Shep Smith, a mostly straight-news broadcaster who stood in stark contrast to many of his aggressively partisan Fox News colleagues, announced on Friday that he would be departing the network immediately. “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.” Smith closed with a reflection on how grateful he was to have been at the network — and a seemingly pointed plea: “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 survive.”
Smith, who had been at Fox News since it launched in 1996, has been at the center of a widening chasm at the network centered around President Trump. Some on the news side of the operation — Smith, Andrew Napolitano, and Chris Wallace — have been increasingly outspoken about the president’s misconduct and worsening political troubles, while heavy hitters on the opinion side — Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and others — have remained unshakably loyal to the president, eagerly promoting the kind of conspiracy theories that he uses to defend himself.
In recent days, President Trump has sounded off about negative coverage on the network, including polls that showed him losing to Democratic opponents. On Thursday, not for the first time, Trump singled out Smith by name. After hearing of his departure, Trump displayed his usual magnanimity.
The New York Times reported that Attorney General William Barr met with Fox News CEO Rupert Murdoch on Wednesday night, fueling speculation that the Trump administration was working within the network to neuter criticism. Smith’s spokesperson attempted to put the idea to rest:
But given Fox’s strict nondisclosure agreements, it’s unlikely that Smith will be divulging much about the circumstances that led to his departure. It’s also unlikely that he’ll be showing up on another network anytime soon: He said an agreement he signed with Fox News means that he “won’t be reporting elsewhere at least in the near future.”