Aug 7, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
Excerpted from Buzz Feed: Fractures in conservative opposition to gay rights and even same-sex marriage have now widened to include the core of the right’s message machine, the Fox News Channel, where a cadre of younger voices have begun to defend same-sex relationships and even advocate openly for same-sex marriage.
The channel’s heterodox posture on gay rights comes despite Fox’s siding comfortably with mainstream Republican positions on other divisive social issues of the day, such as abortion and contraception.
But like the Republican Party, whose leaders have begun to step away from anti-gay positions that are deeply unpopular with younger voters, Fox appears to be feeling pressure both from its younger staff and key audience segments to reflect what polls suggest is a rapidly shifting consensus. And over the past year, Shepard Smith, the host of afternoon news show Studio B, has emerged as a vocal champion of same-sex marriage. After President Obama’s announcement in support of gay marriage, Smith looked into the camera said that the Republican Party was “on the wrong side of history” on the issue.
“In television people are worried about the demo,” said Margaret Hoover, a former Fox News contributor and former Bush administration staffer who left the network last year, referring to television advertisers preoccupation with viewers between 18 and 49. “‘Are you getting the demo?’ And the demo supports gay rights.”
Smith’s May marriage remarks provided a shock both to elements of Fox’s conservative audience and to liberals, whose enmity with Fox has only deepend through the Obama years.
“The president of the United States: now in the 21st century,” Smith said, and asked reporter Ed Henry: “I am curious whether you believe in this time of rising debt and medical issues and all the rest, if Republicans would go out on a limb and try to make this a campaign issue while sitting very firmly without much question on the wrong side of history.”
The media picked up on the moment, which was covered like a one-off or an anomaly; The Atlantic Wire wrote that Smith’s reaction “was not your typical Fox News,” and Smith came under fire from Rush Limbaugh for the comment.
Smith hasn’t stopped since then — quipping recently that “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day” was “the national day of intolerance.” And he’s been joined by Megyn Kelly, while other voices on the network — John Stossel, Andrew Napolitano — have shied away from conservative dogma on gay marriage.
Whether Fox’s on-air talent is going rogue or the mandate is coming from on high, some of the network’s most prominent names have started to speak louder and more favorably in support of a cherished liberal cause — winning grudging praise from the left and outrage from the right.
“There has been a softening [at Fox] if you look at the big picture,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz, communications director for the Human Rights Campaign. “It’s just representative of where the country is going on this issue. The more rabid anti-gay voices continue to be marginalized and there’s just not a lot of appetite for anti-gay sentiment.”
Fox is tracing, and perhaps at times leading, a broad and at times disconcertingly fast shift inside Republican politics. Some of the party’s most important donors, organized in part by out former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, now double as donors to marriage equality campaigns. A new generation of leaders have made explicit that the party must, as House Minority Leader Eric Cantor told BuzzFeed last month, show “tolerance” for diverging views on marriage. And Republicans are shying away from making gay marriage a campaign issue this year, Politico noted recently, as polling shows that the country is moving towards broader support of the issue.