Ever since Megyn Kelly left Fox, there haven’t been many big-name anchors on the network ready and willing to be critical of the current administration. Enter popular host, Shepard Smith, who’s begun setting himself apart by frequently criticizing President Trump and his administration. These critiques haven’t gone unnoticed by Fox’s viewer base.
Smith’s recent broadcasts have resulted in firestorm of angry tweets, emails, and calls from viewers. As Smith was calling for Trump to release his tax returns and telling the President to stop complaining about leaks in his administration, people on Twitter were calling for Smith’s job.
This back and forth is a major facet of today’s contentious, partisan consumer news environment. Networks have taken sides, building a consumer base rather than an audience of viewers interested in getting news. These viewers behave predictably, allowing producers to create responses and direct them as they see fit. Typically, that involves bringing in one commentator the fan base won’t like and then creating a scenario that puts this “guest” at a disadvantage.
But, when that anchor breaks with the script, it creates a situation which many fans will not tolerate. That was at least part of why Megyn Kelly left Fox, and why many at Fox don’t stray from the party line. Smith is a long-timer at Fox; he’s been with the network since 1996, and this dynamic can create a ratings bonanza for Fox, as people tune in both to love and hate on him. There are always those calling for his job, but, at present, Fox — and Smith — are content these folks are still watching.
Someone on the network has to play the adversarial role, and Smith seems content to take his lumps and be That Guy, especially now that Kelly is no longer with the network. This actually opens up a slot for Smith to grow his brand. On a network with Hannity and O’Reilly, a moderate like Smith stands out, allowing him to get more attention than he might otherwise.
Smith set the tone early in the year, publicly defending CNN’s Jim Acosta, after Acosta was slammed by Trump during a press conference. Smith was unflinching in his critique, saying no journalist should be “subjected to belittling and delegitimizing by the President-elect of the United States…” And that set the ball rolling, creating yet another predictable call and response dynamic for Smith and his producers. It will be interesting to see what he does next.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO of New York based 5WPR, and one of America’s leading public relations executives.