Donald Trump may be rubbing salt into the wound of Shepard Smith suddenly exiting Fox News Channel today, but the anchor could be back soon-ish to shine a spotlight of truth on the ex-Celebrity Apprentice host.
“The decision to leave was Shep’s and his alone,” said Smith’s PR representative in a statement after the long time FNC anchor made his farewell announcement on-air on Friday. “He will be taking an extended period of time off to be with his family.
“Following that — who knows — he is not retiring.”
Having just inked a new contract with FNC last year, where Smith could go next and when remains to be seen. “I won’t be reporting elsewhere at least in the near future,” he told viewers in his final sign-off today. “We’ll see what comes along.”
However, we’ve heard that the Shepard Smith Reporting frontman will have to sit on the on-air bench for at least a year before he could land at a competitor like CNN or MSNBC. It should be noted that hosts from both of FNC rivals praised Smith upon hearing of his quick exit on Friday.
Inside the 6th Avenue HQ of Fox News, there was disappointment at the Kramer Talent repped Smith heading for the door. There is also a presumption among many that the anchor was caught in a verbal vice from Trump that was straining relations for executives with the White House and other big names at the once Fair and Balanced network. A situation in which Smith was the sacrificial lamb, even if it was eventually by his own choice.
“You can say a lot of things about Roger Ailes, but this wouldn’t have happened if he were still alive and running things at Fox,” a well-placed source at the Rupert Murdoch-owned cabler newser told Deadline after Smith’s departure this afternoon. “Roger took care of his people from the outside, protected them. He would have told Trump to back off.”
Another source noted that current FNC CEO Suzanne Scott seemed to do little to quell the on-air slaps that primetimers Tucker Carlson and Trump de facto Secretary of Media Sean Hannity took at the afternoon anchor. “It was just embarrassing to see and I feel like the bullies won.”
Others inside FNC say nostalgia can be deceiving and that Smith has actually been on the back foot since Ailes pulled him out of a high profile primetime slot in 2013 and moved things around to make room for Meghan Kelly. The Kelly File host left FNC in early 2017 for a what was a short but lucrative stint on NBC that officially ended early this year.
“While this day is especially challenging for both of us who have worked alongside him for 23 years, we respect his decision and are deeply grateful for his immense contributions to the entire network,” said a memo that CEO Scott and News boss Jay Wallace sent out to staffers Friday after Smith made his move to leave public (Read the full memo below).
“His integrity and outstanding reporting from the field helped put FOX News on the map,” Scott and Wallace added on the anchor who had been there at FNC from the very beginning. “There is simply no better breaking news anchor who has the ability to transport a viewer to a place of conflict, tragedy, despair or elation through his masterful blending of words and experience,” the cabler leading duo asserted. “We are incredibly proud of the signature reporting and anchoring style he honed here, along with everything he accomplished during his monumental 23-year tenure.”
In that vein, Hannity was also full of nothing but good old praise for Smith and his future today:
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
The same could not be said of Donald Trump.
Having repeatedly railed against Smith for not marching lock step with his administration and its version of events and fact, Trump today took a few swipes at the departing 23-year Fox News veteran
“Is he leaving because of bad ratings?” Trump ribbed reporters Friday on the South Lawn of the White House as Marine One prepared to take off for a rally in Lake Charles, LA. “He had terrible ratings,” Trump added of Smith. “He had the worst ratings on Fox.”
“I wish him well,” Trump concluded. “I wish Shepard Smith well”
Not for the first time, Donald Trump got his facts wrong when it comes to Smith’s ratings – though not by much.
With 195,000 viewers in the news demographic of adults 25-54 and ranked 22nd on all of cable news, Smith’s afternoon show topped the audience of 132,000 in the demo that the very early Fox & Friends First snagged in the third quarter of 2019.
Far down the list from a Hannity, Carlson or MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Shepard Smith Reporting was 21st in total viewers for the just concluded 3Q’19. The 1.3 million viewers that the news show attracted in the third quarter of this year was ahead of Fox & Friends First’s audience of 575,000, which put the AM show at 42 on the list of the top 98 shows on cable news.
Smith’s exit comes in what has been a whirlwind three years for FNC, to put it mildly. Yet, the outlet does look poised to top all of cable this year, not just cable news.
FNC says Smith’s 3 PM ET slot will be filled by various anchors until a permanent replacement can be found — maybe that’s the next gig for ex-National Security Advisor John Bolton, but Trump would probably veto that choice.
Here is the full Fox News memo from Suzanne Scott and Jay Wallace on Shepard Smith’s departure
Today FOX News and Shepard Smith jointly announced that he will be stepping down from his role as Chief News Anchor and Managing Editor of the network’s breaking news unit and Anchor of Shepard Smith Reporting.
As Shep said in the press release that was issued moments ago, he recently asked us to step down and begin a new chapter. We know this was an extremely difficult decision for him and he made it with much deliberation, care and consideration. While this day is especially challenging for both of us who have worked alongside him for 23 years, we respect his decision and are deeply grateful for his immense contributions to the entire network.
We also know this day is just as difficult for those of you who had the fortune of working closely with Shep for so many years. Neil Cavuto said it best this week — [Shep] “has a big heart and is one of the kindest and most decent people in any profession.”
Shep is also one of the premier newscasters of his generation and his extraordinary body of work is among the finest journalism in the industry. His integrity and outstanding reporting from the field helped put FOX News on the map. There is simply no better breaking news anchor who has the ability to transport a viewer to a place of conflict, tragedy, despair or elation through his masterful blending of words and experience. We are incredibly proud of the signature reporting and anchoring style he honed here, along with everything he accomplished during his monumental 23-year tenure.
We will keep everyone informed once a new dayside news program is announced — until then, we are planning to have a series of rotating news anchors host the 3PM time slot which will now be entitled Fox News Reporting.
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