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In a shocking turn of events that stunned the media industry, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith announced his departure from the network after more than 23 years Friday afternoon.
As chief news anchor and managing editor of breaking news, Smith is one of the faces of the network’s news division and one of its most important journalistic assets. The decision was Smith’s, Fox News said.
“Recently I asked the company to allow me to leave Fox News and begin a new chapter,” Smith said. “After requesting that I stay, they graciously obliged. The opportunities afforded this guy from small town Mississippi have been many. It’s been an honor and a privilege to report the news each day to our loyal audience in context and with perspective, without fear or favor. I’ve worked with the most talented, dedicated and focused professionals I know and I’m proud to have anchored their work each day — I will deeply miss them.”
The 3 p.m. hour on Fox News will be hosted by “a series of rotating anchors … until a new dayside news program is announced,” the network said.
During his on-air signoff, Smith said, “The opportunities afforded this guy from small town Mississippi have been many. Fox News has allowed me to travel the country and the world gathering the facts of the day for you at Columbine, Katrina, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, 9/11 and every life-altering event along the way.” He also appeared to reference a non-compete clause in his agreement with the network, meaning, “I won’t be reporting elsewhere, at least in the near future.”
Fox News president Jay Wallace, who was once Smith’s producer, said in a statement: “Shep is one of the premier newscasters of his generation and his extraordinary body of work is among the finest journalism in the industry. His integrity and outstanding reporting from the field helped put Fox News on the map and there is simply no better breaking news anchor who has the ability to transport a viewer to a place of conflict, tragedy, despair or elation through his masterful delivery.”
Wallace continued: “We are proud of the signature reporting and anchoring style he honed at Fox News, along with everything he accomplished here during his monumental 23-year tenure. While this day is especially difficult as his former producer, we respect his decision and are deeply grateful for his immense contributions to the entire network.”
The network had announced in March 2018 that Smith had inked a new multiyear contract. “Shepard Smith is an exemplary journalist whose skill in anchoring breaking news is unrivaled,” owner Rupert Murdoch said at the time. “His powerful storytelling on both television and digital platforms has elevated our entire news-gathering process.”
Smith’s last publicly reported contract extension was in September 2013, when then-Fox News head honcho Roger Ailes called him “a premier journalist and one of the finest newsmen of the modern era.”
Smith’s announcement Friday seemed to come as a surprise to even his colleagues, as anchor Neil Cavuto told viewers that he’s “a little stunned and a little heartbroken.” Cavuto told Smith, “Shepherd, I don’t know what the heck you are planning to do or where you will go but I just know you will be great at doing it and you deserve the best that life has to offer. So, I’m sorry if I’m a little shell-shocked here but I’m going to miss my buddy.”
“Today brought about a little shock for us here at #FoxNews as our colleague Shepard Smith announced it would be his last broadcast,” Bret Baier wrote on Twitter. “We wish him nothing but the best.”
“Shepard Smith just dropped a bomb,” Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts wrote. “He was part of the glue that held Fox together. He is a supreme pro who made us all better.”
Smith, along with anchors Chris Wallace, Baier and Martha MacCallum, is one of the key symbols of the network’s commitment to journalism, balancing out the network’s opinion wing, which includes hosts like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson. (He has, in the past, sparred gently with the opinion side at the network, telling Time magazine in an interview that they don’t have rules. Hannity pushed back.)
On Sept. 25, Smith called out Carlson for not pushing back when a guest, the lawyer Joe diGenova, called Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano “a fool” on his show. “Attacking our colleague who’s here to offer legal assessments on our air is repugnant,” Smith said.
At the time, Vanity Fair reported that Fox News management told Smith to not criticize Carlson, but a Fox News spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter on Sept. 27 that CEO “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.”
Smith has also frequently drawn the ire of President Trump, who has lambasted him in several tweets, even as he expresses strong support for the network’s opinion hosts.
After news of Smith’s exit broke, Trump was asked by reporters whether he pressured Fox News to make the move. “I mean, if he’s leaving, I assume he’s leaving because he had bad ratings,” Trump said. “He had the worst ratings on Fox.” That was a familiar refrain to the president, who had called the Fox anchor in an Aug. 28 tweet, “low ratings Shep Smith.”
Lachlan Murdoch, the CEO of Fox Corp., mentioned Smith at least twice in public appearances when combating the perception that Fox News is aligned with the president. “You can’t say that Shepard Smith is behind the president,” Murdoch said at an industry conference in November 2017.
As the anchor left the Fox News building on Friday, there was social media chatter that suggested that he was escorted from the building. A Fox News spokesperson rebuffed the claim from an NBC reporter, saying, “Shep’s exit from the building was planned and executed by Shep with Fox’s complete approval and the full support of Fox News – he was not remotely escorted out.”
Smith ended his on-air sign off on Friday by saying, “Even in our currently polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day. That the truth will always matter. That journalism and journalists will thrive.”
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