Shepard Smith came to Fox News at the beginning, when the network launched in 1996. That's when Smith prefers to show up to cover big stories as well, famously reporting from New Orleans during the worst of Hurricane Katrina, witnessing the execution of Timothy McVeigh and, most recently, taking up residence in the Middle East. Before heading to Beirut, Smith—long regarded as the face of Fox News—spoke to B&C's John M. Higgins about the necessity, and the limits, of covering the world's most combustible events.
How long will American viewers be interested in the recent terror plot story in the U.K.?
[Not very long]. The foiling of a terror plot, as we would put it, probably has shorter legs than a terror plot itself. That's a harsh reality. Today, at least, we've been concentrating on what appears to be a security system that worked and intelligence-gathering that was successful.
How long have you been in Israel and Lebanon?
Since mid July. They pulled me back for a few days, though I didn't stop covering it. Before I left, the Israelis were saying they had decimated 90% of Hezbollah's infrastructure and it seemed that this thing was winding its way to a resolution. Now we seem to be at this sort of grounding point on a history book yet to be written.
What is your sense of American audiences' appetite for foreign news?
People understand how terror, or the threat of it, is now a part of our lives. They understand that moms and children sit in a basement in two countries. Lebanon may resonate in a way it seems Iraq doesn't because this we're actually covering. You go to a young girl's funeral who was killed in this war; you go to a soldier's funeral; you see wounded coming back across the border.
In Iraq, we don't see any of that. We don't see young fighters coming home with a flag draped over their coffins. I think that's a respect that we owe a young man or woman who gave his life or her life in service of our country. And I wish I could show it.
What was your reaction to London?
It sounds to me in the early going like a terrific triumph of security over a horrible plot of terror. Just as reporting always is less clear in the early days, I should wait for a while and keep trying to gather facts on the thing. It sounds like they stopped a bunch of people from dying, and what's better than that? Now there's a new story to cover: How long can we go without toothpaste and shampoo carried on the plane? And without a laptop on there? [Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff said that it's a temporary measure. Is it temporary in that at some point those things will no longer be a threat to us?
For American audiences, the question isn't “When will the next Katrina hurricane come,” but “When will the next Mel Gibson-type story force its way into the top news slot.” That's what you're coming back to: Lindsay Lohan.
Ugh. Yeah. Those Mel Gibson moments come along. When you're in a 24/7, 365-day cycle, there are time slots that have to be filled, and sometimes there's news and sometimes there isn't. What we're trying to do is cover the news that matters. That's what I try to do every day and give you a little candy along the way. Not everything in our lives is deadly serious, but a lot of things in our lives right now seem to be.
Fox Chairman Roger Ailes is worried about Fox News' falling ratings, and he complains some staffers aren't on their game. What's your take on that?
Roger is one who always wants us to be better. We're a lean machine that relies on quick-thinking, fast-acting, hard-working folks. They've said from the very beginning: We will never be the biggest, but we'll always be the best. The day we get fat and happy and use money and resources over good thinking and smart acting, then we'll lose, and I don't ever want to be in that position.