The New York Times
To critics who accuse Fox News of being uniformly pro-Trump, the network often points to the blunt-truth reporting of Shepard Smith, its veteran chief news anchor, whose coverage of the Trump White House stood out on a channel known best for conservative opinion.
Starting now, Fox News will need to point to somebody else.
In an announcement that stunned colleagues, Mr. Smith concluded his Friday newscast by signing off from Fox News — for good. “Recently, I asked the company to allow me to leave,” Mr. Smith said calmly. “After requesting that I stay, they obliged.”
Shepard Smith says goodbye to Fox NewsCreditCreditVideo by Fox News
A member of the network’s founding staff in 1996, Mr. Smith became increasingly conspicuous at Fox News for his skepticism on President Trump. “Why is it lie after lie after lie?” Mr. Smith asked during a 2017 newscast; this summer, he deemed the president’s attacks on minority female lawmakers as “misleading and xenophobic.”
His pointed comments, closer in tone to that of CNN anchors like Anderson Cooper than of Fox News mainstays like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, irked Mr. Trump, who had taken to taunting Mr. Smith on Twitter as the network’s “lowest-rated anchor.” Other Fox News personalities were also unimpressed: Last month, Mr. Carlson openly mocked Mr. Smith on-air, a rare moment of intramural discord bursting into public view.
The internal tensions had frustrated Mr. Smith, 55, who was dismayed at the disconnect between some of the pro-Trump cheerleading in prime-time and the reporting produced by the network’s newsroom, according to two people close to the anchor who requested anonymity to share his private observations. Mr. Smith had been considering an exit from Fox News for several weeks, the people said.
On Friday, in public at least, all parties played down any difficulties.
“I’ve worked with the most talented, dedicated and focused professionals I’ve ever known,” Mr. Smith said on his farewell newscast. “I’ll miss them and our time together greatly.”
In a farewell statement, Jay Wallace, the network’s president and executive editor, called the anchor’s exit “especially difficult.”
Mr. Smith was familiar to viewers for his authoritative but genial Mississippi lilt. But one hint at the strain on Mr. Smith was his decision to leave in the middle of his multiyear contract, which he signed in 2018. Exiting partway through a deal is a rarity in the cutthroat television business and the move is likely to cost him millions of dollars. Mr. Smith also agreed to abide by a noncompete clause, telling viewers, “I won’t be reporting elsewhere, at least in the near future.”
Carl Cameron, a Fox News reporter who left the network in 2017 and has since become an outspoken critic, said he was “not the least bit surprised” by Mr. Smith’s decision.
“He’s a warrior and he stayed in the war longer than anybody should have,” Mr. Cameron said in an interview on Friday. “We both would reassure ourselves that authentic, factual news was a way to distinguish ourselves in what was becoming an increasingly more and more partisan network.”
“God helps the journalists at Fox hang in there because they’re doing the right thing,” Mr. Cameron added.
With Mr. Smith’s exit, Fox’s news coverage will be led by other star nonpartisan anchors, including Bret Baier, the “Fox News Sunday” moderator Chris Wallace and Martha MacCallum. At a recent panel discussion in New York with advertisers, Ms. MacCallum defended the network’s journalism, saying pointedly of Mr. Trump, “Contrary to the opinion of some people, he’s not our boss.”
Fox News released a poll this week that showed a majority of respondents in favor of Mr. Trump being impeached, prompting a presidential rebuke. On Twitter, Mr. Trump lamented that Fox News was “much different than it used to be in the good old days,” citing by name Mr. Smith and the former Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, now a paid Fox News analyst.
In March, the president lobbed another insult at Mr. Smith, saying that, along with a pair of Fox News weekend anchors, he should be working at CNN, a network the president often accuses of having a liberal bias.
The relationship between Mr. Trump and Fox News is closely scrutinized — so much so that an alternate theory sprang up on social media on Friday about Mr. Smith’s abrupt exit.
Some wondered if Mr. Trump had orchestrated the departure of his least-favorite Fox News anchor through a private meeting this week between Rupert Murdoch, the mogul who controls the network, and Mr. Trump’s attorney general, William Barr.
A spokesman for Mr. Smith, Chris Giglio, said: “there is absolutely no truth” to a connection between the two events. “This was Shep’s decision and his alone,” Mr. Giglio wrote in an email on Friday. “He’s taking an extended period of time off to be with his family. Following that who knows — he is not retiring.”
Mr. Murdoch is usually reluctant to make prominent personnel moves at his media properties because of public or private pressure. And Mr. Trump, asked at the White House on Friday if he had a connection to Mr. Smith’s exit, sounded surprised by the news.
“Did I hear Shepard Smith is leaving?” he asked reporters on the South Lawn. “Is he leaving because of bad ratings? Tell me, I don’t know.” He added: “I wish him well.”
“Shepard Smith Reporting,” the anchor’s 3 p.m. newscast, routinely beat rivals on CNN and MSNBC in the ratings and a key demographic, according to Nielsen. But Mr. Smith’s show, in a traditionally low-viewership time slot, had one of the smallest audiences of Fox News programs overall.
Mr. Smith’s exit negotiations were known to only a few senior figures at Fox News’s Manhattan headquarters, and several of his network colleagues were visibly shocked by his decision.
“I’m a little stunned and a little heartbroken,” the anchor Neil Cavuto, who follows Mr. Smith’s show on weekdays, told viewers moments after the anchor had announced his departure. Mr. Cavuto called himself “shellshocked” and had trouble finding his words at first.
John Roberts, Fox News’s chief White House correspondent, who also appeared on air moments after Mr. Smith’s announcement, called the move “completely shocking” and compared learning of the news to being “hit by a subway train.”
In his signoff on Friday, Mr. Smith ended his Fox News career with words that are likely to be read closely for any meaning between the lines.
“Even in our currently polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day,” Mr. Smith said. “That the truth will always matter. That journalism and journalists will thrive. I’m Shepard Smith, Fox News, New York.”