelly, for example? Because Kelly is a regular guest on O’Reilly’s show, where she vehemently delivers her opinions about news stories. Of all of them, Shep has kept his hands the most clean, for which the network ought to be very thankful these days. We hope when his contract is up in a year, he at least gets a raise out of it.
Update: A Fox News publicist reminds us that another reason that Kelly hasn’t been pushed out on this front is because she’s on maternity leave through January. We’ve seen the hubs, and must admit, that’s going to be one cute baby!