Meh, I’ll believe it when I see it. Fox has an extra $15 million a year to play with now that Shep is out. If — if — the “fair and balanced” slogan still has value to them, they’ll spread that 15 mil among the remaining news division staff to avert an exodus. Make everyone happy, or at least less miserable.
“It feels like death in the news division,” a senior Fox employee told CNN about Smith’s departure, saying staffers at the network were “shocked” and that some were crying. “At least we had him.”
“Who can fill that role?” another Fox employee asked.
A third Fox employee, who said “staffers were openly weeping” after the announcement, noted that some staffers “were here and have stayed here solely for” Smith.
“Don’t be surprised if there’s an exodus,” the person told CNN, adding, “Fox hasn’t just lost Shep today.”
They could also hire a replacement for Shep who’s respected as a journalist to signal to news staff that the network isn’t going to turn itself into Trump state TV (during daytime hours, at least). The tricky part would be finding someone who’s less anti-Trump than Shep, so that the infighting with the opinion hosts doesn’t recur, but also not pro-Trump or else the news people will see it as a Trumpist takeover of their division. Is there any unemployed TV journalist who lands in that sweet spot? Lara Logan, maybe?
I think Bill Hemmer will get the 3 p.m. slot. He’s a known quantity at Fox, likable, presumably acceptable to the news side but not a guy known for snarking at the president like Smith was.
Another reason to believe Fox will work hard to prevent a news-division exodus even if it means ponying up money to keep their current talent in place is that it’d be foolish to go all-in on Trump when POTUS may have little more than a year left in office. Conceivably even less if, against all odds, impeachment and removal start to look more attractive to Senate Republicans. The political identity of Fox’s viewers shifts every time there’s a change in control of the White House: They were ardent hawks during the era of Bush, 9/11, and Iraq; they were ardent small-government conservatives during the era of Obama and ObamaCare; now they’re ardent nationalists in the Trump mold. If Elizabeth Warren beats Trump next year, odds are good that there’ll be an opportunistic renaissance on the right in believing that state power is the greatest threat facing America and that the national debt is an urgent crisis. Hannity will rediscover his inner tea partier; Tucker’s nationalist pitch to viewers will need to be tweaked. Because the GOP no longer stands firmly for any policies beyond gun rights and opposition to abortion, there’s no telling what message might be in demand among Fox viewers circa January 2021 without Trump as a political north star.
So why the hell would Fox go full Trump now? If they’re going to do that, logically they’ll at least wait until he’s safely reelected. All of the current news people should receive lucrative contracts — lucrative one-year contracts, that is.
As for Shep, various reports out today confirm yesterday’s suspicions: Yes, he quit because of “tension” between him and the opinion division, although his precise grievance is momentarily hard to pin down. Some say that he got fed up with the sheer volume of Trump propaganda on the network. Others say he was tired of having shots taken at him by the opinion hosts, although (a) Tucker’s the only one I’m aware of who’s swiped at Smith recently and (b) Shep gave as good as he got. He’s the one who went on the air and called it “repugnant” that Carlson let one of his guests describe one of Shep’s guests as a “fool.” And Shep has been known to slight the opinion division in broad terms during interviews, telling Time last year of the primetime hosts, “We serve different masters. We work for different reporting chains, we have different rules. They don’t really have rules on the opinion side. They can say whatever they want. If it’s their opinion. I don’t really watch a lot of opinion programming. I’m busy.”
A report from CNN makes it sound like Smith’s real complaint was that he thought Fox management had begun taking sides:
The breaking point for Smith was the tension between him and the opinion side of Fox. In late September, you’ll remember, Tucker Carlson mocked Smith for standing up for his friend and colleague Judge Andrew Napolitano after the judge was called a “fool” by one of Carlson’s guests. The network’s lack of a vocal defense for Smith following the incident bothered him and the whole episode factored into his decision to leave, a person familiar with the matter told me.
BUT: Contrary to rampant speculation, Smith was never given an “ultimatum” to stop criticizing Carlson. Instead, I’m told that Smith was reminded about the Fox’s old adage regarding “not shooting inside the tent.” Bottom line: “It is clear where the 2nd floor’s allegiance lies,” the person said, meaning that Fox execs care more about appeasing Carlson than Smith.
Everyone agrees that it was Shep who pulled the plug, not Fox — but that’s not to say Fox management didn’t see some upside in him walking:
Another Fox source points out that Rupert wasn’t happy that Shep was earning $15 million per year to host a daytime show, a contract from the Ailes era
— Gabriel Sherman (@gabrielsherman) October 11, 2019
There was one more interesting reaction last night, from the highest-rated man on Fox’s opinion side:
I’ve always said there is nobody better at breaking news than Shep Smith. He has always done great things and I know he will continue to do so. Looking forward to seeing Shep crush it in whatever he does next.
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) October 11, 2019
Hannity has grumbled about Smith sporadically in the past but he and Shep were both day-one hires at Fox. They’ve managed to put aside their differences for more than two decades, and when Hannity jabs at him, he tends not to do it directly. Was Smith’s supposed problem with the opinion division really a problem with the whole division or was it a problem with Tucker Carlson specifically?
Consider that your exit question. Here’s another former Fox News newsman turned harsh critic, Carl Cameron, mourning Shep’s departure last night on the left’s favorite cable news network.