A total bombshell. No reason is given in his statement for why he asked to be let out of his contract but it’s plain as day.
How sudden is this? So sudden that … today was his last day. The news broke during his final telecast. He’d been at Fox since the network began in 1996.
The important question now: Where can I pre-order the Shep tell-all?
Shep Smith is leaving Fox News.
A rather surprising decision given what he was being paid (a lot) and the freedom Fox News gave him. pic.twitter.com/3rdhdkkXVz
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) October 11, 2019
Here’s his final sign-off:
Full video: Shepard Smith's final sign off from Fox News pic.twitter.com/5fgyM81Gbj
— Jon Passantino (@passantino) October 11, 2019
How long can Chris Wallace hang on?
You all know the long-term background here. Shep is a man of the left and the most outspoken member of Fox’s news division, which grumbled in print repeatedly (and usually anonymously) during the Trump era that the State TV propagandizing on Trump’s behalf by the opinion division was making them look like a joke. Still, Fox execs seemed comfortable with that balance: Shep, Wallace, and Bret Baier gave the network the right to claim that its coverage of daily news was “fair and balanced.” Meanwhile, Hannity, Tucker, and Ingraham brought in the big ratings and big money with the nightly “Democratic villain du jour” programming. Even Shep’s news-hour editorializing against Trump kinda sorta worked for Fox. Anytime someone complained that the network was in the tank for the president, there was an easy reply. What about Shep?
Everyone was happy, or happy enough. Fox management, Shep, the primetime crew, all doing their own thing and making bank. But there was one very important person who wasn’t so happy.
I don’t think Trump’s antipathy bothered Shep. If anything, he likely treated it like a badge of honor. He was, however, clearly annoyed a few weeks ago when one of the president’s cronies, Joe diGenova, was allowed in primetime to denigrate a guest on Shep’s own show, Andrew Napolitano, as a “fool” for thinking Trump may have committed a crime in his phone call with Ukraine’s president. I wrote about that more than once that week. Shep complained about it on the air, then Tucker Carlson invited diGenova back and scoffed at Shep for being more partisan than Tucker himself is. What followed, according to Vanity Fair, may have been the final straw:
Seeking to quell the internecine strife before it carried into a third day, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and president Jay Wallace communicated to Smith this morning to stop attacking Carlson, a person briefed on the conversation said. “They said if he does it again, he’s off the air,” the source said. (Fox News spokesperson Irena Briganti denied that management had any direct conversation with Smith).
Note the unusual qualifier in Fox’s denial to VF: There was no “direct” conversation with Shep about the matter. Anyway, if the Vanity Fair report is true, Smith might have figured that the rules of the game at Fox had changed. With the election approaching, he was no longer quite as free to do his own thing; he and his guests were now being mocked by the primetime hosts for their disloyalty to the king and, allegedly, Shep would no longer be permitted to defend himself. If Fox management is enabling a total Trumpist takeover of the network as the 2020 campaign heats up then Smith might as well cut the cord now.
How much of a secret was his departure? Here’s how Cavuto took the baton after Shep’s on-air farewell:
Neil Cavuto and John Roberts clearly blind-sided by Shep Smith departure pic.twitter.com/36ijhC8th6
— Nicole LaFond (@Nicole_Lafond) October 11, 2019
If you’re expecting to see Shep turn up on CNN or MSNBC next week, think again. Not the part about him working for one of those networks; that’s definitely going to happen. It just won’t be next week.
Shep has agreed to a non-compete, which means he's not joining CNN/MSNBC anytime soon: "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 feature…"
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) October 11, 2019
He’ll need the time off to work on that tell-all anyway. I assume there’s a non-disparagement clause in his contract too which will prevent him from going the Carl Cameron route with Fox, but who knows? Imagine tuning into Rachel Maddow’s show next week and there he is, ready to make the case at length that Fox primetime is gross.
Meanwhile, people are noting on social media that the Times reported yesterday that Bill Barr paid a visit to Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch on Wednesday of this week to discuss matters as yet unknown. I’m not so much of a Never Trumper that I believe the Attorney General of the United States was tasked with personally warning Fox’s head honcho that the programming had better take a rosier view of the president or else the DOJ might take an interest in his company. But I’ve spent enough time at the Trump circus these past two and a half years to make me more curious about what was said at that meeting after Smith’s departure than I was before.
There’s no word yet on who’ll replace him as the 3 p.m. anchor. The way Fox is going, I assume it’ll be Trump’s hand with a pair of eyes drawn on it like Senor Wences and “Johnny” with the president providing the audio out of frame. Exit question: “CNN Primetime News featuring Shepard Smith and Megyn Kelly.” Coming next year, maybe?
Update: Predictable. No one at Fox News has “bad ratings” and Trump knows it better than most.
Trump on Shep Smith leaving Fox News: “I assume it was because of bad ratings.” pic.twitter.com/7itL9OIQt5
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) October 11, 2019