During a recent conversation with Shepard Smith, just a few days before his CNBC news show premiered last week, a loud crash and boom occurred during our interview. The jarring noise turned out to be a construction snafu nearby, but Smith was unrattled. In fact, the gay journalist was jovial and quick on his feet, not showing any nerves about his highly-anticipated new show and moving from the polarizing, scandal-prone environment of Fox News to the type-A Wall Street energy of CNBC.
Smith seemed to have a weight lifted off his shoulders now that his many years at Fox are behind him. Before he left the network last year, Smith often ran afoul of his employer's corporate coddling of Donald Trump. Not only did he bump heads with his Fox News bosses and colleagues, but the president himself also turned on Smith for simply telling his audience the truth.
With The News With Shepard Smith on CNBC, the anchor is calling the shots, with, ostensibly, no pressure to bend reality to the will of lies. During our conversation, Smith had lots to tell us about the responsibility he felt to the public and his identity as a gay journalist.
The Advocate: Being on CNBC, does the show have a financial focus?
Shepard Smith: Straight up news; we're [doing] general news wherever it happens. The big stories of the day. We're going to seek the truth, find the truth, and tell the truth, and let the chips fall where they may. That's it. That's all I've ever wanted to do.
How has COVID complicated production and reporting?
It's a lot. When I first started talking to my boss we weren't in COVID yet and then COVID hit before I even made a final decision to come here. We didn't know how we were going to do it. Then we realized everybody's using Zoom and then you start hiring and you meet people. So everything has been Zooms and teams and it's how we've gotten to know each other.
But now we have to be at 10 percent in our building, so some of the people who were coming in are now working from home. So at least our group of 25 or so can get to know each other a little bit. So we wear masks and we reconfigured things so everybody is well-distanced. And we still do a lot of meetings on Zoom while we're [in the studio in New Jersey] because we can't be so close together. You can't scream far enough; they can't hear you in a big room.
What about hair and make-up?
Haven't done much of that! [Holds up a foundation compact] This old thing is all I'm doing. But there is hair and make-up; it's amazing what people have been able to figure out how to do.
I walk outside my door in Greenwich Village and there are restaurants in the street and people have just found a way. We can do this if we do it together. The technology is there. We have the people power. We have everything we need. We can beat this and people beat it everyday when they do outdoor dining. And in our hair and makeup room they use throwaway plastic and wash their hands and we're super careful. We just got tested in here. We hold 2,000 and we have less than 200 here. Every single person was negative and that means we're all doing right by each other. It warms my little gay heart.
There is so much going on right now. What is the biggest story right now to you? (This was asked before Trump tested positive for COVID.)
I feel like most everything right now fits into six total buckets. Politics and COVID. The information age and disinformation. Social justice, which finally most people seem to be realizing is a real thing. Income inequality, which is the root of so many of our problems. And climate. Those are the things we're going to focus on and we're putting lots of resources into those categories. We have to understand income inequality is killing us and it's going to get worse. We have to understand social justice has to happen to fulfill what the Founding Fathers said they wanted. And the information age is something we have to understand.
We have a lot of neighbors, nice good people, who are being misinformed with disinformation. And it's changing our world and we have to figure out what to do about it. I don't know the answer but I know we have to talk to the brightest people and the smartest scientists and bring the best information we can so people can have a better life. It's partly on us.
When you were at Fox, you were viewed as one of the few people who valued truth and made an effort to be honest with his or her audience. Is there a future at that network for that kind of journalism?
I was there for a long time and I made friends for life. And I got to be on the frontlines and was able to, in our own little way, write a first draft of history with my colleagues. I'll forever cherish those memories and that experience and it made me a better man. Then I decided to move on.
It's kind of like a marriage. You end a marriage. You're like, dude you're out; we're done. You don't relive it. You don't go back. You made a decision. I have to make a lot of decisions in my role here and when I make them, that's it. I can't go back, so I'm not going back. I'm trying to chart a new course and do what I know is right. And that is seek the truth, find the truth, tell the truth, in context and with perspective. I have a platform of influence, I'm honored to have it, and I have to use it responsibly. We're all in this together. I can't act irresponsibly in a public way when it comes to disseminating information because that's injurious to society and I won't do it.
Has being a gay man ever hindered your journalism career?
No. Life is wonderful being out and gay and proud. I live my truth; it's not very interesting. I have a partner of nine years who I'm madly in love with and who I get to share ups and downs with and who's my rock and who loves my family. I'm so thankful to be in this position. I know even in this woke world, there are plenty of people struggling. Struggling about who they are and what people think of them. If you live your truth, there are no limits. I'm so proud and happy to be part of this loving gay community. It's fantastic.
The News With Shepard Smith airs on CNBC at 7 p.m. Eastern.