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Shepard Smith Confronts Michael Steele On GOP's Violent Rhetoric

Reported by Ellen - March 24, 2010 -

On Monday (3/22/10) on Studio B, Shepard Smith did an excellent job of politely but firmly challenging RNC head Michael Steele about the obstructionist tactics and over-the-top and violent rhetoric espoused by the Republicans in the health care reform debate. Sadly, Steele defended the rhetoric and refused to commit to any more civility. With video.

"Should there have been an attempt at compromise that didn't come?" Smith asked, referencing a now-famous column by conservative David Frum calling the passage of the legislation a Republican waterloo.

Steele was not going to go there but reiterated GOP talking points that the party had "laid out a very clear agenda from the very beginning... My call is simply this... I'm asking Americans to join me across this country in firing Nancy Pelosi."

Smith, noting that people with pre-existing conditions will now be able to get health insurance, asked, "I want to know how people are supposed to help you fire Nancy Pelosi... Who would it be that would want to be firing Nancy Pelosi?"

"The people who want to be able to make those decision without the government sitting between them and their doctor," Steele answered generally. But GOP partisans in the audience had no cause to fear. Fox News producers had his back. As he spoke, the producers split the screen with footage of protesters - and their loud chants - just in case there was any doubt there were plenty of people who thought the way Steele said they thought. It was the same tactic - and the same message - the producers deployed during Rep. Bart Stupak's press conference.

Then Smith turned to the kind of rhetoric that has become commonplace among the GOP. "Leader Boehner called this 'Armageddon.' You've talked about a loss of freedoms. The bill, said one Republican Congressman... 'It's a baby killer.' ...Is this rhetoric helpful in these times, in this nation and if not, how might it be changed to where both sides can make their points without leaving a level of division that I would like to know if you agree is not good for this country?"

Steele tried to waffle by saying, "Look... I'll ask you a very simple question," he began.

But Smith interrupted, nicely, and said, "No, I'd rather begin with that one, if you don't mind... Is this Armageddon?"

Steele sounded like a certain Congressman who got a friendly reception on Hannity the other night, as he excused the rhetoric by saying, "This is what (people) are feeling... Understand it from the perspective of a small business owner..."

Smith returned to the subject after a break. "Socialism, end-of-the-world, Armageddon, baby-killer rhetoric. Is it too much and how do we change it on the national landscape so neighbors can stop hating each other as much?"

Finally, Steele acknowledged that there was some "ugly, stupid rhetoric" the past weekend. But he also defended it. "I think it's appropriate to the extent that you recognize where it emanates from. It is not some little factor or machine that's set up at the RNC or DNC." He went on to sympathize that the rhetoric is coming from "the people."

Then Steele, whom I think is a decent guy in a tough spot, said, "I would agree, there is a way and a time and place and it is now to temper that down."

"WIll you be talking to Leader Boehner about that?" Smith pressed.

"I'll talk to Leader Boehner, I'll talk to (DNC) Chairman Kaine about it," Steele said.

Don't hold your breath.

Comment: While I applaud Smith for this interview, Steele, who's not really that much of a flame thrower, was probably not the best person to grill. And he was in the difficult position of either defending incendiary language or attacking his colleagues. If Smith really wants to hold that discussion - and if his Fox News superiors would allow it - he should ask those questions of John Boehner or Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh.

Video below via Mediaite.