NEW YORK (AP) -- While Fox News Channel has spent hours talking about Hillary Clinton and an Obama-era uranium deal in recent weeks, its news anchor Shepard Smith avoided the story entirely.
Fresh evidence that Smith is an island unto himself at the news network came in research released Thursday by the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America. During the three weeks starting Oct. 17, Fox News spent just under 12 hours talking about the Uranium One deal, with 29 percent of that time on opinion host Sean Hannity's prime-time show.
In recent weeks, the issue has been at the center of the nation's partisan divide. Hannity calls it "the real Russian conspiracy," while Democrats suggest the story is used to distract from news about Robert Mueller's investigation into President Donald Trump and ties to Russia. Conservatives contend that "mainstream" news outlets are obsessed with Mueller's investigation.
Republicans have called for a probe into the 2010 purchase of American uranium mines by a Russian-backed company, noting some of the company's investors had donated money to Clinton. The state department, then led by Clinton, was one of nine U.S. agencies with oversight of the deal, although she has said she wasn't involved. Trump has said the company's sale is a scandal on par with Watergate.
Trump's favorite morning show, "Fox & Friends," spent an hour and nine minutes talking about the deal, second only to Hannity on Fox, Media Matters said.
Smith's 3 p.m. weekday newscast didn't mention the story at all during the three weeks, except for two minutes on Oct. 27 — when Smith wasn't in and Trace Gallagher substituted for him.
Fox did not make Smith or the show's executive producer available for an interview on Thursday. The veteran newscaster is often criticized by Fox's more conservative viewers for reporting on views they disagree with.
"The base doesn't like Shepard Smith," said Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center. "That would be a heck of a Christmas present — dump Shep, let MSNBC have him."
Fox News, in response, said Smith was "one of the most valued and talented journalists" at the network.
The Uranium One story came back in the news through stories in The Hill in October that the FBI was investigating whether Russia was trying to gain influence in the U.S. nuclear industry at the time the deal was being considered. The MRC said ABC and CBS spent a total of 4 minutes, 38 seconds on this story, and NBC News didn't cover it. The watchdog had no accounting for how much time CNN and MSNBC spent on the story, but said they were most likely to debunk it when it was brought up.