Fox News Channel anchor Shepard Smith's reports on the government's failed response to Hurricane Katrina were a career-defining moment back in 2005. And he's still getting his boots muddy on behalf of natural disaster victims. On Monday he's taking his shows Studio B (3/2c) and The Fox Report (7/6c) to Seaside Heights, N.J., where Hurricane Sandy damaged 60 percent of the homes. Both programs will assess the cleanup and rebuilding efforts six months after the storm. The Biz checked in with the Holly Springs, Mississippi, native before he left and learned about his love for the Brooklyn Nets, his disdain for Twitter and why you'll never see him become a commentator.
TV Guide Magazine: Why is it the right time to report from the Jersey Shore?
Shepard Smith: It's springtime. The summer season is coming. We've had Rick Leventhal and other correspondents down there and on the New York coast all along. I wish the storms that hit the south end of Mississippi had gotten this kind of coverage in the months afterward. They didn't. But I'm glad we're covering this. One of our jobs is that when [government officials and insurance companies] make promises, we're supposed to find out that they kept them. We're trying to point out what's working and what's not working.
TV Guide Magazine: Politics and opinion have really become the major audience attraction for cable news. You're not a commentator and you don't have a passion for politics.
Smith: I don't.
TV Guide Magazine: Does that make it harder to get noticed in this current landscape?
Smith: I'm not trying to get noticed in this landscape. I've been doing this for 25 years. I only want to find out what's happening, get it right, add context and perspective and tell people about it. Extreme partisan bickering on one side or another are destructive to our society. I don't enjoy it. I won't participate in it.
TV Guide Magazine: Whenever you give an opinion on the air, which isn't often, you do get a lot of notice for it. Does it ever make you think you'd like to do a show where you could do commentary?
Smith: No. Not interested. I've enjoyed doing what I'm doing now... I know now the value of it is diluted because there are so many different ways you can seek the facts. I hope I've built a relationship with viewers that let's them know if nothing else, at very minimum I'm trying to get it exactly right.
TV Guide Magazine: During your coverage of the papal conclave, you challenged Fox News commentator Father Jonathan Morris over the issue of women being excluded from the priesthood. What kind of e-mail from viewers do you get after an exchange like that?
Smith: I don't read it. To me that wasn't a matter of opinion. Society has evolved on many different issues over time. One of them is women in leadership, a good thing. There are women in leadership all over the hierarchy of the Catholic Church except at the very top level. All I asked was, 'how do you explain that the Catholic Church discriminates against women in that way?' By definition of the word, that's what it is... a lot of Catholics and very good Catholics will tell you, 'it concerns me that our church discriminates against women.' To suggest that shouldn't be part of the conversation at a period when we've had the first pope resign in 600 years is a little naïve.
TV Guide Magazine: Have you read the new book about Fox News chairman Roger Ailes?
Smith: No. But I read the clips. I know I'm in it. I've just been really busy. I will read it.
TV Guide Magazine: Are you the only news anchor who isn't on Twitter or can I just not find you?
Smith: I'm not there. I don't want to be on there. I have a television program and I have a radio newscast. If you want to know what I'm reporting you're welcome to come to the Fox News Channel and hear it and see it. I don't think anybody cares at all about my pictures from the weekend or what I think about what LeBron James just did. People are going to wake up in 20 years and the record of them is going to be from Twitter and Facebook and they're going to wish it weren't. What happened to communicating with each other face to face? What happened to sitting down with each other and telling stories? I sound like a grandparent, but I really enjoy those things.
TV Guide Magazine: I know you love University of Mississippi football and New York Yankees baseball. But how does a guy from Mississippi become a Brooklyn Nets fan?
Smith: I tried to watch the Knicks but I can't stand the Dolans [owners of Madison Square Garden and the Knicks]. It's been an exercise in futility since Patrick Ewing was gone. When the Nets came to Brooklyn and built the Barclays Center in this multi-cultural, diverse, amazing borough and Jay-Z and the Russian [Mikhail Prokhorov] are in charge of it — I wanted to be a fan from day one. I love the Barclays Center. I love the food. I love that the cheerleaders are Brooklyn girls. I like every damn thing about it.
TV Guide Magazine: You're current contract is up at the end of the year. Are you going to extend soon or play out the season and test the free agent waters?
Smith: I love it at Fox News. I love working for Roger Ailes. I want to do what's best for everybody involved. Roger and I are really close and I admire him infinitely. I don't know. We haven't had contract talks yet. We've been busy. If we just keep doing our job everything will be fine. I don't approach them. They approach me. We'll see what happens.