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Is Fox So Crazy That It's Even Alienating Some Conservatives?

The hate-filled rhetoric spewed by Fox pundits like Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly is even alarming some of the people who work there.

It must have been an awkward elevator ride for Shep Smith over at Fox News headquarters last Friday, heading up to the 12th-floor studio where his Fox Report program originates. I'm just imagining the nasty looks he must have gotten from co-workers -- if any of them even agreed to ride between floors with him -- on the day that liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman praised Smith in print. Krugman actually referenced him by name as somebody inside Fox News who refused to go along with the "big hate": the right wing's anti-Obama rhetoric -- almost bloodlust -- that now dominates conservative discourse.

Talk about putting a target on the back of a Fox News anchor. A shout-out from the hated Times op-ed page? Things only got worse for Smith over the weekend when the Times' Frank Rich also singled out the Fox News anchor for praise. I mean, c'mon. Were Krugman and Rich trying to get the guy fired?!

In fact, even before being name-dropped by Times liberals, right-wing bloggers had already teed off on Smith (" Shep sucks"; " Shepard Smith has got to go") for having the nerve to call out the "crazies" on the fringe who were targeting President Obama and feeding off conspiratorial hate.

The truth, of course, is that Smith's job isn't in danger. He's considered an untouchable (ratings) golden boy within Fox News who has the backing of his boss, Roger Ailes. (Not to mention a gargantuan $7 million salary.)

Yet by pushing back on the air against the same right-wing hatred that others at Fox News now regularly foment, I wonder if Smith feels increasingly uncomfortable or alienated within Fox News. If he feels like a stranger within the cable news channel he's been with since its inception, as it now rushes headlong into the GOP fever swamps and does it with Glenn Beck, and his conspiratorial ranting, as the new face and voice of Fox News.

I'm starting to wonder if Fox News is big enough for Shep Smith and Glenn Beck.

For the past decade, Fox News brass offered up the same predictable retort that the channel did news during the day and opinion after 8 p.m., and hey, there's nothing wrong with that. (Even if all the opinion ran in one direction.) But now it's opinion in the morning with Fox & Friends, it's opinion in the late afternoon with Glenn Beck at 5 p.m., and opinion 24/7 with Fox Nation online, which mines the territory of everything right of the Drudge Report.

Smith for years has publicly defended Ailes' credo of "fair and balanced," but it's hard to see how the anchor believes it anymore, as he watches the channel he works for actively rile up the right-wing crazies. If Smith watches any of the other 22 hours of Fox News programming that air each day when he's not in front of the camera, he certainly understands that his employer probably represents the most dangerous voice today when it comes to whipping up irrational hostility toward the new president.

Since Smith has been at Fox News, its transformation has mirrored that of the Republican Party. Meaning, back in the late 1990s, the GOP still projected a semblance of a big tent party, and so did Fox News, which, in its early days, often did a reasonable job of reporting the news and keeping the wild partisan fever in check. Yes, it had an anti-establishment chip on its shoulder, and Smith over the years has been proud to display his, but it still performed a newsgathering service.