At various points on his Fox News program, the anchor Shepard Smith irritated Rush Limbaugh, teased Glenn Beck and grilled Samuel J. Wurzelbacher (a k a Joe the Plumber) over his attacks on President Obama. But it was not until he forcefully confronted the topic of hateful e-mail — some from Fox’s own viewers — that he drew fire over his approach.
On June 10, Mr. Smith was in the middle of three hours of coverage of the killing at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, in which officials identified an elderly anti-Semite as the killer. He then mentioned a prior warning by the Department of Homeland Security about right-wing extremist groups and connected that to the angry e-mail messages he had been receiving.
“When a crazy man has walked into a Holocaust museum and shot the security guard, maybe that’s an appropriate time to warn people: you’ve got a crazy person in your life, keep an eye on him,” he said in an interview in his Manhattan office last week.
“It is the reporting of this news organization that Barack Obama is a citizen and he is not a Muslim,” Mr. Smith said, touching on a subject — Mr. Obama’s birth status — that has animated conspiratorial discussion in conservative circles, from relatively obscure far-right Web sites like Atlas Shrugs all the way up to the loudest mainstream conservative voice, Mr. Limbaugh.
Without specifically addressing Mr. Limbaugh (whom he said he enjoys), Mr. Smith said: “An unreasonable comment to me is beginning with a statement that is contrary to fact and moving on from that premise: ‘Barack Obama is not a citizen; he is a Muslim looking to take down the nation.’ When you begin with that premise, you are out of bounds.”
He said he was trying to counter “an ideological base” that argues: “The president is illegitimate. The country is off the rails. It’s been hijacked.”
Then there was Mr. Smith’s confrontation with Mr. Wurzelbacher. Mr. Smith pressed him on his claim that a vote for Mr. Obama would be a vote for the death of Israel.
“I just want to make this 100 percent perfectly clear,” Mr. Smith said, closing the interview. “Barack Obama has said and demonstrated repeatedly that Israel will always be a friend of the United States, no matter what happens once he becomes president of the United States. His words. The rest of it? Man, some things; it just gets frightening sometimes.”
He also argued against the imprisonment without trial of the terrorism suspect Ali al-Marri, and memorably banged a desk during another debate, saying: “We are America; we don’t torture. And the moment that is not the case, I want off the train.”
These positions have hardly endeared him to the conservative base. Mr. Limbaugh criticized Mr. Smith after the e-mail episode; so did Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs, who called him a “pompous elitist” and said on the site that he should be fired.
Whatever the criticism from outside, Mr. Smith said that, inside Fox, there is no conflict: “Relations in the building are perfect. Roger is 100 percent supportive.” And he said he continues to be “very happy at Fox.”
Like I have said in the past, I will never be a fan of FoxNews, but Shep at least gives them one person who, for the most part, shoots straight.