Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, a frequent target of President Trump’s attacks, is stepping down after clashing with some of the network’s primetime stars.
“Recently I asked the company to allow me to leave FOX News and begin a new chapter. After requesting that I stay, they graciously obliged. The opportunities afforded this guy from small town Mississippi have been many,” Smith said in a statement.
“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.”
A Fox insider told The Daily Beast that Smith was sick of being attacked by his primetime colleagues and asked for a way out of his contract. An effort was made to appease him, the insider said, but he ultimately decided to leave Fox behind.
A source close to Fox News management said the thinking among network brass was that the lucrative evening ratings outweighed the need to keep Smith happy while paying him $15 million a year for his daytime role that did not bring in as many viewers.
Smith was among Fox’s first hires upon launching in 1996 and he became the network’s signature daytime newsman, often acting as the anchor to enter other broadcasts to helm coverage of breaking news like the 2015 Paris attacks and the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri.
“Even in our currently polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day,” Smith said as he signed off his final broadcast. “That the truth will always matter, that journalism and journalists will thrive.”
In a statement, Jay Wallace, president and executive editor of Fox News Media, said, “Shep is one of the premier newscasters of his generation and his extraordinary body of work is among the finest journalism in the industry.” He added: “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.”
Throughout the Trump era, Smith took on a “rogue” role at the network as Fox News became overtly pro-Trump in its commentary and news coverage. In many instances, as documented by The Daily Beast, Smith even fact-checked the right-wing conspiratorial musings of his own colleagues, resulting in not-so-subtle sparring with Fox stars like Sean Hannity.
As a result, Smith has prompted backlash from the president and many of the network’s viewers, who overwhelmingly tune in to the channel’s conservative programming.
Trump has repeatedly whined about the anchor on Twitter, claiming he changes the channel when Smith’s show—which broadcasts in the middle of the workday—comes on the air. “Watching Fake News CNN is better than watching Shepard Smith, the lowest rated show on @FoxNews,” the president wrote earlier this year.
“The decision to leave was Shep’s and his alone—he will be taking an extended period of time off to be with his family,” the anchor’s spokesman said later Friday. “Following that–who knows–he is not retiring.”
A Fox insider scoffed at reports that Smith’s exit deal will keep him off-air for two years and said he expects to have a new job within a year.
Earlier this month, Smith publicly clashed with Tucker Carlson, criticizing the Fox News primetime host for failing to defend their colleague Judge Andrew Napolitano when he was called a “fool” by a guest on Carlson’s show.
Vanity Fair’s Gabe Sherman reported several days later that Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and network president Jay Wallace allegedly conveyed to Smith that if he did not stop attacking Carlson, he would be off the network. “At no time did anyone—including anyone in management or a third party—speak to Shepard Smith regarding this matter,” a Fox News spokesperson said. “Anything to the contrary is entirely false and wildly inaccurate.”
In addition to his role as the network’s consummate newsman and fact-checker, Smith cultivated a reputation for delivering unfiltered, decidedly un-Fox-like on-air banter. “We are America! We do not fucking torture!” he once shouted during a 2009 digital show.
Publicly and privately, some of Smith’s Fox News colleagues reacted with disbelief at his departure.
“Like you, I’m a little stunned and a little heartbroken,” said Neil Cavuto, another target of Trump’s ire, at the opening of his broadcast, which immediately followed Smith’s sign-off. “It was a total shock today to find out he’s leaving,” fellow news anchor Bret Baier tweeted. “He anchored breaking news—fast-moving events—better than anyone.”
“There’s no room for news here anymore,” a Fox News staffer told The Daily Beast, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisal.
A Fox News spokesperson fired back at the anonymous staffer, saying, “tell that to Jennifer Griffin whose report just went viral this week. Or Chris Wallace, Bret Baier, Bill Hemmer or Catherine Herridge who have all done outstanding journalism.”
This story has been updated throughout with new statements and reactions.