The question from a reporter to President Donald Trump on Friday night was, “Did you or your administration pressure Fox News to get rid of Shepard Smith?”
Trump did not answer directly, but rather took the opportunity to gloat over his least-favorite Fox News anchor’s departure, saying, “No, I don’t know, is he leaving? Oh, that’s a shame.”
“Did I hear Shepard Smith is leaving?” the president asked, soundly almost gleeful. “Is he leaving because of bad ratings? He had terrible ratings, is he leaving because of his ratings? If he’s leaving, I assume he’s leaving because he had bad ratings.”
Smith, who has been the rare critical voice against the president on Fox, announced on Friday that he had requested to get out of his contract on leave the network, effective immediately. “Even in our currently polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day,” Smith said in his final broadcast. “That the truth will always matter, that journalism and journalists will thrive.”
The move comes just two days after Attorney General Bill Barr met privately with Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, prompting some speculation that the Trump administration had something to do with Smith’s exit.
“Well, I wish him well,” Trump concluded. “I wish Shepard Smith well.”
Sources close to the president told The Daily Beast they doubt he actually meant those last two sentences. After all, Trump has long attacked Smith in public.
One of the earlier hate-tweets Trump sent against the now-former Fox News host was posted in November 2015, five months after the reality-TV star turned Republican icon launched his presidential bid. “Boy is this guy @ShepNewsTeam tough on me. So totally biased. As a reporter, he should be ashamed of himself! #Trump2016,” the @realDonaldTrump tweet read.
In the West Wing, it has long been a common occurrence for officials to hear the notably media-obsessed president complain about Smith. “There is absolutely no way the president is not gleeful about Shep leaving,” said a senior administration official who has talked to Trump many times about media figures the president despises.
In recent months, Trump has been asking those close to him, including friends who work at Fox, one particularly leading leading question about the conservative media giant: “What the hell is going on at Fox?" as The Daily Beast reported in late July.
“I’ve been good to them,” a somewhat bewildered Trump remarked to one confidant this past summer, adding that he was noticing too many hosts and on-air contributors on his favorite channel being “unfair” to him.
And when the president grouses about this topic, he frequently cites Smith as one of the greatest offenders in this regard, according to multiple sources who talk regularly to Trump. One of these sources said the president has made a point of privately grumbling about Smith’s recent coverage of Trump’s Ukraine scandal—coverage and dissections of what Smith dubbed the “baseless” “conspiracy theory” that Team Trump and other Fox hosts were aggressively pushing on Ukraine and the Bidens.
Headed into the long weekend, various Trump associates and diehards weren’t shy about dancing on Smith’s Fox News grave. Sebastian Gorka, a former White House official and current friend of the president’s, posted to Instagram on Friday: “Shep Smith is leaving @foxnews. He will not be missed by those who love America and the Truth.” (Gorka used to work at Fox, as well, where “hard news” shows, such as Smith’s, had a “soft ban” on Gorka, in large part because Fox’s news division widely saw the former Trump aide as, to put it mildly, insufficiently credible.)