- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

NEW YORK — If he weren't a nice guy, Shepard Smith could pierce you like a laser with his eyes. Fortunately, he means no harm. He only wants to command your attention when he's on the air. So, glowing in the key light, his peepers seize you with urgency, concern, amusement, even mischief and you cannot look away.

An anchor who can handle the light in his eyes how else to explain Mr. Smith's success at the Fox News Channel? Unless it's that baritone voice with its mediating Mississippi twang. Or his smooth, game manner.

"I only know one way to deliver the news," he says, which is to say however the news strikes him: "'This is really interesting,' or 'This is really serious,' or 'This is really funny.'"

It serves Mr. Smith well, just as he has served Fox News Channel, emerging as its public face and homegrown star.

Mr. Smith is host of "Fox News Live" weekday afternoons from 2:30 to 4.

Then, from 7 to 8 p.m., he anchors "The Fox Report," a lickety-split newscast that may be unexcelled for story count and velocity.

Whoosh. This mix of hard news and neat stuff (a panda in China has surgery for cataracts) not only beats the cable-news competition at that hour, but, in year-to-date viewers, ranks a robust fourth behind his FNC lead-out, "The O'Reilly Factor"; Cable News Network's "Larry King Live"; and FNC's "Hannity & Colmes."

"The Fox Report," which Mr. Smith has anchored since September 1999, is notable in a more qualitative way: The network's marquee newscast, it also fits seamlessly into FNC's total lineup. Who can say that for CNN's willfully against-the-grain "NewsNight With Aaron Brown" or MSNBC's lame-duck "News With Brian Williams"?


A man in sync with his channel's personality, Mr. Smith soon will carry the flag to FNC's broadcast sister as host of its latest bid for a prime-time newsmagazine.

Even if "The Pulse," premiering on the Fox network July 11, runs no longer than its currently allotted nine weeks, it will introduce more viewers to Mr. Smith, perhaps ushering some to his FNC stronghold.

"Saturday Night Live" viewers were introduced to him in April, with Will Ferrell as Mr. Smith gushing over the Robert Blake murder case: "It's pretty great stuff. We're really excited."

That characterization isn't too far removed from the real Shepard Smith, who insists that treating the news "as something unexciting is to do an injustice to the [TV] medium and to the audience."

Meanwhile, he can recite the Fox News Channel "fair-and-balanced" mantra without sounding too self-righteous.

"I come to the table with no agenda, every single day," he declared during a recent appearance with Brian Lamb on C-SPAN.

Callers on the "Democrats" phone line mostly bashed him and his network for a conservative bias, while Republican callers were full of praise. He handled both sides with equanimity.


Mr. Smith, 38, grew up in tiny Holly Springs, Miss., living "a McDonald's-free childhood" and ignoring Elvis Presley, despite being less than 50 miles from Memphis.

Then Elvis died. Mr. Smith found himself glued to local TV coverage from Graceland. He saw open-ended live remotes with innovative portable equipment. He also saw the future of TV news and himself.

He already had an itch for telling people things. During high school, he was heard on the public-address at local ball games whenever they would let him.

After graduation from the University of Mississippi, where he had majored in broadcast journalism, he wangled a job as a one-man news crew for a Panama City, Fla., TV station. A year later, he headed down the Gulf Coast to a Fort Myers outlet and later on to Orlando.

Then he landed a reporting job at Miami's WSVN-TV, which was famous for its daily seven hours of rock 'em, sock 'em local news.

"Great times," Mr. Smith remembers fondly. "All those live trucks. All those huge stories."

In 1995, he signed on with the Fox-syndicated "A Current Affair." When it was canceled a few months later, Mr. Smith, with more than a year still on his contract, shifted over to the Fox News Service.

At the same time, TV producer and former media consultant Roger Ailes was mounting an unlikely challenge to CNN. When the Manhattan-based Fox News Channel signed on in October 1996, Mr. Smith was part of its reporting team and was as happy as ever being out in the field.

Even so, before long he was pushing for some anchor exposure, which, looking back, he can savor as a smart thing to have done, however flawed his rationale for doing it.

"I didn't know how long the Fox News Channel was gonna last," Mr. Smith explains with a smile. "I figured I needed to get some anchoring on my tape for the next job."

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