In a Manhattan Fox News studio on a recent Tuesday in February, Shepard Smith sits ready to begin taping his 3 p.m. newscast. He’s spent the preceding hour typing out edits to his script with slightly hunched posture, raising his eyebrows at his keyboard and reading his monologue to himself to test its accuracy and its cadence. The computers behind him—clad in giant white shells, they look like robots from the Star Wars universe—are each manned by researchers. Several of them are scanning their email and news sites, one is looking at @realdonaldtrump on Twitter. And Smith, wired with an earpiece to the control room, is periodically issuing commands—to those researchers, to the producers who call his desk phone, to the air around him. “We need to get a statement from Israeli police,” he says, looking to bulk up a wire report about Benjamin Netanyahu. “That’ll give the Jerusalem bureau something to do.”
When the countdown to Smith’s hour of airtime arrives at 2:59, it’s just a number. Smith silently sits at his anchor chair, watching White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders field questions from reporters in what’s become a near-daily occurrence: his show is getting pre-empted by the most popular political drama in America. He scrolls through his phone, then leans forward on his elbows ready for Sanders to wrap. When she does, he kicks off his show a few minutes late with discussion of the “brand-new timeline” Sanders offered for the scandal of the day. Much of his script now useless, Smith does the work of writing and editing as he speaks.