The surprising departure of Fox News anchor Shepard Smith set off a tidal wave of professional speculation Friday, given the non-partisan host’s 23-year tenure at the network. Even Donald Trump—a frequent critic of Smith’s willingness to rebut his claims on-air—seemed to revel in the news. “Did I hear Shepard Smith is leaving?” President Trump asked reporters outside the White House as the matter came to his attention. “Is he leaving because of bad ratings? Tell me, I don’t know . . . . Well, I wish him well.”
Smith announced his exit suddenly on-air Friday, closing out his Shepard Smith Reporting newscast “Recently, I asked the company to allow me to leave. After requesting that I stay, they obliged.” The anchor had previously signed a multi-year contract in 2018, complete with a non-compete clause that would preclude him joining another network. “I won’t be reporting elsewhere, at least in the near future,” Smith added.
Almost immediately, speculation flooded social media with suggestions the Trump administration had somehow pressured Fox News to retire Smith for his willingness to contradict the president—as opposed to Trump’s favored Fox News personalities like Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro and the Fox and Friends morning hosts. Smith’s exit also seemingly coincided both with a meeting attorney general William Barr undertook with Fox boss Rupert Murdoch, as well as Trump’s twitter critique of the network sharing unfavorable poll reports.
Allies and representatives for Smith pushed back on suggestions the anchor was forced out. Spokesman Chris Giglio stated “there is absolutely no truth” to speculation Barr’s meeting connected with his Fox News exit. “This was Shep’s decision and his alone,” Giglio said in a statement. “He’s taking an extended period of time off to be with his family. Following that who knows — he is not retiring.”
CNN likewise corroborated that Smith pushed for his own exit, frustrated by the rising divide between partisan anchors cheerleading President Trump at near every turn, and the journalistic standards of his own newsroom. Smith is said to have reached a breaking point in September, as 8:00 P.M. host Tucker Carlson criticized him on-air for defending colleague Judge Andrew Napolitano against a guest who’d called Napolitano a “fool” on Carlson’s program. Fox News’ lackluster response to the inter-anchor sparring match reportedly cemented Smith’s decision to leave the network.