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“Why is Shep Smith leaving?” With that question to White House reporters, President Donald Trump inadvertently channeled a lot of confused Fox News employees and former employees who are wondering why exactly the news anchor announced his immediate departure at the end of his Friday afternoon show.
“People were shocked in the newsroom and definitely sad,” a Fox News producer who was granted anonymity told The Hollywood Reporter. “He is really well-respected here. I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about him.”
Another Fox News employee echoed, “It’s shocking, and such a huge bummer.”
The abrupt departure caused enough speculation that Smith’s spokesperson, Chris Giglio, released a statement late Friday, saying, “Shep’s decision to leave was his and his alone. He will be taking some time off but he is not retiring.”
The network said on Friday that a rotating cast of anchors will replace Smith until a permanent solution has been identified. Inside Fox, some have speculated that America’s Newsroom co-anchor Bill Hemmer could be tapped for the job.
Fox News veterans who know Smith well were a little less surprised by his departure.
“My guess is that Shep wants another adventure,” former Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren told THR by phone Friday evening. “He looks at his biological clock and thinks, ‘This was a great ride,’ but you want to try new things. It was a shock to everyone else, but my guess is that Shep has been talking to management about this for some time.”
But, Van Susteren added, “People I’ve talked to who have been around Fox were surprised.”
“He hung in there two years longer than I did, so I give him a tremendous amount of credit,” said Carl Cameron, who retired in 2017 as the network’s chief political correspondent and was “very, very close” with Smith for a long time. “I know from firsthand experience that trying to purvey accurate, informative journalism is debilitating when you’re up against an army of right-wing propagandists.”
Cameron said Smith’s departure is a “tremendous loss for the network,” adding, “It’s another example of the way in which the news department — which has some good, hard-working people there — is treated on a regular basis, and it leaves not a heck of a lot for real journalists to do. He really does leave a gaping hole, and it’s a terrible loss. For the reporters and producers and journalists who are there, it’s got to be truly upsetting.”
The Fox News producer echoed Cameron’s sentiment: “The news side is definitely losing with Shep gone.”
A Fox News spokesperson pushed back on those two comments: “Tell that to Jennifer Griffin whose report just went viral this week. Or Chris Wallace, Bret Baier, Bill Hemmer, Martha MacCallum or Catherine Herridge who have all done outstanding journalism.”
The president, who has long criticized Smith, guessed that his departure was tied to his ratings. “I mean, if he’s leaving, I assume he’s leaving because he had bad ratings,” Trump said Friday. In the latest quarter, Smith’s show averaged 1.3 million total viewers, easily outpacing CNN and MSNBC competition in his time slot.
But while speculation reigned on Twitter about the reason for his departure, even those at Fox who tussled with Smith occasionally wished him well. An outside observer, President Trump, did so as well.
“I’ve always said there is nobody better at breaking news than Shep Smith,” Sean Hannity, who once called Smith “clueless” on Twitter, said. “He has always done great things and I know he will continue to do so. Looking forward to seeing Shep crush it in whatever he does next.”
Van Susteren, for one, thinks that Smith has another television news chapter in him, though — as he told viewers — his contract precludes him “reporting elsewhere, at least in the near future.”