…Who needs enemies at Fox News?
Over the weekend Current TV’s feisty substitute anchor David Shuster took a caveman’s club to the Fox News commentators who moderated the most recent GOP presidential debate. He aired his grievances on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” in a tirade he says wasn’t meant to be angry even though the shouting blasting from the TV sounded like he was trying out for The McLaughlin Group. “If I need to smile more, I’ll take that critique and work on it,” the Emmy-award winning anchor told FishbowlDC in an email interview this week, punctuating his sentence with a smiley emoticon.
But even more striking than Shuster’s sharp jabs at Fox News anchors Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace was what came long before he dismissed them as idiots. “I still have a lot of friends there [at Fox News], too” he made a special point of saying when host Howard Kurtz announced that he once worked at the network.
Shuster said his comments stemmed from recent conversations he’d had with those “friends” at Fox News. “Speaking to a few of them on Friday/Saturday is what inspired me, in part, to bring up Brett [sic] and Megyn on Sunday. Several people in the Fox DC bureau were embarrassed by some of the questions in the debate. Furthermore, there seems to be a strong sense that Fox News has lost a lot of credibility/watchability with Brit Hume’s semi-retirement.”
Fox News PR did not return a request for comment.
But a “Friend of Fox” told FBDC, “He may be right about Megyn but not about Brett. Ratings wise Brett does better than Brit did. Of course, Brit has been around Washington for a long time and has a great deal of institutional knowledge. But Brett will get that. Megyn seems to talk to pundits more than newsmakers, that hurts.”
But are Shuster’s attacks credible? “I think David Shuster is a hack who went over to MSNBC and sold whatever credentials he had in order to get a job over there. So my guess is a lot of this is sour grapes,” said right-wing radio host Mark Levin, who is based in an undisclosed location in the Washington area, possibly a bunker. “But he has ceased being a journalist in my eyes long ago, so who cares what thinks about Fox or anyone else?”
Others also sense the irony of a Shuster critique on Fox News. “It’s kind of funny that a guy who was fired for a lack of credibility and honesty with his former employer at MSNBC would feel comfortable commenting on the credibility of others. But a lack of credibility and self-awareness have always been Shuster’s calling card,” said TownHall columnist and WMAL radio host Derek Hunter. “He’s a perfect fit for Current TV – no one cares what he thinks and no one watches that network. It’s a match made in wherever matches no one gives a damn about are made.”
Jeff Poor, TV writer for The Daily Caller, said “Shuster has been going around talking down Fox News and how he has inside info for a few months — since he had the leash taken off after departing MSNBC.” Poor’s referencing Shuster’s recent call for FNC’s Bill Sammon’s firing. “I mean, take that for what it’s worth as far as his motivations for attacking Fox News – a [guy with an] association to MMFA and fill-in host for Keith Olbermann.”
In the days following Shuster’s fiery performance on “Reliable Sources,” press hits began rolling in. Both favorable and damning. While HuffPost reported a straightforward account of what happened on CNN (Shuster praised them for it on Twitter), BigGov tweaked him, calling him “barely employed” in a banner-like headline.
Shuster was nonetheless grateful for the attention. He told FBDC, “Actually, I thought that was funny. And it was great to see Andrew Breitbart pick up and run the segment. Given the soft and humorous jab at my employment (I’m fully employed, thank you) I suspect Andrew also thinks the debate questions could have been/should have been sharper. In any case, I’m always thankful for Andrew’s attention.”
Did someone say attention? “Shuster, like his pal-in-career failure Olbermann, loves talking about his ‘conversations’ with ‘friends’ ‘inside the network’ as ways to justify whatever lunacy he comes up with to get someone to pay attention to him,” said a Washington journo on condition of anonymity. “I’ve yet to meet anyone who calls either ‘friends’ and even if these conversations did take place, talking to one or two employees is hardly indicative of the overall consensus within a large news organization. But I’m glad someone’s paying attention to Shuster. It must be a nice change of pace for him.”
Asked if intended to make a splash this week with his pointed critiques on Fox News talent, he replied, “No, I did not intend to make a splash. However, I think a lot of people who have watched the debates so far have been disappointed in some of the moderating.”
Shuster pointed out that the poor debating skills didn’t begin with the Fox News/Google debate. “When CNN, at one of their debates, asked a string of questions along the lines of ‘deep dish or thin crust?’ it was embarrassing,” he said. “It seems this has been building up…and perhaps my comments touched a nerve. Or maybe Howard Kurtz has a huge and influential show. Either way, I’m honored people are talking about this.”
Though Kurtz quickly denounced Shuster’s disdain of Wallace on the program, saying he was more than qualified to moderate a debate, Shuster didn’t concede the point. In fact, he scolded Wallace for not doing his homework. “He asked Michelle Bachmann if she wanted to take back her comments about the HPV vaccine having side effects on 12-year-old girls,” he told me. “If Chris had done his pre-debate homework on this, he would have known that Bachmann was not backing down from her assertions. Still, after he asked his ‘do you still standby your assertion’ question…and she answered by saying she was not speaking as a doctor and was just relaying what she had been told by a woman, Wallace inexplicably didn’t follow up. He simply moved on to other topics.”
Shuster said Bachmann’s response “cried out” for a followup along the lines of, “Why do you believe it’s more important to trust a complete stranger on this issue as opposed to the entire medical research community?” He added, “Wallace normally pounces on such obvious follow ups. It was stunning and frustrating that he left this one hanging.”