A (Small) Defense of Shepard Smith

by Bill Brenner on August 14, 2014

A lot of people are incensed with Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, who suggested Robin Williams was a coward for killing himself this week.

My first instinct was to call him out for being an idiot, an enabler of insensitive motormouths uninterested in learning about how depression really ticks. But I’m going to take the road less expected.

I’m going to defend the guy a little bit.

Mood music:

First, let me clarify three things:

  • I hate  Fox News. It’s not a political thing. I hate CNN and MSNBC, too. These networks are more interested in infotainment than enlightenment. Most of the anchors say poorly thought-out things on a daily basis, and no one bats an eye.
  • I’m a fierce advocate for breaking the stigma and misunderstandings around depression. I’ve lived through it. I’ve watched friends die from it. If you think suicide is cowardly, you have absolutely no idea how the depressed mind works. It doesn’t make you an asshole. It just makes you uninformed. Unless you do know how the depressed mind works and you still think it’s a cowardly move. Then you’re an asshole.
  • I consider Robin Williams a hero. It saddens me that depression got the better of him, but his acting roles have done more to enhance understanding of the human condition than myriad research studies that have been done over the years. Tragic? Yes. Cowardly? No.

That said, Smith was stupid to call Williams a coward. But I don’t think he meant it that way in his heart. I watched a playback and read the transcript, and I think he fell into the trap many TV personalities fall into when speaking off the cuff. A lousy word choice dropped from his lips. If he weren’t live on air and had had the time to consider his words, I doubt coward is the word he would have chosen.

His actual words:

It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? You could love three little things [Williams’ children] so much, watch them grow, and they’re in their mid-20s and they’re inspiring you and exciting you and they fill you up with a kind of joy you can never have known. Yet something inside you is so horrible, or you’re such a coward, or whatever the reason that you decide have you to end it. Robin Williams, at 63, did that today.

I’ve seen Smith’s work over the years, and while I think he has a tendency to be overly dramatic and excitable, I also think he’s one of the more balanced anchors on a network that is anything but “fair and balanced.” I also noticed the pain in his eyes when reporting Williams’ death. I think the pain was genuine, that he was honestly distressed by the end of such a bright star.

Now that I’ve said all that, maybe Shep will bring some real depression sufferers and survivors onto his show so they can educate us — and him — on what this shit is really about.

screen shot of Fox News anchor Shepard Smith

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Bert Knabe August 14, 2014 at 11:52 am

Looking at his words, I don’t think he was calling Williams a coward, he was saying one of those two things happens and you kill yourself. He’s probably right. In some cases it probably is a cowardly act – but those aren’t depression suicides. Those are ‘death is better than facing the consequences’ suicides – like when people leapt out of windows because of the stock market crash in 1929. Most of those are spur of the moment reactions without thought.

Bill Brenner August 14, 2014 at 11:58 am

That’s a huge point, Bert. There are different types. That’ll have to be the subject of the next blog post.

Jone August 15, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Another small defense might be that he was expressing anger in his grief, although being in the media I agree “coward” was a lousy word choice.

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