Shepard Smith Salutes Press Freedom at First Public Event Since Fox News Exit

Shepard Smith 3 - Getty - H 2019
Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

"A free press is the underpinning of a democracy, and it cannot be taken for granted," the news anchor said at the Committee to Protect Journalism's International Press Freedom Awards. He announced plans to donate $500,000 to the organization.

Shepard Smith used his first public appearance since abruptly resigning from Fox News on Oct. 11 for the benefit of a cause that's long been close to his heart: freedom of the press and the safety and protection of journalists around the world.

On Thursday night, Smith hosted the Committee to Protect Journalism's annual International Press Freedom Awards dinner, a black-tie event that drew industry luminaries like NBC News president Noah Oppenheim and Washington Post editor Marty Baron. (CNN anchors Alisyn Camerota and John Berman, along with Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin, were also spotted.)

"A free press is the underpinning of a democracy, and it cannot be taken for granted," he told the audience. "Press freedom is not the preserve of one political group or one political party. It's a value embedded in our very foundational document. Journalists need to join hands to defend it. And I thank every one of you for doing that."

Smith, paying tribute to the night's honorees, said: "If there's one theme that emerges from CPJ's work over the past few years, it's that nations are becoming far less tolerant of an independent press. Sure, journalists continue to be murdered or thrown in prison when they speak out, but governments have learned other, less crude tactics to censor and stifle our work."

In a possible nod to the Trump administration's hostile treatment of the media, Smith added: "Intimidation and vilification of the press is now a global phenomenon. You don't have to look far for evidence of that."

The former Fox News anchor is also putting his money where his mouth is, announcing plans near the end of the dinner to donate $500,000 of his own money to CPJ.

Smith did not discuss his departure from Fox News during his duties as the dinner's host. Ahead of the event, Smith politely declined an interview request from The Hollywood Reporter, noting that he has not given an interview since leaving the network and did not plan to change that.

Before heading into the ballroom at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan, Smith was spotted taking a smiling photo with his former producer, Fox News president Jay Wallace, along with two others.

Laurene Powell Jobs, who co-chaired the event, paid tribute to the night's honorees and the journalists in the room.

"All who cherish a free open and informed society stand with you," she said. "You are the sentries protecting the values of truth, accountability and justice. These values are under attack, something I know you confront on a daily basis. ... Through your dedication and courage, malfeasance is being exposed. In return, you endure attacks on your credibility and patriotism."

"Thank you so much," Smith told Powell Jobs, who founded and runs Emerson Collective. "Your support is so critical for the work that CPJ does."

Early on in the event, Smith introduced Reuters reporter Kyaw Soe Oo, who was freed this spring after spending more than 500 days in an Myanmar prison.

The 2019 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award, named for the late PBS NewsHour co-anchor, was given to Zaffar Abbas, editor of the Pakistani newspaper Dawn.