Cockburn just happened to be loitering outside Fox News Channel’s Washington bureau Friday when one of the network’s most-talked-about anchors announced on air that his show was ending its run. Shepard Smith’s abrupt departure flabbergasted just about everyone on the East Coast — including, it turned out, his Fox colleagues.
‘A personal moment now,’ the anchor said as he closed the 3 p.m. hour’s Shepard Smith Reporting. ‘I’ve witnessed and reported on the events that shaped our reality. Together with my colleagues, we’ve written a first draft of history and endeavored to deliver it to you while speaking truth to power without fear or favor, in context and with perspective. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity.
‘So recently I asked the company to allow me to leave Fox News. After requesting that I stay, they obliged. Under our agreement, I won’t be reporting elsewhere, at least in the near future,’ he then revealed. ‘This is my last newscast here.’
Neil Cavuto started his 4 p.m. show moments later and didn’t hide his surprise. ‘Whoa,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what to say.’ Cavuto, who like Smith has been with the network since it launched in 1996, told viewers he was ‘shell-shocked’ and ‘heartbroken’. He went to chief White House correspondent John Roberts to ask about the news of a possible trade deal with China. Roberts was just as shaken up. ‘I walked out here to do the hit and suddenly got hit by a subway train. Holy mackerel,’ he said.
Even after hearing from two reporters and starting a panel discussion on the trade deal, Cavuto couldn’t help but state again how shocked he was and wish his colleague of nearly a quarter-century well.
Cavuto and Roberts weren’t the only ones blindsided by the news. Even the Fox News Washington bureau chief hadn’t been told ahead of time. Almost all at the network found out their star breaking news anchor was leaving when everyone else did: Fox sent employees a press release about Smith’s departure by email at the exact moment he announced it on air.
For a while afterward, it was the only thing discussed in the hallways and the green room. There was a quick consensus: Shep Smith had had enough. He’s made millions and didn’t need to allow himself to be subject to abuse on air and off any longer.
Smith has held President Trump to account since he came to office. ‘Why is it lie after lie after lie?’ he asked on air in 2017. But his willingness to question the president — who has taken a few shots at Smith on Twitter — clearly began to bug his colleagues more as Democrats announced their impeachment inquiry. Tucker Carlson and Smith exchanged some heated words on their respective shows two weeks ago after the latter had Trump critic and Fox legal analyst Andrew Napolitano on his. Carlson had a guest that night who tore into Napolitano, and Smith said the next day that ‘attacking our colleague who is here to offer legal assessments, on our air, in our work home, is repugnant.’ Carlson responded that evening by mocking Smith on the air.
Fox News employees have a point: Smith’s contract reportedly paid him $15 million a year. And unlike some well-paid celebrities, one Foxster pointed out, Smith never seemed like the kind of guy who always had to have more. And at 55, she said, he was less interested than ever in being a punching bag for the opinion hosts.
Still, he’s leaving a lot of money on the table. Fox just renewed his contract in March 2018, which is one reason everyone was so shocked by his departure. He ended his 23-year run on Fox with a pointed message for those with whom he was fed up.
‘Even in our currently polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day,’ Smith said in closing his show. ‘That the truth will always matter. That journalism and journalists will thrive. I’m Shepard Smith, Fox News, New York.’