A week after longtime Fox News anchor Shepard Smith unexpectedly announced his resignation from the cable network, he returned to the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media to speak to students about truth and lies.
Last week, Smith left Fox viewers with a final thought: “Even in our current, polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day, that the truth will always matter, that journalism and journalists will thrive.”
On Friday, he elaborated, telling students he understands why it has become difficult for some to distinguish between truth and lies, but he said history will reveal the liars and truth-tellers.
“I’ve been doing this since long before any of you were born,” he said. “So there is a body of work there. I am not proud of all of it, but I’m positive I never lied.”
Smith said he learned that truth is the foundation of journalism while pursuing his degree in journalism at UM. He also emphasized the importance of admitting and correcting mistakes.
“There’s no mistake you can’t undo,” he said. “You can correct every single mistake. You can stand up and be a human being about it and admit to those who count on you that you screwed it up. And you have to do the correction with the same fervor and emphasis that you made the mistake. Then you’re good. ”
Lies, though, are unforgivable, according to Smith.
“But the moment you realize you told a lie, you stretch the truth to make your story better, or you’ve taken the edge off of it because it’s a thing you care about, you’ve betrayed your audience. If you think it about that way, every day, you’re going to be fine.”
Smith said he attended the University of Mississippi on a music scholarship before studying journalism. He said his teachers emphasized journalism’s commitment to the public.
“You have a responsibility to people who rely on you to find out what in the world is going on,” he said, “and even if it’s just the car wreck, or the city council meeting, or the game you are writing about, you have responsibility to do as well as you can and tell the story as effectively as possible.”
Smith said he took that approach at Fox News.
“It’s a huge responsibility to have a platform where millions of people are watching you every day,” he said. “It’s really a big responsibility, and I learned that in Farley Hall. It was pounded into my head that you are going to screw up, but you’ve got to correct it. And it’s much easier to just get it right the first time. If you’re not sure, just don’t say it.”
Will Norton Jr., dean of the UM School of Journalism and New Media, said he sent Smith an email after he left Fox News. Smith responded, saying he would be in Oxford for the next game, and volunteered to speak to students.
“We asked him if he could be here in the morning,” Norton said, “and he left New York early and was in Oxford by 9:30 a.m. He was at Farley by 10:30 a.m. Many of my friends call him the best anchor on television.”
Norton said there were three key takeaways from Smith’s visit that he hopes students remember. They are:
- Being on this campus teaches students how to be social. This is crucial in getting the facts and in being able to relate to your audience.
- Your teachers know what they are talking about. Jim Pratt and Walt Hawver made a dffierence in my life.
- I made it, and I was in these same hallways. You can, too if you tell the story as accurately as you know how.
Debora Wenger, assistant dean for innovation and external partnerships, said she thinks Smith helped students understand how to tell a story responsibly.
“Through it all, you have to remember to respect every person you report on, every person you interview. If our students graduate with those sensibilities, we will have done our job,” she said.
In the end, Smith didn’t drop any bombshells about why he left a position he’s held at Fox News for 23 years.
“I left there because it was time for a change,” he said. “. . . I will go somewhere else at some point. In between then, I’m going to go talk to students, volunteer, and I don’t know, maybe write a book, corny as that sounds . . . I want to do longform stories, kind of like ‘CBS Sunday Morning.’ I love that show. I love Jane Pauley. I want to have a live component because I got pretty good at it. But I have a few good stories, and one of them starts right here.”
This story was written by LaReeca Rucker. For more information about the School of Journalism and New Media’s programs, email firstname.lastname@example.org.Tags: Shepard Smith