With veteran Fox News host Shepard Smith’s surprise announcement that he’s leaving the network on Friday, can it still be argued that the network is anything but a propaganda machine for President Donald Trump, in the same way Russia’s RT “news” network bends to the will of Russian President Vladimir Putin?
Smith, who was part of the network’s founding staff when it launched in 1996, signed off his Friday broadcast by saying goodbye, “Recently, I asked the company to allow me to leave. After requesting that I stay, they obliged,” Smith said.
Smith, unlike most of the voices heard on Fox News, brought truthful analysis and fact checking of the president to his daytime program. He often drew the ire of Trump and sometimes from Fox News colleagues like Tucker Carlson.
Trump would often go after Smith on Twitter, calling him the “lowest-rated anchor.” But Smith’s program consistently performed better than its competition in the same time slot on both CNN and MSNBC.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 7, 2019
Attorney General William Barr’s meeting this week with the chairman of Fox Corporation Rupert Murdoch led to speculation that Barr pressured Murdoch to push Smith out. But a spokesman for Smith, Chris Giglio, told the New York Times that “there is absolutely no truth” to those assertions, adding, “This was Shep’s decision and his alone.”
Even if the meeting did not trigger Smith’s departure, however, the fact that the attorney general of the United States met with the head of a major news network that has also hired numerous former Trump White House employees—including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Hope Hicks and Raj Shah—looks more than a little fishy. Congressman Harley Rouda (D-CA), a member of the House Oversight Committee, called for an investigation into the meeting, telling Sirius XM host Dean Obeidallah, “What the hell is the attorney general of the United States doing meeting with the head of Fox? And for what purpose could that possibly be, especially in light of the fact this is happening exactly at the same time the president of the United States is saying Fox News isn’t being kind enough to him?”
According to CNN‘s Brian Stelter, who spoke with a “well-placed source” within Fox News, the tension between Smith’s factual reporting and the Trump-loving opinion shows became too much for the anchor, so in September he requested he be released from his contract. One contributing factor was that Smith was irritated when Tucker Carlson mocked him for defending Judge Andrew Napolitano after one of Carlson’s guest called Napolitano a “fool” for saying that it is illegal for the president to ask a foreign government to dig up or manufacture dirt on a political opponent. Smith was upset that Fox failed to defend him over that altercation. Stelter wrote that that incident “was just one of many skirmishes that weighed heavily on Smith.”
On Friday, Trump also pled ignorance when he spoke to reporters about Smith’s announcement, “Did I hear Shepard Smith is leaving?” the president asked. “Is he leaving because of bad ratings? Tell me, I don’t know. I wish him well,” Trump added.
The night before Smith’s announcement, during a rally in Minneapolis, Trump praised just about every Fox News host who carries his water. To no one’s surprise, Shep Smith was not one of them. But Trump that same day sent out tweets criticizing the network, claiming its polling was inaccurate because their poll numbers did not reflect favorably on him.
— Peter (@Petervideo23) October 12, 2019
…Court Justice & I turned him down (he’s been terrible ever since), Shep Smith, @donnabrazile (who gave Crooked Hillary the debate questions & got fired from @CNN), & others, @FoxNews doesn’t deliver for US anymore. It is so different than it used to be. Oh well, I’m President!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2019
Fox News is now left with few dissenting voices who, at times, hold the president accountable. But those hosts, like Neil Cavuto and Chris Wallace, who sporadically push back, stand out because of the full-throated support that emanates from most of Fox’s coverage and opinion of Trump and his policies.
Tellingly, Smith ended his goodbye with an expression of truth and its importance in journalism, saying, “Even in our currently polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day. That the truth will always matter. That journalism and journalists will thrive. I’m Shepard Smith, Fox News, New York.”