And now, out of respect, a millisecond of silence.
Shepard Smith has apologized in a statement for speculating on-air how Robin Williams could be "such a coward" as to commit suicide and leave his adult children behind in this world. It was that remark that got attention, but a moment earlier he wondered whether there was something "so horrible" inside Williams that would drive him to do this and then a moment later he said that Williams had "more fun" than most people, and then immediately talked about him getting high.
This is not exactly unusual for Fox News, which has a tendency to treat actors and writers roughly after they die, although usually they reserve that treatment for more explicitly liberal icons—not people like Williams who were almost universally liked. Most notably, when writer Kurt Vonnegut died, reporter James Rosen mocked him as "rich and irrelevant" and a "failure at suicide."
Now, I know that suicide is a topic that is very controversial, especially given its status as a terrible sin in Christianity. Science tells us that mental illness and suicidal tendencies are much more complicated than we once thought, and certainly not an act of selfishness as it was once portrayed. I also realize that Smith had to fill airtime talking about a difficult topic. I just wish, since the rest of the media gives Smith a pass for working for a company that won't let him be really honest with his audience, he had chosen a different word. Here's Smith's full statement, which he gave on the phone to Mediaite:
I spent an entire hour talking about how much this man affected people’s lives and brought greatness to this world. I was just wondering aloud what could have made this man want to end it all. And it reminds us that we all have responsibility as friends and neighbors to help take responsibility to prevent this from happening. There are people who process suicide as a black-and white-issue. I don’t process anything as black-and-white.
I was sorry to read online the people who see the world in a black-and-white way, and to suggest that they might have a definitive analysis of why he did such a thing. What I wanted to do is celebrate his life and find some meaning in our own lives, since we often do know someone who is reaching out, and we have a responsibility to help that person — maybe a phone call or a door knock is in order.
But no matter how you process it: Look at what this family is going through. I would never presume to know anything about his private life. And if any of his family members and friends were to have seen me use the word “coward,” I would be horrified. I would just to apologize to the end of the earth to anyone who might think that I meant to openly call him a coward.
To the core of my being, I regret it. It just came out of my mouth. And I’m so sorry. And to anyone and their families who see that, I am sorry.
If it wasn't Smith, I probably wouldn't even have noticed. But he's one of the only Fox personalities who is known to have a conscience. I'm glad it hasn't been totally snuffed out.
If you'd like to see a much classier example of handling terrible news, you can see how Conan O'Brien handled hearing about Williams' passing at the end of taping his show last night.
(by Johnny McNulty)