MEMBERS ONLY: Is Shepard Smith’s One Man Truth Bomb Enough To Burst the Fox News Bubble?

by Chez Pazienza

Yesterday, during that one-hour-and-fifteen-minute nervous breakdown he called a press conference, Donald Trump singled out Fox News specifically for a presidential plaudit. Specifically, he gave a shout-out — almost literally, since that entire shitshow of a news conference felt like it was shouted — to Fox & Friends, a show that’s given him a regular morning time slot to talk about whatever he feels like for years now. “They’re very honorable people,” he said about the show’s hosts, Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade and the blonde woman. “They have the most honest morning show. That’s all I can say. It’s the most honest.” Trump likes Fox & Friends so much that there’s word today that the notoriously looks-obsessed president is considering tapping Heather Nauert, again, one of the show’s interchangeable blonde hosts, to be his new State Department spokesperson. 

The reason Trump loves Fox & Friends and its hosts — the alternately cackling, condescending, concern trolling ignoramuses that they are — as much as he does is that they represent a “friendly” audience. They never ask much in the way of any of those pesky difficult questions and they can almost certainly be counted on to grovel at Trump’s little feet, seemingly impressed just to have him on the phone. Hell, as with many of Fox News’s most Trump-friendly offerings, the show seems to have a direct line to his brain. A couple of days ago, after Steve Doocy used his forum to publicly scold those behind the White House leaks that have left the Trump administration reeling — “Whatever happened to secrets in Washington?” Doocy lamented — Trump repeated the same talking point nearly word for word on Twitter. That’s how it goes: from Fox News’s lips to Trump’s Twitter feed.

In a press conference where Trump spent a good portion of the time airing his various inane grievances against the press — namely that it insists on holding him accountable for, you know, lying constantly — you had to wonder whether, unvarnished by propaganda and spin, the Fox News crowd was watching and wondering the same thing the rest of us were: whether the man they’d elected to the White House had lost his fucking mind. Trump was sincerely about one missing, nonexistent strawberry away from twirling ball bearings in his hand, and to see his performance as anything other than a nearly unfathomable exercise in beavershit lunacy required a knack for self-delusion even Trump himself might not possess. But if you took to Twitter, you’d realize that there were still plenty of people out there who ate it all up — who saw what we saw and thought it was Trump bringing it to the dishonest media, (tiny) fists blazing.

And I guarantee you that most of the people who said that kind of thing — who actually believed that — were loyal Fox News viewers. 

That’s the thing, see — the thing about Fox News viewers. They’re fiercely loyal. They’re loyal because rather than wanting the truth, they in fact only want their worldview confirmed at all times and Fox News is more than happy to provide them the warm blanket of 24/7 confirmation bias. So what, then, to make of Shepard Smith, often characterized as the one and only honest man on the air at FNC? Yesterday, in the wake of the Trump presser, Shep went on the warpath against what he’d just seen, lashing out at Trump’s own lashing out at CNN and its long-suffering White House reporter, Jim Acosta — and he didn’t pull a single punch. “Jim Acosta over there from CNN, an accomplished reporter, a guy I’ve never met, but a good reporter. (Trump is) treating him like he’s — I’m not even going to use the word, I’m not going to give Twitter the love it needs. It’s crazy what we’re watching every day. It’s absolutely crazy,” Shep said. “He keeps repeating ridiculous throwaway lines that are not true at all and sort of avoiding this issue of Russia as if we’re some kind of fools for asking the question. Really?”   

As with most of us, the Russia connections scandal is something he wants to see investigated thoroughly, but Shep also, obviously, approaches it from the perspective of an actual journalist (rather than a dutiful cheerleader, what so many others at Fox News have been for Trump). Put simply, he won’t be deterred by someone in a position of power telling him that something is actually nothing. “Your opposition was hacked, and the Russians were responsible for it, and your people were on the phone with Russia on the same day it was happening, and we’re fools for asking the questions? No sir. We are not fools for asking this question. We demand to know the answer to his question. You owe this to the American people,” he thundered. “Your supporters will support you either way. If your people were on the phone with (them), what were they saying? We have a right to know. We absolutely do, and that you call us ‘fake news’ and put us down like children for asking these questions on behalf of the American people is inconsequential. The people deserve that answer, at very least.”

It was, even for Shep — who, again, is often cited by decent people on both sides of the political aisle as Fox News’s conscience, its sole voice of reason — a kind of indignation very few of us have seen before. And yet it was so simple. He called Trump’s press conference “crazy,” which it absolutely was by any reasonable measure. Nothing about what Shep said should’ve been considered seismic, but on a network like Fox News, a network in which every insane moment of the Trump presidency so far has been whitewashed and recast as the first giant steps of a president who gets things done, it felt seismic. The question, then, is, is it enough? Is a moment of clarity like the one Shepard Smith delivered in bombshell form yesterday enough to burst, even for a few minutes, the seemingly impenetrable bubble that surrounds the Fox News audience. Can the truth, even a tiny helping of it, help to erode the Fox News-fed fantasy that its 100% loyalists have lived and breathed for weeks into months about Trump? 

The easy answer is, probably no. While responsible outlets, the ones who see Trump for who he is — a dangerously crazy person — are expressing shock over Shep’s comments and wondering whether his statement yesterday represents the first cracks in Fox News’s pro-Trump armor, the reality likely isn’t anything so welcome. Shep considered Roger Ailes a kind of mentor and while Ailes was in power, he knew his job was safe. It remains to be seen how safe that job continues to be, but there’s no reason to believe that, despite his habit of going against the Fox News grain, the network’s management will let him go. (Although, given the thin skin of Trump, if a phone call were made from the White House complaining about the lack of support from Shep, who knows.) But just because he has a place at the network doesn’t mean that network stalwarts are listening. When Megyn Kelly up and left for greener pastures at NBC last month, the response online — both on Twitter and on Fox News’s own social media pages — was largely “good riddance for not getting with the program.” 

At least a few of those responses followed up their kiss-off with something to the effect of, “Now all we need is for Shepard Smith to go.” 

But Fox News is a bubble. It’s dangerous precisely because the people who watch it don’t watch anything else because they’ve been brainwashed by the network and by the conservative entertainment complex in general not to trust anything else. Fox News and talk radio — and now InfoWars and Breitbart — are where the truth is, so it’s where you should be too at all times. Watch enough Fox News — and only Fox News — and you’ll start to see the world in an entirely different way. Their way. So, in that respect, a bomb detonated within the Fox News bubble might in some small way have an impact. There’s no doubt that what Shep often does there, certainly what he did yesterday, is ballsy as hell given how strident his bosses are about the overall politics of their propaganda machine. Since the dawn of the Trump era, acts of defiance like what Shep pulled on Thursday, feel like truly monumental moments. Are they truly impactful, though? No one can be sure.

But if even a few of the people who’ve been pulled under by Fox News somehow burst to the surface for air again because of what Shep did, then it’s worth it. We’re all entitled to our different opinions — though not our own facts — but it’s not an opinion at all to admit that what we witnessed from Trump yesterday and what we’ve seen so far throughout his presidency is not normal. And there isn’t a damn thing wrong with a journalist saying as much. Although, as even Shep noted, very likely his supporters will support him either way. And besides, while Shep may have called out Trump on Fox News yesterday afternoon, never forget that by nightfall on the same network, Sean Hannity was basically blowing Trump for an hour.