I've been putting off writing something like this for a very long time. True, for quite a while I've kept a running tab of his scathing, subversive and generally balls-out brilliant comments -- the ones that have gotten him justifiably tagged as the lone voice of reason at his place of work -- but never have I come right out and written a full-fledged paean to Shepard Smith. The reason for this is that I feel strange doing it because Shep isn't simply somebody I watch on TV and whose work I admire from afar -- he's someone I know very well. I came up through the ranks with Shep at WSVN in Miami almost 20 years ago; he and I moved to Los Angeles roughly around the same time soon after and we played poker and drank beer on the weekends; I saw him as recently as last year at a party on South Beach. He's a good guy -- a great guy, actually -- and he's been a terrific friend. That's probably why I get even more satisfaction than the average person every time Shep opens his mouth and launches a spitball made of nitro glycerin into the well-oiled machinery of his employer, Fox News.
The latest example of Shep playing the endlessly entertaining role of Loki, the God of Chaos, over at Fox comes to us just this week -- a couple of days ago, in fact. During a segment on his afternoon show, Studio B, Shep mentioned, apropos of nothing, that Wednesday was "national badminton day," but he then went on to say, "Let's forget National Day of Intolerance; let's just stay with badminton," an obvious reference to the resentful, right-wing ridiculousness that was "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day." That Shep took a swipe at an event that was surely dear to the enlarged hearts of Fox's audience of white, bitter middle-American Christians was amusing enough -- but when you throw in the fact that the day-long pledge of allegiance to Jesus's favorite chicken sandwich was the brainchild of Mike Huckabee, who happens to also be a host on Fox News, you've got a moment of truly glorious on-air insurrection. Thing is, it's exactly the kind of behavior we've come to expect from Shep.
For the past several years, Shep's been building to the point he's at now -- one where he's perfectly secure in his position and knows damn well he can say whatever he wants and get away with it. You can see the sense of liberation all over his face; it's written in the mischievous smirk that's become his trademark. Whether it's mustering up just the correct amount of flippant disrespect or righteous indignation and bucking the Fox News group-think or playfully and hilariously derailing a conversation he finds tedious by throwing out a totally bizarre non-sequitur -- "It'll make you crazy, the V... You guys watch True Blood?" -- Shep injects either the necessary amount of sanity or just the right amount of insanity to the proceedings, always highlighting just how crazy things regularly are at Fox News.
People aware that I've known Shep for years always want to know whether he's purposely trying to get himself fired or something, and when asked I always respond the same way: Shepard Smith is too good for Fox News to get rid of; he knows it and they know it. Without giving away any state secrets -- and these opinions are entirely my own and in no way reflect Shep's thinking -- I get the impression that Roger Alies appreciates both Shep's candor and, from a business perspective, the fact that he allows Fox News to continue to promote itself as being inclusive of all points-of-view. To everyone else, Shep comes off as the only reasonable person on-air at Fox News, but to Fox's management he's their silver bullet against those same people, the ones who desperately want to claim that everything on the network is right-wing propaganda.
Regardless, Shep seems to be getting more and more confident -- and it's manifesting itself in all kinds of wonderful ways. He continues to exercise his bulletproof-ness with giddy abandon. Not since Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau have we witnessed somebody so thoroughly throwing off the yoke of the people paying him and just deciding to do whatever the hell he wants. At this rate, by next week Shep will either be doing the news in white makeup, with a lampshade on his head and a midget chained to him, or he'll just stand up, unzip his pants and begin urinating on Andrew Napolitano during an interview segment.
He's like a fully grown Ferris Bueller over there.
And cable news is all the better for his wit, his smarts, and his willingness to not worry about the consequences of misbehaving.