The Fox News anchor did something extraordinary on Monday for his channel: He told the truth about a migrant caravan from Central America that’s headed for the U.S. border. Smith’s colleagues and the Trump administration have fear-mongered about the caravan in an apparent bid to gin up nativist anger among the Republican base ahead of the midterm elections. “There is no invasion,” Smith told viewers. “No one is coming to get you. There is nothing at all to worry about.”
Smith’s remarks immediately won praise among Trump’s critics.
Smith does this with some regularity. In January, he refuted Trump’s assertion that the Russia scandal is a “Democrat hoax.” The next month, he reported that Trump had never condemned Russian electoral interference. Just last week, he offered a defense of mainstream journalists, many of whom are often denigrated by his coworkers. Smith implicitly criticize his colleagues so often that Sean Hannity said the anchor is “clueless about what we do today.”
It’s tempting to cast Smith as a lone voice of reason in the right-wing media wilderness. But his efforts to enlighten Fox viewers don’t appear to have any practical effect; the rest of the network’s programming drowns out whatever message he means to convey. If anything, he provides a measure of institutional cover, giving Fox the appearance of being a responsible media outlet.
To the extent that Fox News produces legitimate journalism, the practical impact is meager compared to the network’s far more prominent opinion programming. Fox’ talking heads always trended conservative, to liberals’ consternation. But in the Trump era, the lineup has taken an increasingly toxic turn: Hannity regularly dabbles in conspiracy theories about the supposed deep state, while Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson have espoused white-nationalist talking points. Maybe the boldest act of journalism truth-telling would be for Smith to tell his viewers he’s quitting.