Published 7:00 AM EDT Oct 14, 2019
For years the slogan at Fox News was “fair and balanced,” and news anchor Shepard Smith was the best embodiment of that.
The network got rid of the slogan a couple of years ago. Now Smith, who has been with the network since it started in 1996, is gone, too.
Smith left the network abruptly Friday, signing off after his daily newscast, “Shepard Smith Reporting.” A frequent critic of President Donald Trump, and vice versa, Smith was never afraid to break from the company line, going back as far as arguing with other Fox News correspondents on-air about the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, if not earlier.
In a statement Smith said, “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.”
Indeed, that last part is what has set Smith apart on the network. Increasingly, on shows like “Fox & Friends,” the network has had almost a symbiotic relationship with Trump, who often quotes his favorite anchors, who sometimes quote him right back.
Lately, however, that relationship has soured. Trump has been more critical of Fox News in his tweets, and in the past he has singled out Smith.
Adding fuel to the rumor fire, U.S. Attorney General William Barr met with Rupert Murdoch, the network’s owner and chairman, earlier in the week at Murdoch’s home. Smith’s exit immediately fueled social-media scuttlebutt that the meeting had something to do with Friday’s move, but so far there is no evidence that this is the case.
“Shep’s exit from the building was planned and executed by Shep with Fox’s complete approval and the full support of Fox News,” a representative said in a statement.
There is, however, reason for viewers to be concerned that one of the last honest brokers of information at Fox News is now silenced.
The network representative disagreed.
"Tell that to Jennifer Griffin, whose report just went viral this week," the representative said. "Or Chris Wallace, Bret Baier, Bill Hemmer, Martha MacCallum or Catherine Herridge, who have all done outstanding journalism.”
Perhaps, but Smith's work has always stood out at the network, never more so than during Trump's political rise.
“So recently I asked the company to allow me to leave Fox News,” Smith said as his broadcast ended. “After requesting that I stay, they obliged.”
Even Fox News employees were stunned.
Smith “just dropped a bomb,” John Roberts, Fox News’ chief White House correspondent, tweeted. “After 23 years at @FoxNews, he announced he is leaving the network. He was part of the glue that held Fox together. He is a supreme pro who made us all better.”
Most recently Smith repeatedly went after Trump for insisting, wrongly, that Hurricane Dorian was going to hit Smith's home state of Alabama. After Trump produced a clearly doctored weather map, Smith said, “Why would the president of the United State do this? He decries fake news that isn’t, and disseminates fake news that is.”
Trump, on the White House South Lawn, told reporters, “Did I hear Shepard Smith is leaving? Is he leaving because of bad ratings? I wish Shepherd Smith well.”
Smith didn’t just take on Trump. He also took on other Fox News personalities. Earlier this month he called Tucker Carlson “repugnant.” He also has defended CNN, a network Trump often cites as “fake news.”
This is a big loss for viewers — and citizens — who value facts above favor. Smith alluded to that with his parting words.
“Even in our currently polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day,” he said. “That the truth will always matter, that journalism and journalists will thrive,” Smith said.
With his departure, that just got a little more difficult.
Bill Goodykoontz is a columnist for the Arizona Republic where this column first appeared. Follow him on Twitter: @goodyk.