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ELECTION NIGHT: Shep's got the goods
November 5, 2008  | By Diane Werts
 

It wasn't just Barack Obama marking a generational sea change on election night. As veteran anchors seasoned in the '60s and '70s held forth on most major channels, Shepard Smith was pointing the way toward the future on Fox network news.

shepard smith nader.jpg

The 44-year-old was at the center of two of the most amazing moments I saw while flipping channels during a workday's worth of nighttime election returns.

Smith got personal, but not maudlin, soon after Obama's victory was declared when west coast polls closed at 11 p.m. ET. He quietly noted into the camera that he remembered, as a kid growing up in a Mississippi small town, his parents explaining to him why the local movie theater was burning down -- because black people were forced to sit in the balcony while he could take a seat on the main floor. And now someone who would have been relegated to that balcony was instead becoming president. Smith told this seismic-shift story calmly but with clear emotion, never letting his feelings get the best of succinctly relating a rich anecdote.

An even better moment -- both personally and professionally, and demonstrating beautifully how those aspects can coexist without tripping over each other -- came well after midnight. At an hour the networks were essentially filling time and spinning commentary, Smith was interviewing third-party 1-percenter Ralph Nader -- who made the astounding pronouncement that he was now waiting to see if Obama would become Uncle Sam or Uncle Tom. Smith was clearly appalled by the uncalled-for racial edge to what already seemed a bitter cheap-shot, yet he reacted with the simple human response, "Are you kidding me?" He even asked Nader if he wanted to reconsider the exact words he'd uttered during a live interview, but the legendary consumer advocate and more recent presidential spoiler set his jaw and proudly responded, "Not at all."

Smith smartly cut to commercial before returning to ask his panel of pundits, again calmly but with quite personal puzzlement, "What was that?" He said it the way younger people do, not with overt condemnation or true confusion, but to convey "Geez. Weird. Did that really happen?" Which was the perfect reaction to such an off-the-wall moment from a man seeking to be considered a serious leader. No judgment needed be spoken.

Smith's Fox network work was professional without being impassive, and personal without being gushy -- a bullseye lots of other channels missed by a mile. He also demonstrated that news doesn't have to be sliced and diced into music video snippets to reflect younger tastes and attitudes. (Yes, Current, we mean you.) Where so many of this election's anchors were long-timers taking a last lap -- not that there's anything wrong with that -- it was great to see Smith freshly racing toward the future.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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