Shepard Smith shocked many of his fellow Fox News colleagues by announcing his departure from the network Friday afternoon, which comes amid an internal battle between the networks news division and its opinion hosts.
“This is my last newscast here,” Smith said during the Friday edition of Shepard Smith Reporting. It’s a sudden end to a relationship that dates back to the network’s inception in 1996, where Smith was among the first reporters hired by Fox News. The network said it would keep the 3 p.m. hour as a news show, and turn to fill-in hosts like Jon Scott and Trace Gallagher until a new dayside news program is announced.
President Donald Trump, who has sparred publicly with Smith over his reporting, gloated about the news anchor’s sudden departure to reporters outside the White House Friday afternoon, mockingly calling it “a shame.”
“Is he leaving because of bad ratings?" Trump asked rhetorically. "If he’s leaving, I assume he’s leaving because he had bad ratings.” Smith’s show averages 1.3 million total viewers, easily outpacing his competition at CNN and MSNBC, according to Nielsen ratings.
Three current Fox News employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t allowed to talk publicly, said the mood at the network was one of shock and sadness. There was also concern over the credibility of the news division moving forward, with one staffer calling Smith’s exit “senseless.”
“This is a big loss. A big loss,” one Fox News reporter told the Inquirer.
The announcement clearly took fellow news anchor Neil Cavuto by surprise, who said he was "a little stunned and a little heartbroken” during the hand-off to his 4 p.m. show.
A spokesperson from Fox News denied that Smith was escorted out of the building by security, and made it clear it was his decision to walk away from the station. But it’s also clear the behind-the-scenes drama between the news side and the opinion side played a large role in his decision to walk away, especially considering Smith signed a multi-year contract extension just last year that reportedly pays him upwards of $15 million a year.
Smith’s straight-forward reporting has regularly placed him at odds with the network primetime opinion hosts like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, who regularly undermine reporting from the news division at Fox News to defend Trump’s actions.
Recently, the internal battle has gone public, with Smith calling Carlson “repugnant” on-air for failing to defend Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano after a guest called him a “fool” for stating it was a crime for Trump to solicit help on his 2020 campaign from the president of Ukraine.
“We serve different masters. We work for different reporting chains, we have different rules," Smith told Time magazine in March 2018. “They don’t really have rules on the opinion side. They can say whatever they want. If it’s their opinion.”
Despite his public disagreements with Hannity, the popular Fox News host and outspoken Trump supporter praised Smith in a tweet, writing “there is nobody better at breaking news.”
Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reported last month that Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and president Jay Wallace told Smith to stop attacking primetime host Tucker Carlson, which both have denied. Wallace had nothing but praise for Smith Friday afternoon.
“Shep is one of the premier newscasters of his generation and his extraordinary body of work is among the finest journalism in the industry,” Wallace said in a statement. "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.”
“Even in our currently polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day,” Smith said to close his final Fox News broadcast. "That the truth will always matter. That journalism and journalists will thrive. I’m Shepard Smith, Fox News, New York.”