Smith does spout strong opinions throughout the day, but they tend to be directed at LSU – the rival of his alma mater, Ole Miss – or at the Red Sox, eternal foes of his beloved New York Yankees. Trash talk comes with the territory; in the main newsroom at Fox News’s Sixth Avenue headquarters, a fan on his desk bears the brand name “Boston,’’ and underneath it, Smith has scrawled the word “Sucks.’’
But Smith’s on-air role is more complex, and the e-mail speaks to its delicate nature. This is a moment of unmatched prominence for the 45-year-old, who is on track to have his best year ever in the ratings. His two hours of live TV every day – “Studio B’’ and the 7 p.m. “Fox Report’’ – both draw more viewers than their CNN and MSNBC competition combined. (“Fox Report,’’ the network’s flagship newscast, was up 39 percent in June from a year ago, with 1.8 million viewers.) Smith is the most prominent anchor on a network that is poised to see its best ratings year ever, with a 50 percent increase in viewers this past quarter for its primetime lineup of conservative hosts. The Obama administration, it seems, is a very good thing for Fox.
But if his network is the voice of opposition, then Smith is the noted exception, a newsman who sometimes draws serious ire from the Fox News conservative base. Earlier this summer, Smith – already known for challenging right-wing talking points from time to time – referred to a controversial report about right-wing extremist groups and complained about some “frightening’’ anti-Obama e-mails sent to the network. Rush Limbaugh responded by mocking Smith on the radio, and some prominent right-wing bloggers said he should be fired. (Smith seems safe, having signed a contract in 2007 for a reported $7 million per year for just over three years.)