Fox News' Ukraine Coverage Reveals Growing Tension Between News and Opinion Sides

Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images; Steven Ferdman/Getty Images
Tucker Carlson and Shepard Smith

Tensions are flaring between anchors like Shepard Smith and opinionators like Tucker Carlson.

The divide between the news wing at Fox News and the company's more highly rated opinion wing has never been as stark as it was this week, when anchors like Bret Baier and Shepard Smith reported on a Ukraine-Trump controversy that opinion hosts like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson diminished.

On Friday morning, news anchor Chris Wallace decried the "astonishing" and "deeply misleading" spin that some conservatives have used to defend President Trump's conduct, which has spurred a congressional impeachment inquiry. Wallace didn't name them, but he could have been talking about the commentary of his primetime — and morning show — colleagues. (A Fox News spokesperson said Wallace "was absolutely not talking about his colleagues.”)

On Friday afternoon, Smith referenced "an information stream of constant attacking of the facts," which Wallace called "troublesome."

"It is never-ending, unceasing, hysteria, lies, hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and now it is a real, clear, present danger to this republic," Hannity said Thursday night, denouncing the "media mob" that has covered the story.  "The ones who really need to be punished here are the Democrats and their enablers in the press and the deep state," Laura Ingraham said on her show. On Fox & Friends on Friday morning, commentator Geraldo Rivera called out the "rotten snitch" who raised the alarm about Trump's contacts with Ukraine and said, "I’d love to wop him."

The conflict crescendoed Tuesday night, when Carlson laughed at Smith for condemning one of his guests, lawyer attorney Joe diGenova, for calling Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano a "fool" one night earlier. "Apparently our daytime host who hosted Judge Napolitano was watching last night and was outraged by what you said and, quite ironically, called you partisan,” Carlson told diGenova, chuckling. "Unlike maybe some dayside hosts, I’m not very partisan.”

"Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and president Jay Wallace communicated to Smith this morning to stop attacking Carlson," Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman reported Thursday afternoon, though he noted that "Fox News spokesperson Irena Briganti denied that management had any direct conversation with Smith."

When asked on Friday, a Fox News spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter that "Suzanne Scott and Jay Wallace never spoke to Shep about anything to do with Tucker Carlson and there was never any discussion of taking him off the air."

The Carlson-Smith is a reminiscent of a spat between Smith and Hannity that stemmed from the news anchor telling Time magazine in March 2018 that "they don’t really have rules on the opinion side," which he said exists to be "entertaining." In response, Hannity tweeted, "While Shep is a friend with political views I do not share, and great at breaking news, he is clueless about what we do every day." Ingraham also chimed in, calling Smith's comments "inconsiderate & inaccurate."

There's always been a gap between the network's news and opinion wings, but people who appear on Fox News tell THR that the chasm has recently been growing.

A television news executive who closely watches the company agreed, saying that the gap "is definitely getting wider." This person added, "I think it's gotten much more difficult for the actual journalists to operate under the legacy explanation of news plus opinion."

Carl Cameron, who spent 20 years at Fox News and left as the network's chief political correspondent, said he used to take the brunt of the opinion wing. "I was routinely roughed up by the primetime hosts," he said. "It was clear that the entertainment side was at odds with the news department only if you lived in the middle of it."

In a conversation Friday, Cameron took issue with Carlson's commentary about Smith and Andrew Napolitano, and also expressed reservations about the combative way left-leaning Fox News contributor Juan Williams was treated by his fellow panelists on The Five this week after he suggested that they had read White House talking points about Ukraine.

"I don't think anybody would object to having a disagreement, but that type of behavior is kind of thuggish," he said. "Haven't we had enough of that? It's not necessary."