The line, “With friends like these, who needs enemies” has been credited to the late comedian Joey Adams, but it might as well be the new tagline for life inside Fox News, where the schizophrenic nature of a schedule that mixes news and opinions has resulted in the bumping of some high profile heads this week.
The latest flare-up between the “frenemies” was triggered when news anchor Shepard Smith signed a new long-term contract to remain at Fox, despite rumors that he might be leaving the network he first joined when it was founded in 1996.
Smith gave an interview to Time Magazine in which he said “some of our opinion programming is there strictly to be entertaining. I get that.”
By opinion programming, Smith is referring to Fox News’ primetime propaganda programming featuring Tucker Carlson at eight, Sean Hannity at nine and Laura Ingraham at ten.
“I don’t work there,” continued Smith. “I wouldn’t work there. I don’t want to sit around and yet at each other and talk about your philosophy and my philosophy. that sounds horrible to me.”
What Smith had to say sounded horrible to some of the hosts of those opinion programs.
Always liked Shep, but his comments were inconsiderate & inaccurate. The hard working team at the Ingraham Angle does real reporting, develops impt sources and scores big interviews. Very proud of them. https://t.co/3aR1EHAK3Z
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) March 16, 2018
Hannity, a proud non-journalist who openly served as a counselor to Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign while frequently having the then-candidate on his show, and who since the election has been a constant Trump cheerleader, took offense to the idea he does not break news stories regularly. He called Smith “clueless” about what he does:
While Shep is a friend with political views I do not share, and great at breaking news, he is clueless about what we do every day. Hannity breaks news daily-Warrant on a Trump assoc, the unmasking scandal, leaking intel, Fisa abuse, HRC lawbreaking, dossier and more REAL NEWS! 9p https://t.co/zJpnnyFTtP
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) March 16, 2018
The family values conservatives probably don’t spend a lot of time socializing with their gay colleague who thinks they are just there to tell people what they want to hear.
Ironically, not even Hannity thinks that Hannity is a journalist.
I'm not a journalist jackass. I'm a talk host. https://t.co/fj1ZCsAEL4
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) October 26, 2016
In the Time story, Smith said he understood why this made him unpopular in some quarters.
“It depends on what you’re looking for,” Smith told Time. “Are you looking for news and information so that you can make decisions about your life and your family? Or are you looking for your worldview to be confirmed?”
“For that second kind of viewer,” added Smith, “when the facts fly in the face of your worldview, that can be unsettling. Sometimes, then, they don’t like me.”
It is unlikely that when Smith when he calls Hannity and the others out for getting things wrong – as he did in November 2017 when, as Time put it, “Smith briskly and effectively debunked the ‘Uranium One’ conspiracy theory, a particular bugbear of Hannity’s” – they are thinking of him as a friend.
After being called out for the “Uranium One” story, Hannity has even called Smith “anti-Trump,” which in his worldview is a serious crime.
— CNN International (@cnni) March 16, 2018
This schism comes at a time Fox News is still recovering from a series of sex scandals that saw the ouster of the cable network’s founder and guiding force, the late Roger Ailes, as well as numerous other top executives like Bill O’Reilly and Bill Shyne.
More recently, the highly profitable cable news unit of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox has seen serious rating challenges from MSNBC and others as the opinion sides’ often irrational love of Trump has made them look like desperate shills even to some longtime viewers.
Fox News rose to rating heights by being a network that told an older, conservative, mostly white audience what it wanted to hear – that the world was going to hell and it was the fault of the liberals, hippies, blacks, and everything else that angered them.
Now that their favorite boogeyman, Barack Obama, has been replaced by a Republican administration wracked by scandals, investigations and frequent staff changes, it is harder to keep a straight face as Hannity and the others come up with new stories to cover for Trump’s chaotic style and frequent lies.
That is why Rachel Maddow on MSNBC often beats Hannity in the ratings, and late-night hosts like Stephen Colbert have seen huge audience increases as Fox News struggles to keep its once loyal viewers tuning in to hear the latest lame excuses for Trump.
So Smith remains a mainstay on Fox News, but it is Hannity and the opinion pushers who have the electronic drug that made the network a ratings powerhouse, and as Trump continues to slide into decline, their ratings are likely to continue to follow.
That will make it even harder for them all to pretend they are friends.